Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Tories

Dr Williams - Am I a slave?
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Rowan Williams – Missing the Point to a Heroic Extent

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been attacking the government for doing things that, according to him, scare people.

He specifically criticised government policies on health, education and welfare reform. He accused the government of pursuing

radical, long-term policies for which no-one voted

and said:

At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context.

Many have been criticising His Grace for making overtly political statements. I do not share that criticism. He is entitled to speak on such matters, and as leader of his church, even has a duty to do so. His role is to speak for the Church of England, and if that church has opinions or views that are affected by such matters, then he should present the church’s views on those matters. That is his job and his role, and he was quite appropriately speaking for the church and not claiming to speak “for Britain”.

Whether his pronouncements will have any effect is another matter. The majority in this country are not Christian now – significant numbers follow other religions, and the biggest number are atheist or agnostic. The C of E is not even the biggest Christian church in this country. (There are more Catholics practicising now than Anglicans.) Therefore most people probably do not care very much what the Archbishop thinks. That is sad, but almost certainly true.

Whether his opinions are right is even less certain.

On education, the Archbishop is talking nonsense, frankly. The government’s reforms in that area are so timid as to be almost invisible. They have really just continued with the direction the previous government was taking, and not even upped the pace. It might be valid to say that Conservative voters did not vote for measures like the “pupil premium” – under which schools in poor areas get more money – but somehow I think that wasn’t the aspect of the government’s policy that offended the Archbishop!

Our education service needs fundamental and radical reform, and I see no evidence the government is providing that. The Archbishop, apparently, thinks the reforms are being introduced with “remarkable speed”. In fact, the speed is only remarkable by being so glacially slow.

On health, he is on firmer ground in the sense that the government’s health reforms are clearly in a political mess. On the other hand, he is completely wrong to suggest that the voters did not vote for the changes. Here are some of the things the Conservative manifesto said:

we will give every patient the power to choose any healthcare provider that meets NHS standards, within NHS prices. this includes independent, voluntary and community sector providers

We will strengthen the power of GPs as patients’ expert guides through the health system by:
• giving them the power to hold patients’ budgets and commission care on their behalf;
• linking their pay to the quality of their results; and,
• putting them in charge of commissioning local health services.

We will set NHS providers free to innovate by ensuring that they become autonomous foundation trusts.

The manifesto, then, was pretty explicit about the health reforms, and if nobody bothered to find out what the Conservatives thought before voting for them, I have no sympathy. Perhaps His Grace should have read the manifesto himself before the election and drawn the attention of his flock to its contents then.

What about welfare reform? The manifesto was much less comprehensive on that. After the election, Iain Duncan Smith carried out a review of the benefit system. There was, in fact, extremely wide consultation about the single “Unified Benefit” that he is introducing. The paper he put out presented several options for reform, and also requested more ideas. If the Archbishop made any complaints during the consultation, or provided any new ideas himself, I did not hear them.

Apparently the Archbishop also criticises the government’s welfare reforms, complaining of a

quiet resurgence of the seductive language of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor”

I have to say I have not heard such language from the Tories – more’s the pity. It is eminently clear, and should be to the Archbishop, that some of the poor are indeed “undeserving” – that they really do not want to work and support themselves.

It is the “deserving poor” – the ones who genuinely are poor through no moral fault of their own – that are the biggest victims of the failure to recognise the difference. The scroungers take money that could be directed towards the deserving, and they ruin the reputation of the decent, deserving poor.

Yes, that language is seductive, simply because it is right. I can understand that the Archbishop, as a Church of England leader, is uncomfortable with the concept of moral right and wrong. He should move outside his comfort zone and consider the duty of his church to uphold those concepts.

Finally, the Archbishop apparently criticised the “Big Society” idea, saying it was viewed with “widespread suspicion”, that it was a “stale slogan” and that it is viewed as “opportunistic” cover for spending cuts. Ho hum. I wonder how a “stale slogan” can be “opportunistic”?

More seriously, though, the Big Society idea is feeble, not because it is cover for spending cuts, but because it is empty and meaningless.

