No Popery please, we’re British

No Popery please, we’re British March 10, 2014

From way down under, the North Island of New Zealand to be precise, comes a charming example of how to botch a story on the Anglican Communion.

Reporters please note … while they may dress alike and their liturgy may sound alike, and they even have similar job titles … the Anglican Communion is not an English speaking version of the Catholic Church.

Sure there are Anglicans who prattle on about being Catholic and take umbrage at the suggestion they are Protestants — the three branches theory is usually trotted out at this time (which in a nutshell means there are three historic churches Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox and the rest are sects of recent origin.) Nonsense on stilts in my opinion, but I don’t want to be too cranky this early in the week, so I will stick to journalism.

The Fairfax newspaper chain in New Zealand published a story about the visit of the Archbishop of York to New Plymouth. The lede ran:

The second most powerful ranked person in the Anglican Church is supporting the move to have female bishops consecrated in the Church of England. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, spoke in New Plymouth of his long-term support for the law change yesterday.

It was time for the controversy to be over so the Church of England could concentrate on its most pressing issue, that of poverty, he said. “I’m hoping we can get [the legislation] through and then move on to what we have committed ourselves to be doing. That must be the area that we must concentrate on most, dealing with the poor.”

Well, at least the reporter had her Times of London style book out and had the man’s name right. In the church press the first mention of the archbishop’s name would be “the Most Rev. John Sentamu”. Subsequent mentions would be “Dr. Sentamu”. The “Dr.” appelation is standard practice save for when an Anglican bishop prefers to be called bishop or archbishop instead. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, prefers “Bishop Jefferts Schori” over “Dr. Jefferts Schori.”

The Times and other British publications would use the “Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu” style. Note the “the” is not capitalized. That is reserved for “The Queen” and other top royals. The “American style books also differ from their English cousins in the non-capitalization of “archbishop”. The New York Times or the AP would have styled him “archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu.”

A recent style error that has crept into the press in recent years is the combination of academic and clerical titles. One sees this sort of things even in diocesan press statements; “Canon Dr.” or “Bishop Dr.”. Whether this is done through ignorance (my guess), vanity (common enough amongst clergy) or an attempt to follow the German styling (Herr Prof. Dr. Dr. Schmidt) is hard to tell.

While I’m at it, the other modern affectations that drive me batty are adding a cross after the name of a cleric and referring to someone with their clergy title and first name. Fr Ted may work for television but it is an Irish diminutive that has taken root in recent years  amongst clergy across the English speaking world. Whenever I see references to “Bishop Tim” I think not of the man’s attempt to be as one with the people, but of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Tim the Enchanter.

What was meant to be silly in the 1970s is now taken as a sign of street credibility.

Yes, I know that the Orthodox have long called their clerics by title and first name — but that tradition is quite distinct from the current fad in the Anglosphere. These prelates do not drop their last names, but trot out the first only when they want to be seen as being authentic.

But let’s head back down under and look at this lede. It has the name correct, but messes up the rest. Dr. Sentamu is not the “second most powerful ranked person in the Anglican Church.”

There are quite a few bishops in my experience who are bigger, stronger and faster than John Sentamu. Is there a Gladiators spin off for bishops I have missed on cable television? Perhaps on EWTN?

If the reporter is not referring to Dr. Sentamu’s physical prowess but to his authority within the Anglican Communion, this too is incorrect.

There is no pope in the Anglican world. The Archbishop of Canterbury (archbishop of Canterbury for you NYT purists) is first among equals. But who are his equals? Answer: the other 37 prelates who lead the independent provinces of the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of York leads the Province of York within the Church of England, one of two internal provinces (the other is Canterbury led by, you guessed it, the Archbishop of Canterbury.) The Archbishop of Canterbury is Primate of All England and one of 38 primates in the Anglican world.

