John Sentamu: Hand-laying for traditionalist bishop is for 'prayer not politics'


The controversial arrangements surrounding the consecration of a traditionalist bishop are for "prayer not politics", the Archbishop of York has said today.

In a statement explaining why most bishops at the consecration at York Minster of Father Philip North will not lay hands on the candidate, Dr John Sentamu said: "It is in the nature of these arrangements, enshrined in the declaration and principles, that they involve accommodating within one Church people with convictions that vary widely. If this accommodation is to work it requires a degree of gracious restraint and accommodation on all sides."

Christian Today disclosed this week that at the consecration of Father North as Bishop of Burnley no bishop will lay hands on him who has previously laid hands on a woman bishop or priest. The issue, coming as York Minster and the northern province prepare for the consecration of the first woman bishop Libby Lane just a few days earlier, next Monday, highlights the deep divisions that remain in the established church over women's ordination.

Dr Sentamu and the Bishop of Blackburn Julian Henderson will both lay hands on Bishop-elect Lane when she is consecrated as Suffragan Bishop of Stockport.

Dr Sentamu admitted today that he will at the subsequent consecration of Father North delegate the presidency of the eucharist and the laying on of hands to another bishop, and a total of just three bishops will actually do the laying on of hands, the minimum stipulated by Canon Law.

In his statement Dr Sentamu said: "With great joy and thanksgiving the Church of England will, in the next two weeks, see the consecration of two fine priests, The Revd Libby Lane, and The Revd Philip North as bishops, respectively, of Stockport, in the Diocese of Chester, and of Burnley, in the Diocese of Blackburn. Nothing should be allowed to constrain our joy, our prayers and our thanksgiving, on either occasion."

Noting that consecration arrangements are in law a matter for the Archbishop of the relevant province, and that the Archbishop would normally act as chief consecrator, Archbishops have always had the power to delegate the role.

"Any suggestion that the arrangements proposed for the consecration of the Bishop of Burnley are influenced by a theology of 'taint' would be mistaken," he said, noting that he had himself presided at the consecration of the traditionalist "flying bishop" Glyn Webster, Bishop of Beverley and the present Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner also a traditionalist, when he was made Bishop of Whitby.

"There were no objections on either of these occasions, despite the fact that I have been ordaining women to the priesthood since I first became Bishop of Stepney in 1996," he said.

The Church of England has affirmed that "since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures."

Dr Sentamu reveals in his statement that he wrote to all bishops of the northern provinces outling the details of the consecration, made at his suggestion and not Father North's request.

He explained in the letter that the aim was "to build a future based on trust, mutual respect and the highest degree of communion possible."

Although he as Archbishop will be recognised throughout the liturgy as the Metropolitan, he will "delegate to another bishop the authority to celebrate the Liturgy of Ordination and the Liturgy of the Eucharist," he wrote.

He continued: "When the bishops gather together for the Ordination Prayer, in close proximity around the candidate, the Archbishop will lead all other bishops present in exercising gracious restraint at the laying-on of hands, permitting two bishops, nominated by the Archbishop... to assist in the laying-on of hands, in order to fulfil the requirements of canon C2.1. All other Bishops will remain in the arc around the candidate."

The Archbishop was criticised by Women and the Church.

In a statement the group said: "Next Monday the Church of England and the nation will rejoice at the consecration of Rev Libby Lane as the first female bishop in the Church of England. That will be a great day, and nothing should detract from that moment of affirmation for all women in all walks of life.

"We have known about the arrangements for the consecration of the Bishop of Burnley for some time, but have not commented publicly out of courtesy to the individuals involved. Our focus has been on the earlier consecration as the fulfillment of a long and deeply held desire by so many, and as a source of good news from the Church.

"We are dismayed that it seems that the Archbishop of York will not lay hands on Philip North at his consecration as Bishop of Burnley. We believe it is unprecedented that an Archbishop should be present at a consecration in his own Province and not lay hands on a candidate, and not preside at the eucharist.

"We are saddened that there will be such a powerful visual sign of a divided College and House of Bishops at the moment of consecration. The Bishop of Burnley is a suffragan bishop, and not a PEV: he is a minister for the whole Church of England in the Diocese of Blackburn and the people of that diocese are looking forward to working with him across the traditions. We will issue a statement on the wider ramifications of this in due course."