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The new Archbishop must look to the nation as well as the Church

2012 November 9
by Paul Vallely

It is a matter of some irony that the Church, a body which sets out to tell the rest of us how to live more moral lives, sets such a poor example in its own affairs.  The process for choosing a new Archbishop of Canterbury has been fairly shambolic, with its leaks and clandestine flurries of betting from individuals who are ever-ready to preach about respect, integrity and the evils of the love of money. Fairly high up the agenda of Justin Welby, if he is, as expected, translated today from the bishopric of Durham, ought to be ensuring a more dignified and transparent method of choosing his own successor.

He comes with some apt qualifications for the job. His 11 years as an oil executive gave him not just long experience of sophisticated financial products like derivatives but also of managing complex processes and organisations. He is a skilled diplomat and negotiator – qualities he deployed working on conflict resolution in world war zones as a canon and dean. He will need all those skills, and more, in his new job, coping with a bitterly divided church.

The new archbishop has been a strong advocate of women bishops but has been keen to find ways to protect the place of dissenting traditionalists. On gay marriage he has been more low-key. Though theologically conservative he has been an outspoken on social justice issues normally associated with the left. Despite his charismatic evangelical background he embraces much papal social teaching and is an enthusiast for Catholic styles of worship. As a result most Church factions welcome his appointment.

But that will not be enough when it comes to another key aspect of the job, speaking to the wider nation. To most of society gay marriage is a simple matter of equality. There is no theological circle to be squared. Friends say the new archbishop knows what he wants but doesn’t always take the most direct route there. Whatever techniques he chooses to deploy he needs to know that the British public will judge the Church here by criteria of compassion and plain justice.

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