The Election of The Rt Rev Stephen Geoffrey Cottrell as the 98th Archbishop of York was confirmed on Thursday 9 July 2020 at 11.00am at the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York. The Order of Service includes a description of the legal processes involved, which is reproduced below.
The Legal Process
The Vicar-General of the Province of York introduces the legal proceedings, explaining their origin and purpose, and how they have been adapted in the unusual circumstances of the coronavirus so that they can be held ‘virtually’ with the participants taking part via Zoom.
The Vicar-General says:
We now commence the legal process by which the Election of the new Archbishop of York is to be confirmed.
There are three stages in the appointment of a bishop.
The first is the selection. That process involved the Crown Nominations Commission which, after consultation in the Diocese and in the wider province of York, recommended that the Prime Minister should submit Stephen Cottrell’s name to Her Majesty The Queen for appointment as the 98th Archbishop of York.
The second stage involved the Queen giving permission to the College of Canons of the Cathedral to elect the next Archbishop of York and recommending to them the person they should elect. The Queen then by her Letters Patent commissioned the bishops who have come together today to confirm that Election.
The third stage is usually the enthronement of the Archbishop in the cathedral which marks the effective commencement of the new ministry. In the present circumstances that cannot take place, and the commencement of the new Archbishop’s ministry will be marked in a video which will be released at the conclusion of these proceedings.
The act of confirmation involving the Archbishop of Canterbury and other senior bishops from the Provinces of both York and Canterbury reflects the fact that since at least the fourth century it has been a fundamental principle that confirmation of an episcopal election on behalf of the wider church is necessary.
The act of confirmation is legally very important because it confers upon the Archbishop the spiritual jurisdiction over the Diocese by committing to him ‘the care, government and administration of the spirituals’ of the Archbishopric. It is, therefore, the confirmation of the election which makes the Archbishop-Elect into the Archbishop of the Diocese.
The wording used in the process of confirmation has a long history. Before the eighteenth century it was in Latin, but in about 1733 an English translation was introduced. Today a somewhat modernised version is used which has been adapted to deal with the restrictions that prevent us being together in one physical space.
Sitting as a court of law (as Commissioners of Her Majesty The Queen, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England), the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops have to decide whether the procedural steps have been properly carried out so that the election of the new Archbishop can be confirmed. There are several stages in the proceedings.
First, in accordance with the Appointment of Bishops Act 1533, there is the direction from Her Majesty to the Commissioners in the form of Letters Patent calling them together to confirm the Archbishop’s election.
Secondly, the Advocate will introduce the Archbishop-Elect, and the Proctor will prove to the Commissioners that all the necessary procedures have been complied with and that no objections should be permitted to be heard.
Thirdly, the Archbishop-Elect will take the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, as required by the Canons of the Church of England and make his Declaration of Assent.
Fourthly and finally, His Grace, if the Commissioners are so satisfied, shall read the sentence or decree of the Court, which confers upon the Archbishop the spiritual jurisdiction over the Diocese.
In the unusual circumstances that have prevailed by reason of the coronavirus, His Grace, having the conduct of the Court within his discretion, has directed that the proceedings will take place through a video conferencing facility.
To the extent that such a novel approach might raise questions of validity or identification, I can confirm that the Vicars-General of both Provinces, along with other senior legal officials in the Church of England, have expressed themselves satisfied that in these circumstances, this approach using electronic means to fulfil the requirements of the historic legislation is entirely appropriate; and, I might add, the Archbishop-Elect, who has been the Bishop of Chelmsford and before that was Bishop of Reading is well-known to all those taking part in these proceedings today.
On 20 May, the Church of England issued a Press Release reporting that the Election would be conducted in a service broadcast entirely via video conference due to the Coronavirus restrictions. As Presiding Judge, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, granted permission for the virtual service to take place.
A further Press Release reported that Bishop Stephen had been formally ‘Elected’ by York Minster’s College of Canons to be the 98th Archbishop of York. The election endorsed the Queen’s nomination of Bishop Stephen as the new Archbishop.