Romeward bound

Gender progress happened more quickly in the Church of England than you might think. The big battle was lost over 20 years ago, when Graham Leonard the Bishop of London lost the vote and the argument over Christ’s will and left for Rome soon afterwards. For the Irish, the battle lines can be confusing. At the height of the row, I remember Dr Leonard telling me his favourite church in Ireland was Derry Cof I cathedral because of those foundation links with the City of London and he intended to go on visiting it as a Catholic priest. Now as the Anglican split really looks about the happen, it’s a relief to realise that the steam has gone out virulent anti- ecumenism. If we were back in the days when specifically religious controversy was raging in Ireland. Paisley would be breathing fire. Today Paisley is silent. Now that a schism looks like actually happening, the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a mild protest at the heart of the Papacy. The Vatican’s failure to consult him over welcoming Anglican arch-traditionalists into the Roman Catholic church “ put him in a awkward position.” Ouch Rowan, steady on!

He made a neat point though at an earlier Rome lecture.

Dr Williams boldly used the issue of the moment as his example – suggesting that it was the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women that was the bar to unity. “For many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women.”

But none of this was said to the Pope’s face, where it was all cordiality and pectoral crosses.. This twenty minute encounter with the Pope changes nothing. Btw 20 or 30 mins is usual for a papal private audience. Nothing is ever rally discussed. Meanwhile, preparations to receive the new apostates into Rome’s bosom are going ahead untroubled by Rowan’s mild protest. Now may be the time to proclaim the virtues of Anglican toleration. If a Catholic woman fancies becoming a rector or a priest a married Dean, look no further. There are precedents in Ireland. It’s a fair swap. The alleged weakness of Anglicanism is its greatest strength. Plenty of bigotry remains but ecumenism will continue to flourish where it matters most, at the practical level. On matters of faith, they seem to be better at agreeing to differ without losing it altogether. Although an antique arrogance survives at the heart of the beleaguered institution, the old days of Roman supremacy will not return.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London