The crisis in the anglican church has brought a windfall of converts and public esteem to the catholic church. But Madeleine Bunting argues that catholics are just as embattled and divided over how to combat secularismby Madeleine Bunting / December 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
After centuries contending with low level anti-papist sentiment, the Roman Catholic church in Britain is basking in public acclaim. What is more surprising for this secular age, it is even enjoying a certain kudos. The Independent notes a “current craze for catholicism,” attributing it to a “loss of confidence with England’s national church” and a “dearth of anglican thinkers.” The Guardian estimates that “the game is going very much Rome’s way” and that the “loss of confidence in the Church of England has become palpable… it is enfeebled as an institution and failing to provide moral firmness, ritual and sense of continuity.” Charles Moore, one of the trophy converts to catholicism, along with the Duchess of Kent, Ann Widdecombe and John Gummer, comments on the Church of England thus: “Its public, moral stances seemed indistinguishable from those of a reasonably decent, mildly left-wing agnostic…”
This is an extraordinary phenomenon; catholicism’s unexpected kudos bears no relationship to what is actually going on in the catholic church in Europe and the US, nor even to what is going on in England, in those traditionally working class catholic cities such as Liverpool. The Vatican must be as puzzled by the acclaim as George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is infuriated.
Non-believers prefer Catholicism
One of the main explanations behind the phenomenon is that catholicism matches the preconceptions of what non-believers believe a religious institution should be about: authority. Catholicism supplies this in the way no other religion can match with a clearly identifiable figure who hands out a set of categorical rules about what is right and what is wrong. The Vatican plays its part by, for example, issuing lists of acceptable and unacceptable films which are picked up and applauded by the secular press.
Meanwhile the Church of England has become the nation’s favourite punchbag. The secular mind has no sympathy for anglicanism’s apologetic, stumbling compromises in its struggle to accommodate the late 20th century. The long battle over women priests (which pushed 300 anglican priests into the catholic church), not to mention recent theological revisions such as deciding that hell does not exist, and that “living in sin” is an unhelpful concept, do nothing to enhance anglicanism’s reputation among non-believers. Secularists may loathe the pope’s stance on contraception, abortion, women priests, or priestly celibacy, but at least, runs the argument, it is consistent and shows no vacillating attempt to conciliate…