Stephen Cottrell's appointment as Archbishop of York exposes divisions in the Church of England

Bishop Stephen Cottrell has been appointed as the next Archbishop of York

Orthodox Anglicans have challenged the appointment of Stephen Cottrell as the next Archbishop of York. 

The position in the Church of England hierarchy is second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury, sharing in the leadership of the Church. 

Cottrell is the current Bishop of Chelmsford and is due to assume his new role after Dr John Sentamu retires as Archbishop of York in June 2020.

The announcement of his appointment on Tuesday was met with strong objections from orthodox members of the Church of England because of a dispute that broke out in his diocese earlier this year over transgenderism. 

The bishop was accused by Rev John Parker of telling him that if he wanted to follow traditional biblical teaching on sexuality he could leave the Church of England.

Bishop Cottrell strenuously denied the accusation.  He was supportive of the school's handling of the child's transition, saying in a letter to clergy in the Diocese of Chelmsford that the school and the diocesan Board of Education "have done right by the child".

"This does not mean that I or they do not understand and respect the concerns raised by John and others and we will continue to work with schools about their use of external training providers," he said.

He also insisted that the Diocese of Chelmsford "has not forced a priest from office".

"I certainly did not, as has been claimed, ask or imply that he should leave the Church of England on account of his views on the matter in question, or that he was not welcome," he said.

Elsewhere in the letter, he wrote: "For myself, I continue to believe it is possible for us to live together with our disagreements on these issues and for these to be discussed openly."

Rev Parker had raised concerns about the decision of a Church of England school where he was governor to refrain from telling other parents and children prior to the child's transition. 

He also objected to the school bringing in the controversial transgender campaign group Mermaids to hold a training session for staff. 

Rev Parker resigned as both a governor of the school and as a vicar in the Church of England over the disagreement.

He said at the time: "I was basically told by my bishop that if I wished to faithfully follow the teachings of the Bible then I was no longer welcome in the Church. It felt very much like I was being silenced by the Church and the school."

Kieran Bush, vicar of St John's, Walthamstow, later backed Rev Parker's claim, alleging that Bishop Cottrell had "on more than one occasion, told clergy, including John Parker, that if we disagree with the approach the Diocese is taking on matters of human sexuality we should follow our consciences and leave".

"There were more than thirty clergy at one of the meetings," he said in a statement in June released through GAFCON, the orthodox fellowship within the Anglican Communion. 

Rev Parker was supported during the dispute by Christian Concern, which has criticised the appointment of Bishop Cottrell as Archbishop of York.

Andrea Williams, a member of the Church of England General Synod and chief executive of Christian Concern said: "Promoting Stephen Cottrell to Archbishop of York makes clear the direction of travel of the CofE." 

She continued: "This is not a bishop who respects Biblical truth when it comes to human sexuality or marriage.

"Several clergy in Stephen Cottrell's diocese are out of communion with him because of his stance on human sexuality. One resigned over this.

"For him now to be appointed as Archbishop of York is a final insult to those who want to hold onto Biblical teaching in the CofE.

"It is now clearer than ever that the CofE is determined to act in total disregard of those who hold the basic truths that God created us male and female and that sexual expression is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman."

She added: "The appointment of Stephen Cottrell as Archbishop of York is another marker in the sad and sorry decline of the Cof E and its willingness to depart from clear Biblical teaching."

Church Society has also questioned his appointment. 

In a statement, it said: "Stephen Cottrell is the President of Affirming Catholicism, an organisation which is 'seeking to bring together and strengthen lay and ordained people who recognize the positive, inclusive and joyful currents in the Catholic tradition of Christianity'.

"Among other things, they are seeking to allow same sex marriage and the ministry of people in same sex relationships within the Church of England."

Church Society added: "Please pray today that this appointment would not pave the way for such changes to be made. Pray too for the appointment of a faithful gospel minister as the new Bishop of Chelmsford." 

The Church of England has responded to the criticism in a statement, defending Bishop Cottrell's appointment and rejecting the suggestion that he told Rev Parker he could leave over his views on sexuality. 

"With reference to the recent statement from a pressure group, the accusations made against the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell are entirely without foundation," a spokesperson for the Church said.

"It is untrue that Bishop Stephen suggested to a governor of a Church of England School that his views on sexuality were not welcome and he could leave. Bishop Stephen made that clear at the time and subsequently in an Ad Clerum. It is also untrue that Bishop Stephen suggested to any other clergy that they should leave the Church of England. As he is said at his announcement, the Church of England is a Church for all people, welcoming everyone.

"He upholds the teaching of the Church of England that recognises marriage as being between one man and one woman.

"Bishop Stephen has not endorsed gender transitioning in and of itself for children but has pastoral concern for any child affected by gender dysphoria.

"He holds biblical truth as sacred and is in all matters guided by the gospel. Speaking at the press conference for his announcement he said, 'What binds us together is not our views on this issue or that issue, what binds us together is our faith in Jesus Christ. We say water is thicker than blood. It is our baptism and our belonging to each other that really matters'."

This article has been updated to include the statement from the Church of England spokesperson and to clarify that the Archbishop of York's role is to "share in the leadership" of the Church as opposed to being a "co-leader" as originally stated.