Suffragan bishops: from selection to ordination & consecration

Following on from our post Bishops: from announcement to installation, it seemed timely to summarize the stages leading to the installation of a suffragan bishop; and, for completeness, those relating to an assistant bishop are included. Pre-Reformation, the term ‘suffragan’ referred to diocesan bishops in relation to their metropolitan, but became to be used additionally to refer to the bishops of such sees in relation to their diocesans.

The open-ended nature of the duties defined in Canon C 20 Of bishops suffragan, below, permits their employment in a number of different roles, and contrasts with the more focused role of the diocesan in Canon C 18 Of diocesan bishops: recent examples of the former are the reorganization within the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales (shortly to be renamed the Diocese of Leeds) and as a result of the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Resolution of Disputes Procedure) Regulations 2014. In both circumstances, it has proved convenient to revive a dormant suffragan see.


The Church of England website contains an account of the history of bishoprics, and in January 2004, the House of Bishops’ Standing Committee issued a comprehensive report on suffragans: relevant parts of the latter include the following, extracted from paragraphs 4.9 to 4.12:

“… canon law has provided the Church with a terminology, a legal framework and practice, which have in their turn affected the theology and practice of oversight. It is in this area that the differentiation between diocesan and suffragan bishop is most acutely felt.

“… the diocesan bishop defines the local Church, for the purposes of canon law. He is thus very different, in this legal account of the Church’s ministry, from any suffragan he may appoint, even though they will both have been ordained bishop using the same ordinal.

“The [diocesan] bishop … has an unfettered discretion to appoint any bishop, (for example a retired bishop) as assistant bishop. But neither a suffragan nor an assistant bishop takes any more authority than the diocesan bishop chooses to bestow on him.

“ … in certain situations the diocesan bishop’s jurisdiction involves the exercise of juridical powers in which any suffragan has no share. At that point another officer of the diocese is brought into play: the Chancellor. He is the judge of the Consistory Court”.

“In the service of consecration of a diocesan bishop … the Sovereign’s mandate refers to the diocesan see within which the bishop has been given jurisdiction, and spells out what is entailed in that see, while the Sovereign’s mandate to a suffragan bishop refers only to such a see as is most convenient for this purpose.

In the case of area (suffragan) bishops … their see does have some significance. In the case of other suffragans the choice of see is a matter of convenience only, and in some cases is to all intents and purposes fictitious. It is this legal use of see in canon law, used in relation to the exercise of jurisdiction, which gives to the suffragan bishop the note of anomaly often felt to be associated with his position, rather than the office and work of a bishop, which has been entrusted to him”

Legislative background

Creation of Suffragan sees: The Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 was introduced to remove a lacuna following the separation of the English Church from Rome (“Yet nevertheles no provision hitherto hathe byn made for Suffragans”) and to ensure that bishops could continue to be consecrated to a specific see (rather than being a general episcopal appointment). This provided that certain towns within the Act ”shall be taken and accepted for sees of bishops suffragan to be made in this realm”, and set out the requirement for the nomination and consecration of suffragans.

The Suffragan Bishops Act 1898 added “[n]otwithstanding anything contained in the Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 it shall be lawful to nominate, present, and appoint as suffragan bishop a person already consecrated as a bishop, and in that case the letters patent presenting him shall not require his consecration”. The Suffragans Nomination Act 1888 provided that towns not included in the 1534 Act could be added by an Order in Council, such as that for Knaresborough in 1905, when the total number of sees was only just in double figures, whereas now there are about seventy.

Appointment of Suffragan Bishops and the diocesan structureThe Dioceses Measure 1978 enabled alterations to be made in the diocesan structure in both provinces and included further provision permitting certain functions of diocesan bishops to be discharged by suffragan bishops; in addition, it abolished the power within the 1534 Act whereby a diocesan bishop could give a commission to a suffragan bishop. The Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007 introduced new provisions in place of the 1978 Measure and S8 Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 1983. These included, inter alia: reviewing the provincial and diocesan structure; making reorganisation schemes; changing the name of sees; and the creation and filling of suffragan sees, the nomination of suffragan bishops and the delegation of functions to them and to other persons in episcopal orders.

  • reviewing the provincial and diocesan structure;
  • making reorganisation schemes;
  • changing the name of sees;
  • the creation and filling of suffragan sees;
  • the nomination of suffragan bishops; and
  • the delegation of functions to them and to other persons in episcopal orders.