Perhaps the Archbishop should put his own house in order on that. His church should be at the forefront of encouraging voluntary work and involvement of ordinary citizens. It should be urging people not to leave everything to the State, but instead to get out and help the people around them. Indeed, many of his flock do just that to great effect – the church, for example, runs many of the best primary schools in Britain. He should be helping the government put flesh on the empty bones of the “Big Society” slogan, not criticising its thrust.

The government certainly deserves to be attacked – but from the other direction.

It should be attacked for being too timid, not for being too bold.

It should be attacked for not cutting down the size of the State enough, not for cutting too much. It is slowing down Labour’s planned spending increases a little, whereas it should be imposing proper cuts.

It should be attacked for failing to reform education, not for going too fast, and for botching its health reforms, not for undertaking them in the first place.

It should be attacked for failing to deliver relief for Britain’s hard-pressed citizens from an overbearing State. It should be attacked for continuing to take too much of people’s money, and using too much of it to manipulate and control every aspect of their lives. It should be attacked, not for failing to intervene, but for interving too much. It should be attacked for replacing mandation with “nudges” when it should be replacing mandation with freedom.

In short, it should be attacked for not delivering the Big Society, and not even planning to do so.

There is such a thing as Society. And with David Cameron’s Tories, it is very much the same thing as the State.

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What Now for the Church of England and Its Leader?


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The Anglican Church – Where to Now?


Three serving and two retired Church of England bishops are preparing to leave the Church of England and become (Roman) Catholics.

The immediate reason for their decision is the Church of England’s decision to appoint women bishops.

However, their discontent is wider than that. Their disagreement is really about the position of the Church of England within Christendom. They object to the appointment of women priests on the grounds that the Church of England is not entitled to make its own decision on this matter, but must defer to the rest of the Christian family.

They have not, until now, been willing to take that view to its logical conclusion by deferring to the authority of the Pope. Now, the Pope has created an “English Ordinariate”, which will be a structure within the Catholic Church allowing the defectors to continue some of their Anglican practices, while remaining part of the Catholic Church.

This will help the defectors feel less fearful about their step into the unknown, but there is really no need for it except in their own minds. I was brought up an Anglican, fell away from the Church as a teenager, and then converted to the (Roman) Catholic Church a decade later. Having been brought up surrounded by the view that Catholics were some kind of wierd eccentrics, the Catholic Church surprised me by its approachability – its “accessibility”, to use modern jargon for it. It really did feel very natural and not at all strange.

It was also important to me to be part of one world-wide Church. The Church is one Church – or it is nothing. That is my feeling. In that I am with those defecting bishops, with their view that the Church of England should be part of that one Church.

Until now, those bishops have been unable or unwilling to follow that belief to its logical conclusion, and join that one worldwide Church family. Now they have found it within themselves to do so, and I am sure that the establishment of the Ordinariate has helped them make that decision. I suspect that once they have moved across, they will wonder to themselves why it took them so long. I expect more Anglo-Catholics to follow.

Those defectors leave behind them a Church of England that is even more confused about its purpose and nature.

The idea that the Church of England is the English branch of the Catholic Church always was absurd. You either believe in the Catholic nature of the Church or you do not. If you do, the right place for you is in the Catholic Church, as those defectors have concluded.

If the Anglo-Catholic position is absurd, then, what is left?

Portrait of Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the ...
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Henry VIII, Founder of the Anglican Church

The Church of England was established all those centuries ago for political reasons. King Henry VIII needed an heir, and his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was unable to provide him with one. Therefore, he wanted his marriage annulled.

The Pope, then a major political figure in Europe, refused to grant one. Therefore Henry declared that the English Church was not subservient to Rome, and that he was its head. And he granted his own annullment. My own patron saint, Thomas More, then Lord Chancellor, was executed for refusing to accept this.

The Church of England had been established. At its establishment, it had absolutely no religious justification except the refusal to accept Papal authority.

Forgive this detour into history, but this history is the foundation upon which today’s difficulties in the Church of England are built. The Church of England started life as an Anglo-Catholic, and not a Protestant, Church. Over the years, though, because it has defined itself by its opposition to Rome, it has attracted a broader spectrum of opinion and practice. In the process, it has lost focus, and it is no longer clear whether it is Catholic or Protestant. Until now, that is – it is now clearer that if it has a future, the future of the Church of England is as a Protestant Church.

