Church of England: Bowing down to the pope

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“It’s as if the Reformation had never happened,” said Martin Kettle in the London Guardian. Five hundred years ago, the Church of England was born of a break with Rome over the remarriage of an English king. The very essence of Anglicanism is a rejection of popery. Until quite recently, it would have been “regarded as close to treason” for a British prime minister or archbishop of Canterbury to have “any kind of dialogue” with the Vatican. Yet last week, a future English king’s wedding was postponed for a papal funeral. The royal family was forced into rescheduling the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles after Prime Minister Tony Blair made it clear that he would rather attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II. What an enormous “rupture with national history.”

Blair showed utter “contempt for his constitutional role,” said Peter Oborne in the London Spectator, and for the role of the Church of England in British life. “Partly, this is a question of manners.” It is “sheer rudeness” for anyone to back out of attending a wedding after having RSVP’d. But to “ditch the invitation” to a royal wedding, and to honor a pope, is unprecedented. No British prime minister ever went to a papal funeral before, “and with good reason.” The Roman Catholic Church, remember, still officially regards our priests as heretics. Yet Blair, ever eager to bask in the glow of celebrity, put his desire to be where the cameras were above his “duty to the Crown.”

It wasn’t just Blair’s “starstruck admiration for the pope” that prompted his shocking breach of protocol, said Damian Thompson in the London Daily Telegraph. Blair is secretly a Catholic. He may still claim to be an Anglican, but his true religious devotion is to the Vatican. Most Sundays, he attends Mass with his Catholic wife and kids. At the pope’s funeral, while Prince Charles merely “leaned forward awkwardly in the time-honored manner of Anglicans who cannot quite bring themselves to kneel in a Catholic church,” Blair did the whole genuflection-obeisance thing. His grief was surely real: After all, though few people know it, Tony Blair took Communion from Pope John Paul II himself at the Vatican in February 2003. He was the first British prime minister ever to “receive the sacrament from the hands of the pontiff.” So much for our legal establishment as a Protestant nation.

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