By Kirk Petersen
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Cottrell, who has been Bishop of Chelmsford since 2010, has been named the next Archbishop of York, the second-most senior cleric in the Church of England. He will succeed the Rt. Rev. John Sentamu upon the latter’s retirement next year.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby welcomed Cottrell’s appointment, saying “Bishop Stephen knows well the variety and vibrancy of the Anglican Communion and is utterly committed to the life and unity of the communion as a whole.” Sentamu said: “Bishop Stephen Cottrell has the Gospel in his belly and a tiger in the tank. … His greatest passion is to share the Gospel with everyone in a friendly and accessible way.”
But the appointment was not universally supported, and has stirred up controversy over issues of human sexuality that have roiled the Anglican Communion for two decades.
“This is not a bishop who respects biblical truth when it comes to human sexuality or marriage,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, a conservative evangelical group. “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.”
Earlier this year, Cottrell was accused of suggesting that a priest who opposed gender transition efforts for an 8-year-old pupil in a church school should leave the church. After the priest, John Parker, left the church, Cottrell denied the allegation: “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,” Cottrell said.
Cottrell has been a strong supporter of women’s ordination and an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons, and “has said everyone is welcome in the Church regardless of their sexuality,” Reuters reports.
The new archbishop-designate has continued a close relationship between the Diocese of Chelmsford and the Anglican Church of Kenya that began in the 1970s. “A two-week educational visit to Kenya is now a standard part of our Curate training,” according to Cottrell’s personal website. The archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Jackson Ole Sapit, is one of several Anglican primates who have announced they will not attend the Lambeth 2020 Conference as a protest against the invitation of bishops who have same-sex spouses.
Cottrell, who is white, has been critical of the Church of England’s record on promoting minority clergy and bishops into senior positions. “Our record is not good, there’s no point in pretending otherwise,” he said. Ironically, he will be succeeding the Church’s highest-ranking minority cleric, Bishop Sentamu, who fled his native Uganda in 1974 after speaking out against the dictator Idi Amin.
The announcement of Cottrell’s appointment was the first official acknowledgement that he was even being considered for the post. The selection of bishops in the Church of England contrasts sharply with the process in the Episcopal Church, where presiding and diocesan bishops are elected by conventions of broadly representative lay and clerical leaders, who choose from multiple candidates after months of public discernment.
In the Church of England, a Crown Nominations Commission meets in secret to consider candidates, then informs the prime minister of its top choice and an alternate. If the prime minister accepts the selection, a single name is forwarded to the Queen, who then makes the formal nomination. All of that has happened already for Cottrell.
In a process dating back to 1534, a College of Canons must still formally elect the person nominated by the Crown. But the outcome is not in doubt, and the College of Canons was not mentioned in the announcement or coverage of the appointment.