Triumph of Hope over Adversity
Vallely, Paul, The Independent (London, England)
It looks like a fairly high-risk strategy on the face of it. "Gay group's target is named Archbishop of York", proclaimed the headlines yesterday over the news that the Bishop of London, David Hope, is to be translated to the Church of England's second most important post. To those outside the church it seems a curious appointment, smacking either of other-worldliness of an order which is surprising even for modern-day Anglicanism or else of an unaccustomed firmness in the face of the recent harassment by the sanctimonious homosexual activist Peter Tatchell of those clerics he accuses of being closet gays.
The question of homosexuality seems likely to continue to consume a disproportionate amount of the Church of England's time in the year ahead. Its internal document Issues of Human Sexuality is to be presented by the bishops to its governing body, the General Synod, at the end of the year, and many suspect that the elections to the synod in October will be dominated by the homosexuality issue which is at the heart of the report. In addition, Mr Tatchell's groupOutRage! has announced that it will continue its policy of embarrassing individual senior clerics with public proclamations of their alleged homosexuality whenever it sees the opportunity for publicity. The results may be far more unnerving than Mr Tatchell's attempt to blackmail the steely Dr Hope, and even he was sufficiently abashed to make the public concession that his sexuality was ambiguous beneath his commitment to priestly celibacy.
Dr Hope, it is generally agreed, came well out of the encounter. His dignified determination engendered considerable public sympathy. There were even those who were saying yesterday that this was a significant factor in the decision to promote him to a job which could eventually lead him to Canterbury.
The chronology of events reveals something else. The present archbishop, Dr John Habgood, announced his retirement last year at the end of September. In the same month the process for selecting a new archbishop began. The Vacancy in See committee of the archdiocese of York met to draw up a "statement of needs", outlining what they hoped for from the new incumbent, and to elect four of its number to the Crown Appointments Commission. The commission, the highly secretive mechanism for the selection of bishops, consists of these four plus the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and six permanent members elected by the General Synod.
Its members received the "statement of needs" along with another confidential report on the archdiocese drawn up by Hector Maclean, the archbishops' appointments secretary, and John Holroyd, the prime minister's nominee on the commission. On the basis of these, the members submitted their nominationsfor the post.
Early in February the two secretaries sent the CVs of all the nominated candidates by post to the commission members. A few days later the commission held a secret meeting at a small retreat house in Canterbury province. The 14 members began over lunch with a general discussion of the needs of the archdiocese and of the church in general. One of the key factors is understood to have been the need to signal to the conservative wing of the church that its faction was not to be excluded from the Anglican mainstream because of its unsuccessful rearguard action against the ordination of women. …