Why do you keep saying that you want us to remain in the Church of England? By ‘you’ we mean most of the members of the House of Bishops, most of the membership of General Synod, most clergy, and probably a large number of the laity, of those who are informed enough on the subject. By ‘us’ we mean orthodox Catholic Anglicans, who by conviction are unable to accept the innovation of women bishops – a position which, even if wrong, deserves an honoured place in the Church of England for being what was believed by all for over nineteen hundred years.
Why do you say that you want us to remain in the Church of England, if you do not want to do anything to allow it to happen? Why make trouble for yourselves? You want us to stay; you don’t want to do anything about it; the problem is yours.
Nearly every English reader of New Directions has heard, many times, expressions of heartfelt generosity towards us (wrong as we may be), earnest pleas that we should stay in the church of our birth, even passionate articulations of commitment to our future life together. Expressions that have every appearance of being sincere. You make it sound as though you believe what you say, and that if it were up to you all would be well.
This is complete nonsense. When the overwhelming majority expresses a desire to do something, and then has to blame another unseen, unknown majority for the failure of its intentions, that is self-deluding nonsense. These things cannot always be someone else’s fault.
The idea that the differences between us are merely ‘theological’ and therefore of a secondary order, of real interest only to people who like that sort of thing, is also a nonsense.
When Christina Rees writes this month, from the other side of the debate, that ‘we are part of an altogether deeper spiritual process,’ we entirely agree. That which divides us is not trivial.
We disagree about the nature of the Church, the Body of Christ, the sacrament of salvation. It therefore makes nonsense to want people to stay while doing everything practical to get rid of them. Either the Church of England seeks to remain inclusive and comprehensive, or for reasons of its own it does not.
Are Christians being persecuted in Britain? The answer to the question posed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury is probably No. Is there a strain of persistent anti-Catholic prejudice in British society (not least among the post-Christian majority)? The answer must be a resounding Yes.
Steven Mulvain (the ‘Oxbridge tosser’, in the colourful words of the religious affairs correspondent of The Times) demonstrated his own bad taste by the tongue-in-cheek memo which he circulated about the forthcoming Papal visit. But at the same time he uncovered an ugly vein of sneering prejudice which has marked our society since the sixteenth century, and is alive and well along the corridors of power to this day.
There is, however, a noticeable difference between the no-popery of the past – and of Ian Paisley – and that of the current secular consensus. In the past the prejudice was doctrinally based: committed Protestants rejected the dogmas of the Faith. Now it is all about sex – gay marriages, condoms, abortion. The liberal, liberated majority is offended that the Church continues to uphold the sexual mores which it has so successfully displaced from national life. It gleefully seizes on the offences of a small minority of priests to demonstrate the absurdity of celibacy and of sexual restraint. The pan-sexual society has inevitably focused on the one taboo remaining to it: sexual relations with children.
It is a cause for shame that, among all the countries visited by Popes in recent years, it is ours which has given such gratuitous offence. No other government has needed to offer so abject an apology; nowhere else has there been talk of arresting a guest of the Government on his arrival.
Mulvain’s memo has rightly been described as silly and adolescent. But it has exposed something at once more serious and more corrosive. Pope Benedict has repeatedly made clear that one of the concerns of his pontificate is the very survival of Christianity in its former European heartland. It is increasingly clear that the Church will have its work cut out in the United Kingdom. ND