The split in the Anglican Church has been a long time in the coming, but it has now become irrevocable. The turning point was a decision this July to support the ordination of women bishops. The issue, like the acceptance of gay priests, has been too much for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to handle. Instinctively a fence-sitter, he always manages to upset everyone and get the worst of all things. Earlier in the year, his astonishing support of sharia law destroyed what little authority he had left. Five bishops are now leaving the Anglican Church to become Roman Catholics. They are taking with them an unknown number of congregants, probably so far only in the hundreds. But whole parishes are likely to convert, bringing into question ownership of property, including church buildings and vicarages. Pope Benedict XVI has set up a mechanism known as an Ordinariate to receive them, which for instance allows married men to be Catholic priests.
Enthusiasts are claiming that the Protestant Reformation is reversing, and Catholicism will undo the work of Henry VIII and reclaim its status as the church in England. Not at all, according to an angry roar from the professor of Church History at Oxford, the departure of the bishops and their followers is good riddance to bad rubbish. Besides, the Catholic Church is in feeble shape. One of the few Anglican priests with intelligence and character is Nicolas Stacey, and he has pointed out that in the predominantly Catholic city of Liverpool last year, there was just one ordination to the priesthood and currently there are only nine seminarians.
The old institutions exist in name but no longer function. Last week the British Navy and the Royal Air Force were left unable to defend the country, and this week the national church hollows out. The country is dispensing with its beliefs and its purposes — fast.