Section 13 of the 2007 Measure details the position on the delegation of a diocesan bishop’s functions to suffragan bishops including area schemes, and gives the diocesan bishop power to delegate such of his functions as he thinks fit (with very few exceptions) to a suffragan (or assistant) bishop, either for the diocese as a whole or in relation to a particular area. In most cases the diocesan synod must approve the delegation, but the section does not require the consent of or consultation with any central church body. Existing area schemes will continue on a transitional basis, but the Measure gives the diocesan bishop power to revoke or amend them, subject to the approval of the diocesan synod.

The Vacancies in Suffragan Sees and Other Ecclesiastical Offices Measure 2010 further amended the law with respect to the appointment of suffragan bishops and with respect to appointments to fill vacancies in certain ecclesiastical offices to which the monarch has the right of presentation. Under the 2010 Measure: one person (rather than two) is required for the presentation to the Monarch for appointment to a suffragan see; and changes were made the right of presentation to an ecclesiastical office which is vacant during a vacancy in the see of a diocesan bishop and to which the right of presentation would, but for that vacancy, be exercisable by that bishop.

Role of Suffragan Bishops This is defined in Canon C 20 which states:

1. Every bishop suffragan shall endeavour himself faithfully to execute such things pertaining to the episcopal office as shall be delegated to him by the bishop of the diocese to whom he shall be suffragan.

2. Every bishop suffragan shall use, have, or execute only such jurisdiction or episcopal power or authority in any diocese as shall be licensed or limited to him to use, have, or execute by the bishop of the same.

3. Every bishop suffragan shall reside within the diocese of the bishop to whom he shall be suffragan, except he have a licence from that bishop to reside elsewhere.

Suffragan bishops within a diocese The role of a suffragan bishop varies considerably from diocese to diocese and may be changed by the diocesan bishop, as indicated in the CofE document, above. Most suffragan bishops exercise their ministry within a defined geographical area within a diocese, for example:

  • suffragan bishops to whom the diocesan delegates (informally or more formally) varying degrees of responsibility for geographical areas, e.g. Winchester and Peterborough; or
  • suffragan bishops to whom the oversight of geographical areas was delegated by a scheme under the Dioceses Measure 1978, [examples included London, (since 1979); Chelmsford (since 1983); Oxford, (since 1984); Southwark, (since 1991) and Lichfield (since 1992)], or under S13 Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure 2007, [examples include Islington and Berwick (t.b.c.)].

However, some are given a broader geographical remit, including:

  • the suffragan Bishop of Dover, who has oversight of the Diocese of Canterbury as a whole (rather than just an area within it) and undertakes the majority of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s responsibilities in relation to the diocese. The delegation was made by instrument (in 2010) rather than by means of a scheme under the Dioceses Measure 1978 and therefore does not bind the Archbishop or his successors. Uniquely for a suffragan, the Bishop of Dover is a member of the House of Bishops ex officio rather than by election.
  • the suffragan bishop in the recently revived see of Islington who holds “a particular brief for church-planting initiatives primarily in the Diocese of London but to provide advice for other dioceses across England as invited to do so by the local bishop”; and
  • other Provincial Episcopal Visitors, (see below).

In addition, there are:

  • suffragan bishops who give general episcopal assistance to the diocesan;
  • suffragan bishops to whom the diocesan delegates responsibility for certain aspects of the life of the diocese.

Assistant bishops: Doe states that:

“an ecclesiastical practice has developed by which suffragans and other bishops resident in the diocese, who may assist the diocesan, are styled ‘assistant bishops’, ‘honorary assistant bishops’, or ‘auxiliary bishops’ ” [Legal Framework of the Church of England, (1997, Clarendon Press, Oxford) page 162].

In the 4th edition of Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, [page 26] Timothy Briden notes that:“the bishop further has an unfettered discretion to appoint any bishop (for example a retired bishop) as assistant bishop. But neither an assistant bishop not a suffragan takes any more authority than the diocesan chooses to bestow on him [or her]”. The Church’s

“the bishop further has an unfettered discretion to appoint any bishop (for example a retired bishop) as assistant bishop. But neither an assistant bishop not a suffragan takes any more authority than the diocesan chooses to bestow on him [or her]”.The Church’s

The Church’s report on suffragans gives the following description [5.18]:

“Assistant bishops come in different guises. Many are retired bishops, some are stipendiary in non-episcopal rôles whether within diocesan structures or employed by other organisations, and some are stipendiary members of the episcopal team. What they all have in common is that they are appointed by the diocesan bishop from among people already consecrated bishops here or overseas rather than by the national church and state systems which respectively govern the appointment of diocesan and suffragan bishops.”

