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Justin Welby claims he's 'not the Pope' -- but he's acting like one

Justin Welby claims he's 'not the Pope' -- but he's acting like one
The trips abroad, the photocalls, and the constant Twitter updates give the impression
that the Archbishop is the apex of the pyramid

By Catherine Pepinster
February 16, 2022

Just who does Justin Welby think he is? In an interview this week the Archbishop of
Canterbury declared "I am not the Pope". But to some Anglicans, there was a hint of
The Boss in the way he dealt with Covid-19 in the early days, when the Church of England
locked down, shutting its doors not only on churchgoers but on its own clerics, banning
them from their altars. The evidence was that this came from the top, though he now says

But back in March 2020, Archbishop Welby and the then Archbishop of York, John
Sentamu wrote to all priests that they were bringing in measures to shut down churches.
It meant an end to weddings, funerals, baptisms and Sunday services -- the first time that
churches in this country had entirely closed their doors since the days of King John.
Services went digital with vicars live-streaming from their kitchen tables or rectory
studies -- and it infuriated many Anglicans. They couldn't understand why the vicar could
not celebrate at the church altar, alone, with that service live-streamed. After all, that was
what Roman Catholics were doing -- although decisions about worship came from local
bishops, not directed by Rome.

The familiar altar table, with its candles, its altar cloth, and glimpses of the much-loved
nave where countless generations had worshipped down the years -- all these were
banished and invisible for months at a time when they might have brought comfort to
those at home.

It is not just that Covid decision, however distressing that was, that persuades people.

Welby is more of a Pope than a successor to Robert Runcie, George Carey and Rowan
Williams. It's the trips abroad and the photocalls, the constant Twitter updates about all
manner of subjects under the sun, as if Welby is right at the top -- the apex of the pyramid.
It is also his firmness of purpose and the executive skills gleaned from years in the oil
business that suggest a figure with more authority than his predecessors. I recall years
ago on one of my visits to Rome that Vatican officials could not understand why the
Archbishop of Canterbury did not have more authority and why he didn't knock heads
together. I doubt they say that about Welby -- although they might not like his comment
that he's not a Pope because the Church of England is not a dictatorship, hinting that he
thinks Rome is.

Back here in England, there are times when it would benefit his church if Welby did act
more like a pope -- if that means leading from the top, insisting that changes are made,
and doing a bit of table-banging. Surely it is time for him to help the Church of England's
bedrock: the parishes. For years now, they have been bled dry by the parish share system,
with increasing demands to send money to the dioceses. As church membership declines
-- less than a million attend Church of England services on a Sunday - fewer and fewer
loyal Anglicans are being asked to carry an impossible financial burden of funding their
own parish as well as handing over substantial sums to what could be called regional head
office. And insistence on change at local level must be matched by Welby knocking heads
together to put an end to ever-increasing bureaucracies of the myriad dioceses with their
jobs boom. Climate change officers, sustainability experts, inequality advisers -- you can
find them across the country in the CofE dioceses.

Then there are the number of dioceses and their bishops.

In a document leaked in the past few days that was written by Welby, the current
Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, and Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, and
full of phrases about "a new paradigm", the problem was evident: there are 42 dioceses,
each with a bishop, plus dozens of suffragan bishops as well. Buried within its pages is the
admission that 27 of the 42 dioceses are operating on deficit budgets, although the
document seems to suggest that there should not so much be a drop in episcopal numbers
but non-diocesan ones who would "speak into particular issues". A Bishop of Global
Warming, perhaps?

This latest document from the Archbishops and the Bishop of London says that they are
convinced that "God is calling us to embrace significant change". Welby will soon have
been a decade in office. If he can knock heads together so that the C of E is leaner and
fitter and focuses on prayer, looks after its sacred spaces and keeps them open, then he
will leave a legacy to be proud of.


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