In an astounding move, confirmed at a joint press conference this morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Westminster announced a coalition of their two churches. Both hotly denied that the move had been forced upon them by the precipitate numerical decline of both bodies.

‘There is so much we can do together to heal our broken world,’ said Rowan Williams. ‘Beside the need to address poverty, crime, inequality and the failure of the education system, doctrinal differences pale into insignificance,’ said Vincent Nichols.

It is understood that the two churches have set up a negotiating team to hammer out heads of agreement for the new coalition. Informed sources at both Lambeth Palace and Archbishop’s House are beginning to suggest the contents of the new policy statement. It is unlikely, said one informant, that Transubstantiation will form a plank of common policy. Sacramental confession will remain optional for Anglicans. But in hard pressed discussions it is thought that the Roman Catholic negotiators have secured the reinstatement of the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven, and England is officially to be known as ‘Mary’s Dowry’.

‘Of course we know there will be teething problems,’ says Nichols, whose opening gesture of apologising for Bloody Mary set the negotiations off on the right foot, ‘but we believe that this coalition is what the people want. They want a new, modern Church which can face up to the financial and moral crises of the modern world.’

A think-tank is to be set up to consider abortion, euthanasia, contraception, same-sex unions, divorce, papal infallibility, the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, clerical celibacy and the validity of Anglican Orders. It will report in two years time when the coalition is pledged to a referendum on the issues.

There has as yet been no comment from the Vatican. William Hill is offering no odds on the longevity of the Coalition. ND