If you want to rank Dr. Sentamu, who is Primate of England (note the missing “All”) he would then be number 39 — yet there are also archbishops who like Dr. Sentamu who are not primates but lead provinces within the 38 national churches. There are archbishops in West Africa, Australia and Nigeria who lead larger provinces (in terms of numbers of adherents) than the Archbishop of York — and in New Zealand there are three archbishops (who confusingly are co-primates of that church, but only one shows up to the meetings of all 38).

Dr. Sentamu is not a member of an Anglican curia–there is not one–and has no jurisdiction outside the North of England. It is incorrect to style him as the number two man in the church.

Further down the story, we see some more problems of substance.

The archbishop was visiting New Plymouth again this weekend to attend the official welcome to the 7th Bishop of Waikato and Taranaki, the Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley.

Bishop Hartley, consecrated two weeks ago, is the first woman ordained in the Church of England before moving to New Zealand. She becomes the third woman in this country to become a bishop.

Not quite. Bishop Hartley (or Dr. Hartley) is not the “first woman ordained in the Church of England”. What I think the newspaper meant to say is that she is first Englishwoman to be consecrated as a bishop. The Church of England at present does not ordain women to the episcopate while New Zealand does. Dr. Hartley was ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England but moved to New Zealand where she was elected a bishop.

Now all of this is not of life changing importance, but when you use Catholic constructs of hierarchy to describe the workings of the Anglican Churches you are making a category mistake that misconstrues at its deepest level the ecclesiology of the two churches.

Don’t do it. Please, just don’t.


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  • Brett

    The “the” in his title might also be capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, as it is here. 😉

    • SCBluCatLady

      Exactly. When do you *not* start a sentence with a capital letter??

  • wlinden

    Another gaffe I keep reading is the assertion that, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, but Queen Elizabeth is “the head of the Anglican Communion”. She is the nominal head of the CHURCH OF ENGLAND.

    And while we are on this, I am still fuming over a NYT story which said that the Church of England’s Convocation was the legislative authority for “British” Anglican churches, which would come as a surprise to the Church in Wales and the Episcopal Church in Scotland.

    • The original Mr. X

      Technically, I believe, Elizabeth II is only “Supreme Governor” of the Church of England. The Church’s actual head is Jesus.

      • George Conger

        The Queen is essential, Jesus is an optional extra — paraphrasing Sir Humphrey Appleby

  • Suzanne Gill

    I understand that “Dr.” is redundant with “the Rev.” if it is an honorific. But what of a person who has an earned doctorate and is ordained as well? Should one say “The Rev. Thelonius Monk, Ph.D”? Or should one take the path of modesty and claim just one post-graduate degree at a time, depending upon circumstances? What then of vestry member Ebenezer Scrooge, CPA, D.Div., whose clients may want a theologian to do their taxes? Is he out of bounds as well?

    • George Conger

      The Rev. Dr. is OK (I guess, with great grumbling and weeping and gnashing of teeth).

      My ire is reserved for the The Rev. Canon Dr. types. This started about 15 years ago and is getting worse. I once came across someone with the Very Ven Rev. Canon Dr. XXX XXX. Any guess if he was a spike in a continuing church or one of God’s elect (an Evangelical)?

      When in doubt, check Debretts, I say.

      • Suzanne Gill

        Naturally, (ahem) I was not asking for myself. And I do sympathize with your thesis. I attended a college where all the faculty were addressed simply as “Mr.” or “Miss/Ms.” The catalogue explained that those who held a Ph.D. were “expected to rise above it.”

  • Re: “the Most. Rev. John Sentamu”. The church press puts a period after “Most”?

    • George Conger

      Er, no. Typo on my part —

  • FW Ken

    You dealt with the “powerful” issue which was the main thing I noticed.

    But I would like to add that “Father David” and “Bishop Michael” are gaining popularity at least in my part of the Catholic world. The really hip tend to prefer “call me Joe”. Traditionalists despise this practice, of course, but I’d like to see a real study of why this is happening. Interestingly, pope’s are frequently referred to as “Pope Woytila” our whatever. I do wonder what’s behind it all.