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Study recommends changes in role of archbishop of Canterbury

By James Solheim
[Episcopal News Service]  An extensive review of the role of the archbishop of Canterbury within the Church of England and as head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has recommended some significant changes.

'It seemed to me both timely and desirable to take a fresh look at the demands and expectations of the office,' said Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey in a foreword to the report, 'To lead and serve.' Carey asked for the review and appointed the eight-member review team, headed by Lord Hurd, former British foreign secretary.

'The overwhelming thrust of the evidence given to us is that the present archbishop is carrying out his role effectively with notable courage and wisdom,' the report said in its introduction. It added that the team is convinced that 'changes in the workload' are necessary, especially in light of increased expectations on the international level.

Among the changes proposed are the appointment of a bishop from outside England to help with Anglican Communion affairs and a greater role within the Church of England for the archbishop of York, the church's other primate.

Acknowledging the stature and importance of the role, the report said, 'In some parts of the Communion, for example, there is a tendency to think of the archbishop as a kind of Anglican Pope, able to exercise jurisdiction throughout the Communion. Such a position has neither been claimed nor desired by any archbishop of Canterbury.'

Keep diocesan role

The report does not recommend that the archbishop give up his role on the diocesan level. 'Divorced from a see, he would be in danger of being seen as an ecclesiastical politician and manager rather than a chief pastor and spiritual leader,' the report concluded. It does call for another bishop to handle many of the regular diocesan responsibilities.

The role as spiritual leader of the Church of England does make it legally impossible for someone outside the church to be named archbishop of Canterbury. But the report concedes that separating the role in the Anglican Communion from the role in Canterbury is an idea that 'may well gather strength as the years pass.' Lord Hurd said that, at the present time, there was 'no effective pressure' for a non-English archbishop of Canterbury, although the idea has support in Japan and Latin America, 'countries that are not part of the Commonwealth and not used to comings and goings with Britain.'

The archbishop should retain his national role of personal sponsorship of interfaith relations but should be 'sparing' in his involvement after initiatives have been launched.

(Carey and the review team are seeking responses from around the world on the web site at

In a parallel recommendation, the report said that 'there should be renewed attempts to improve the financial position of the Anglican Communion Office so that it may be equipped to discharge the expectations placed upon it.' That will require 'strengthening the fundraising professionalism' of the office by appointing a development officer.