With the Anglo-Catholics departing for Rome, there are two broad factions left in the Church of England – the Liberals and the Evangelicals. They are united in their refusal to accept Papal authority, and in their view that the Church of England is a Protestant Church. For this reason, it is likely to become an even less happy place for those Anglo-Catholics who remain.

However, the Evangelicals and Liberals are not united on that issue of women priests and bishops, or on the issue of homosexual rights, or on a whole host of issues related to the Church’s response to modern society.

For that reason, there is a huge danger persisting in the Church of England. There could so easily be a war between those Evangelicals and Liberals. There is one man, standing nervously between these factions and hoping neither will begin hostilities.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, Lourdes
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Archbishop Rowan Williams

Archbishop Rowan Williams has tried manfully to keep the Anglican Communion together. He has done so by trying to be “all things to all men” and not offend any wing of the Church.

Ultimately, however, leadership does not subsist in doing this. It is time the Archbishop was more forthright. Let him make a serious attempt to communicate his vision of his Church. He need not take sides. His vision could, and I believe would, if it were communicated more effectively, be a uniting vision that could reach out to both sides.

Far from driving people away, I suspect he would attract a more loyal following by leading more from the front. He should not be afraid to stand up and speak out. He still leads a large and significant Christian denomination. If he provides the leadership it needs now, then that Church has an opportunity to find a new understanding of its purpose and place in God’s creation. If he goes on trying to fudge the issues, then it is likely to continue its decline into irrelevance.

As a Catholic, I offer my own humble and hearty welcome to those Anglican defectors. They will find themselves more comfortable in the Catholic Church even than they now expect.

And I offer also my prayers and support to the Church of England in its struggles. I have a feeling that it still has a purpose in creation, and that we have not seen the end of its contribution to God’s plan. I trust that Archbishop Williams can find the strength within himself, with the help of God, to lead it through its current difficulties until it finds its true purpose.

The Archbishop’s hour is upon him. His actions now will determine the future of thousands.

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Faith Leaders and Child Abuse

The Mission of the Church is Peace

This has not been a time of peace and goodwill to all men.

The scandal over child sex abuse by a number of Catholic priests in several countries has brought shame on the Church, as have revelations that the Church authorities have not always been effective in their response to such issues.

Now the leader of the Anglican Church has waded into the Irish Catholic Church, saying it had lost all credibility over the scandals.

The Archbishop of Dublin replied:

“I still shudder when I think of the harm that was caused to abused children. I recognise that their Church failed them.”

The Bishop of Derry, meanwhile has apologised to the victims:

“Children and young people have been scarred for life as a result of heinous crimes. These hidden and vile crimes are a source of great shame. They are a contradiction of priesthood.”

At least one Irish bishop, who did not deal with the issues properly, has resigned.

Meanwhile, Jewish groups are outraged at an apparent comparison of the reaction to the abuse allegations with the holocaust.

The comparison came in the course of a sermon by the Pope’s personal preacher, Father Cantalamessa, who quoted from a letter written by a Jewish friend, who viewed:

“with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope and all the faithful of the whole world. The use of stereotypes and the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism”.

How far all of this is from the teachings of Jesus. Those cases of abuse happened. It is, of course, vital to bring those responsible to book and ensure they are tried and punished for what they did. It is also vital to give what help we can to the victims, to help them come to terms with what happened as far as is possible.

All that we should do. What we should not do is engage in personal attacks on leaders of other faiths and other Churches. We also shouldn’t need to spend energy defending the Church. We should continue preaching the gospel, and leave defending the Church to our leader, Christ himself.

All our leaders need to think a little harder about the impact of their words before they open their mouths. This issue is about as emotive as any there is, and careless talk simply makes the situation worse. It causes more suffering, more guilt and more destruction of God’s faith in the world.

This Easter, let all Church leaders, and leaders of other faiths, consider once again the life and teachings of Jesus, and try to follow once again his example.

Fighting and squabbling are completely understandable – they are the reaction of all of us when we are under threat. But they don’t help anyone except Satan, in his mission to destroy humanity and the world. The Church is in God’s hands, and he won’t let it fail. So let all Church leaders do what they can to help spread the peace of Christ to the world and especially to the victims of the abuse, and stop spending their energy on attacking each other.