Anglican 'conclave' makes Roman version look transparent

It can be hard to make the Vatican look good these days, what with sex abuse victims suing the Pope for crimes against humanity and such.But with the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, looking ready to retire next year, Nelson Jones at The New Statesman notes that the way a new Anglican leader is chosen is easily as obscure as a flock of cardinals meeting in a secret conclave in the Sistine Chapel -- and the art isn't as good:

The process of choosing bishops and archbishops of the Established church is convoluted and arcane, but its underlying philosophy (like much in Britain) seems to be that some matters are too important to be left to the vagaries of a democratic process. Technically, senior posts in the Church of England are appointed by the Queen, in her capacity as Supreme Governor and Defender of the Faith, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (who isn't required to have any religious affiliations at all). Some recent prime ministers, including Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, are rumoured to have intervened in the selection process. These days, however, the practice of submitting two alternative names to Downing Street has been superseded, which means that bishops and archbishops are now effectively chosen by an obscure committee.The Crown Nominations Commission, as it is called, has some members elected by the General Synod, but that gives it only an indirect legitimacy. It deliberates in secret and never divulges details of its discussions. Some observers suspect that an informal "Buggins' turn" system operates, with unofficial quotas for liberal, Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical bishops and Canterbury itself rotating. (Thus Rowan Williams was a throwback to the ceremonious fence-sitting of Robert Runcie after the somewhat more acerbic tenure of George Carey.) But this is speculation. All we can really say is that, as with the Conservative party in the days of the Magic Circle, soundings are taken and a consensus emerges.

Well, at least the Queen will have a say, which is one more woman's vote than they'll have in the conclave.Cross-posted at "Sacred and Profane," my new blog at RNS.

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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