Opinion

Isn’t God devolved? Why Archbishop of Canterbury has shown contempt for Wales

22 Jun 2021 4 minutes Read
Official portrait of The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. By Roger Harris

Dr Huw Evans

The Bishop of Saint Davids, Joanna Penberthy, is going through uncomfortable personal times in the wake of her Twitter proclamation that you should “never, never, never, trust a Tory”.

While not denying the significance of the issues that the Tweet has unleashed, the focus of this article is on implied assumptions concerning the nature of the response as encapsulated by the Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. This is a matter for the Church in Wales, but that position has not been respected.

The ‘offending’ tweet was made on 25 March 2021. On 2 June 2021, the Bishop of Saint Davids issued a public apology which was published on the Church in Wales website. That was followed by a Church in Wales statement the next day welcoming the apology and reminding its clergy of their responsibilities.

With that exchange of public statements in place, it might have been thought that a line could be drawn in the sand. But it was not the case. In fact, the exchange seems to have been the catalyst for the escalation of matters.

The Secretary of State for Wales then intervened and wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury on 8 June asking about his plans “as leader of the Anglican Church to ensure such situations can be avoided in the future”. He also justified writing directly to the Archbishop of Canterbury because of the absence of an incumbent Archbishop of Wales.

The Archbishop of Canterbury responded on 17 June saying that the Bishop of Saint Davids’ behaviour was “absolutely unacceptable” and that he was “deeply embarrassed by the use of such language by a church leader”.

But why is the Secretary of State for Wales (a UK Government minister) writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, on a matter related to the Church in Wales? After all, God is a devolved matter.

Until 1920 the territory of the Church of England included Wales. The delayed implementation of the Welsh Church Act 1914 disestablished the Church in Wales and created Wales as a separate province in the Anglican Communion.

Church in England

The effect of that legislation is that the Church in England remains as the established church in England – and ‘established’ means that it is part of the state. But from that time the Church in Wales has not been part of the state. It has the same status as any other church or religious group.

The Church in Wales is part of the wider Anglican Community, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is acknowledged as spiritual leader (as ‘first among equals’ or ‘primus inter pares’). That position though is materially different from the role of, say, a line manager to which a complainant might go running for the alleged misdemeanour of a person in an organisation with more junior status.

But in writing as he did, the Secretary of State, implicitly suggests that he does regard the Archbishop of Canterbury as the as the Bishop of St Davids’ de facto line manager. Furthermore, the tenor of the Archbishop’s response suggests that was how he also saw his role.

That is not to suggest that the Archbishop was not entitled to a view, but he should have expressed things to better acknowledge the autonomy of the Church in Wales and how the matter was being dealt with by the Church in Wales, as evidenced by the website statements.

The reason for the Secretary of State writing directly to the Archbishop of Canterbury due to the absence of incumbent Archbishop of Wales is wholly unconvincing. The Church in Wales does not cease to function when there is no incumbent archbishop. As provided for by its constitution, there is a de facto acting Archbishop who is the longest serving sitting bishop – and which, in this case, is the Bishop of Bangor, Andy John.

Even if, despite the apology from the Bishop of St Davids on 2 June and the subsequent statement from the Church in Wales, the Secretary of State continued to be dissatisfied with things, he could have pursued the issue further with the Church in Wales through the Bishop of Bangor.

Why does this matter? Because the episode shows a contempt for structures and arrangements in Wales, of which this is not the only example.

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CJPh
CJPh
3 months ago

Clywch clywch! Some sense at last! I do hope that the commentariat read this article and see beyond the chance for another round of “Boo, tories!” There is not a single pan-British institution that should be afforded the right to treat Wales’ institutions in the manner that they do. The Tories, Labour, the lib dems, the Bank of England, Westminster, Whitehall, The Crown Estates, the BBC – any institution which upholds the UK actively stands against our aspiration for freedom and should simply be ignored and supplanted by Welsh institutions. The further they are from relevance, the closer we get… Read more »

Geoffrey Harris
Geoffrey Harris
3 months ago

I am confused, I thought that John Davies was the Archbishop of Wales.
Is this not the case?

Dafydd Pritchard
Dafydd Pritchard
3 months ago

Retired.

Ann Corkett
Ann Corkett
3 months ago

Not the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury has offended Welsh bushops: ‘ According to the narrative of Bede, the Britons in these regions viewed Augustine with uncertainty, and their suspicion was compounded by a diplomatic misjudgement on Augustine’s part. In 603, Augustine and Æthelberht summoned the British bishops to a meeting south of the Severn. These guests retired early to confer with their people, who, according to Bede, advised them to judge Augustine based upon the respect he displayed at their next meeting. When Augustine failed to rise from his seat on the entrance of the British bishops, they… Read more »

Meurig Williams
Meurig Williams
3 months ago
Reply to  Ann Corkett

This is all childish gibberish. Battles between the C of E and the C in Wales merely illustrate that Christianity is mostly a political construct. It is about power and wealth. Yes, some people get comfort from it in hard times, but they should also get real. 

AnthonyA Coslett
AnthonyA Coslett
3 months ago

That is your opinion and you have every right to express it but I think you speak from the heart without any real authoritative back up. The Christian faith is far more than a mere source of comfort. In its true form it is a movement for radical change and a total rearrangement of human priorities with an ‘option for the poor’ as the foundation of ‘faith in action’. Speaking as she did, the Bishop of St.David’s expressed that God centred option. Uncomfortable for her, disquieting for the Tories and the U.K. establishment. As they did with Christ, they will… Read more »

Meurig Williams
Meurig Williams
3 months ago

“without any real authoritative back up”. What do you mean by that? “shut her up” and “crucify her”. Are those not political acts? It is not an accident that the Q of England is the head of the C of E. 

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
3 months ago

Very well said.

Quornby
Quornby
3 months ago

I have nothing but contempt for Hart.

Ann Swindale
Ann Swindale
3 months ago

Another paragraph which has not been proof read!
“Until 1920 the territory of the Church of England included Wales. The delayed implementation of the Welsh Church Act 2014 disestablished the Church in Wales and created Wales as a separate province in the Anglican Communion.”

Nick Randall-Smith
Nick Randall-Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  Ann Swindale

I saw that and thought there was a mistake, it was 1914 not 2014. The Archbishop of Canterbury is head of the Anglican Church but I thought his role was more like a chairperson than a managing director of the whole denomination, he may have some influence but no power in Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales has been badly advised methinks. I can fully understand the views of Bishop Joanna and I hope she doesn’t resign BUT I think her original statement about Tories was a tad undiplomatic.

Siân
Siân
3 months ago

This smacks of Anglican Church yet again making unwanted comments about Wales. Very patronising. As for Hart this really isn’t going to endear the Tories to the people of Wales how dare he undermine the Church in Wales’ authority. Ok not quite the Blue Books but insulting all the same.

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
3 months ago

It is nothing to do with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
3 months ago

Isn’t the Queen still head of the Church of England? Does that also make her head of the Church in Wales?
I was raised Chapel myself so never understood ‘churchy’ stuff! Might explain why I don’t really do religion!
I sort of get W.C. Fields, known as an atheist, in his deathbed, found reading the Bible. When questioned, he replied he was ‘looking for loopholes’!

Mandi A
Mandi A
3 months ago
Reply to  Huw Davies

Re the Queen’s position, disestablishment meant a complete break from the State. The Welsh Bishops no longer sat as Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords. (There are 26 English Bishops in the HoL.) The Archbishop of Wales is elected by electoral college from amongst the Welsh Bishops, three of whom are currently women. The Archbishop retains his/her diocesan responsibilities as well as having oversight over the Church in Wales overall. Bishop Andrew John as the Senior Bishop was obliged to respond once Welby had got involved but had refrained from public comment before then. Dr Evans is quite right… Read more »

max
max
3 months ago

Joanna Penberthy is of course entirely correct in her initial assertion, ridiculous of Justin Welby to even comment considering it didn’t stop him passing derisory comments during a General Election against one of the main party leaders.
Justin Welby is a hypocrite of the highest order, but perhaps that follows conidering he is an ex banker…

Bruce
Bruce
3 months ago

Are the Tories looking for an excuse to bring the Church of Wales back under the Church of England i.e. undo over 100 years of disestablishment? It wouldn’t surprise me with all the unionist garbage they’ve come out with.

AnthonyA Coslett
AnthonyA Coslett
3 months ago

The Church in Wales, like The Episcopal Church of Scotland and The Church of Ireland is an autonomous Church in membership of the world wide Anglican Communion of self governing Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury and the seat of St. Augustine whose successor as Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of that global Communion. He has no power over any of the member churches just influence in his role as a centre of unity for the Communion. His intervention in the affairs of The Church in Wales, and his disingenuous remarks about a Welsh Diocesan Bishop… Read more »

Mandi A
Mandi A
3 months ago

How splendid, diolch yn fawr i chi. Just posted on BBC Wales online, the Bishop of Bangor has been obliged to apologise to the blessed Virginia Crosbie MP of my parish for a FB post by a congregant at St. Cybi’s on Sunday last. VC was accused of “schmoozing” in promising to help in attracting grant monies. St. Cybi’s by itself is well on its way to attract substantial funding to build itself as one of Wales’ pilgrimage centres. Poor old Bish, no wonder he hasn’t got time to convene the College to elect a new Archbishop for Wales.

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
3 months ago

Same as the Church of South India and the Church of North India (both of which I attended depending on where I am in India at the time) and many others churches in the Anglican Communion throughout the world.

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
2 months ago

Would the Archbishop of Wales care to pass comment on Welby’s involvement in the bizarre Iwerne Trust / Titus Trust and its perculiar rituals and abuse of boys.

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