Consequently, whereas the roles of diocesan and suffragan bishops are defined in Canons C18 and C20, respectively, there is no equivalent definition of the role of “assistant bishop”. Nevertheless, Canon C 14 Of the Oaths of Obedience states:

“1. Every person whose election to any bishopric is to be confirmed, or who is to be consecrated bishop or translated to any bishopric or suffragan bishopric, or who is to be licensed as an assistant bishop, shall first take the oath of due obedience to the archbishop and to the metropolitical Church of the province wherein he is to exercise the episcopal office in the form and manner prescribed in and by the Ordinal.

Furthermore, section 13(16) of the 2007 Measure provides that “’suffragan bishop’ includes an assistant bishop”.

Provincial Episcopal VisitorsProvincial Episcopal Visitors [a.k.a. “flying bishops”] are suffragan bishops but are subject to no additional legislative requirements in relation to their appointment; with regard to their legal and canonical status this was summarized in a recent post. Four of the Church of England’s suffragan bishops are designated Provincial Episcopal Visitors and have a special responsibility to support parishes that have petitioned under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993. They may attend and speak at meetings of the House of Bishops, but are not members and do not have voting rights unless as one of the seven suffragan bishops elected to the House, (four from the Province of Canterbury, and three from the Province of York).

Acting BishopsWhen a diocese becomes vacant a suffragan usually discharges the functions of the diocesan bishop during the vacancy in accordance with the power delegated to him under the provisions within section 14 of the 2007 Measure. S14(2) provides that the instrument of delegation made by the diocesan “shall not be longer than twelve months but which may be extended by the archbishop of the province”, as during the Oxford sede vacante. Acting diocesan bishops also attend meetings of the House of Bishops but do not vote unless they are entitled as an elected representative suffragan.

Appointment of suffragan bishops

Suffragan seesUnder section 12 of the 2007 Measure, a diocesan bishop has a duty to keep the provision of episcopal ministry under review and in undertaking this duty is required to consult widely such persons and bodies as he thinks fit. As a consequence, when a suffragan see becomes vacant or is in prospect of becoming vacant, under section 17 he must consult the diocesan synod as to whether the vacancy should be filled; where he deems that the matter is urgent such consultation is impracticable, he may consult the bishop’s council and standing committee of that diocesan synod.

The filling of a vacant suffragan see is therefore not the default option, and there are a number of that have been in abeyance for a considerable time, here; however, as recent events have demonstrated, these dormant sees may be revived as in the case of Islington and Berwick (t.b.c.) and an extant see may be renamed: Knaresborough and Pontefract in the former diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales were officially changed to Ripon and Wakefield respectively by Order in Council on 19 March 2015.

Appointments to vacant or dormant suffragan see

After consulting the diocesan synod or bishop’s council and standing committee of synod, the diocesan notifies the archbishop of the province and the Dioceses Commission of his proposal and give his reasons for it. Within two months, the Commission must notify the bishop and the archbishop of its agreement with the bishop’s proposal or that it considers further consideration is necessary under sections 17(6)&(7) of the Measure.

If the Commission has notified the bishop and the archbishop under 17(3) that: it agrees with the bishop’s proposal: or that it considers that the proposal needs further consideration and the archbishop has informed the bishop that he does not agree with the Commission’s view, then the bishop may petition the monarch to exercise her powers to appoint a suffragan bishop to fill the vacancy under the Suffragan Bishops Act 1534 (26 Hen. 8 c. 14). In contrast to the appointment of diocesan bishops, the monarch is involved on two occasions – in relation to the decision to fill the vacant see; and the choice of the candidate for that see, below.

The provisions in section 17 of the 2007 Measure do not apply to the see of the suffragan Bishop of Dover or to any see intended to be held by a suffragan bishop appointed to act as a provincial episcopal visitor; in these cases, the archbishop of the province will decide whether an appointment is required or not.

Nomination process

Details of the nomination process for suffragan bishops are contained in the CofE document here (January 2009). Once the diocesan has identified two names, both of whom are suitable for appointment and chosen his preferred candidate, he/she seeks concurrence from the archbishop on his decision. If the archbishop concurs, the diocesan bishop makes a verbal offer to the preferred candidate, subject to a satisfactory medical examination and CRB check.

The petition to the Crown is submitted with a letter from the archbishop of the province supporting the two candidates and explaining why the first is preferred. The Diocesan Registrar liaises with the “recruiting” and “exporting” diocesan bishops to arrange for the Petition to the Crown to be prepared; the office of the Archbishop’s Secretary for Appointments will liaise with the diocesan bishop, Downing Street and the candidate to determine a suitable announcement date.

Ordination and consecration

As a precursor to the ordination and consecration service, the suffragan bishop-designate is required to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Monarch and the Oath of Due Obedience to the archbishop of the province, as this recent example demonstrates. The consecration of diocesan and suffragan bishops is subject to the requirements of C 2 Of the consecration of bishops, of which the relevant parts are:

  1. No person shall be consecrated to the office of bishop by fewer than three bishops present together and joining in the act of consecration, of whom one shall be the archbishop of the province or a bishop appointed to act on his behalf.
  2. The consecration of a bishop shall take place upon some Sunday or Holy Day, unless the archbishop, for urgent and weighty cause, shall appoint some other day.

The service for the ordination and consecration of a suffragan bishop follows the same format as that of a diocesan, although with regard to the presentation, the notes suggest “[a]t the ordination of a suffragan bishop, it will be appropriate for the diocesan bishop to present the ordinand and answer the archbishop’s questions about his call and preparation.


Following the changes to the legislation that permitted women to be ordained as bishops, the service of ordination and ordination and consecration of both diocesan and suffragan bishops has provided a focus for groups and individuals with views on both sides of the argument. This has resulted in particular emphasis being places upon the participants at the services of the bishops-designate in this still contentious area, and this has been well captured in the Thinking Anglicans blog, here, here, here and elsewhere. This is per se beyond the scope of L&RUK, although the work of the Independent Assessor, Sir Philip Mawer, in relation to the Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (Resolution of Disputes Procedure) Regulations 2014 clearly falls within our sphere of interest, and a summary of his first Annual Report is available here.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Suffragan bishops: from selection to ordination & consecration" in Law & Religion UK, 27 April 2016,

7 thoughts on “Suffragan bishops: from selection to ordination & consecration

  1. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 1st May | Law & Religion UK

  2. What this exposition of the history and current practice does not state is when a new Suffragan Bishop becomes the Bishop of x.
    Clearly they become a Bishop when they are consecrated, but do they also take up the Suffragan See by virtue of the consecration, or do they need to be subsequently installed? If someone already in episcopal orders is nominated to a Suffragan See at what point do they take up the See?

    • For completeness, it is worthwhile going back a step and first considering the circumstances for a diocesan bisop. In the 4th edition of Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, the Editor Timothy Briden states: “[when] the person named takes oaths of allegiance to the Crown and obedience to the Archbishop, and at that point becomes in law the bishop of the diocese. But, if he has never been consecrated bishop, before he can perform the sacramental acts of a bishop, he must first be consecrated.

      The procedure for a suffragan-designate who has never been consecrated bishop may be evinced from the Westminster Abbey Order of Service for “The Venerable Karen Marisa Gorham to be Bishop of Sherborne in the Diocese of Salisbury, and The Reverend Canon Michael Robert Harrison to be Bishop of Dunwich in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich”.

      In the Jerusalem Chamber before the service, the Bishops-designate of Sherborne and Dunwich take the Oath of Allegiance to The Queen’s Majesty and the Oath of Due Obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury, tendered to them by the Principal Registrar, [page 6]. They then process into the Abbey in the Procession of the Archbishop of Canterbury as Bishops-designate of Sherborne and Dunwich [page 9]. They make the Declaration of Assent [pages 11-12]. The Liturgy of Ordination follows the Collect, Epistle, Gospel and Sermon, [pages 18-24], and after the Archbishop’s concluding ordination prayer, he gives a bible the newly-ordained bishops, [page 25].

      For a suffragan-designate who had been ordained bishop and can already perform the sacramental acts of a bishop, the ordination part of the service would not be applicable.

  3. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 15th May | Law & Religion UK

  4. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 4th September | Law & Religion UK

  5. Pingback: A new suffragan see for Loughborough | Law & Religion UK

  6. Pingback: Vacant Sees | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *