The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK has tongues wagging, even royal tongues. Introspective parsons and religious writers are groping amongst the words uttered by His Holiness to guess what he is up to. That, however should be clear – he wants the prodigal Church of England community to return to the Papal fold. Other Popes have displayed a similar ambition.
Well, folks, as a quasi-lapsed Anglican I can tell you it ain’t going to happen unless Rome comes up with a sort of special status for the Anglican community. Sort of like China and Hong Kong perhaps. The basic reason is one of catechism.
The Anglican “faith” is very flexible. Numerous Anglican priests and higher have, for example, denied the “virgin birth” without expulsion following. I have told my priest that I can’t say the creed any more but I’ve been urged to stay on, not to be corrected but so that I could still make my peace with God. In fact I have a faith of my own which runs something like this – I acknowledge that an all powerful God could do all the things the Creed talks about and makes necessary for membership in the Church permissible but I don’t believe in them either. I say that they are immaterial and that when Jesus said Thou shalt love the Lord, etc, and love thy neighbour as thyself he also said “upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” That last sentence must mean something. Since he said it to an obnoxious lawyer (or is that redundant?) in answer to a question about what the law is I say that it meant simply “follow these two rules and you’ll be OK. The Creed and all the liturgy in which it’s encased is what turns Christianity from a simple message to one that requires armies of priests, splitting theological hairs with reckless abandon.
Back to the Pope. While Anglicans share much dogma they have serious dogmatic differences and some critical administrative ones. The Church of England is not a sort of breakaway branch but a church itself. It was born in a royal divorce petition to the Pope but soon fell into a faith of its own and a member of the Protestant Reformation.
Anglicans do not accept the divinity of Mary nor the infallibility of the Pope in doctrinal matters. It doesn’t accept the doctrine of transubstantiation which holds that the bread and wine of communion become the actual flesh and blood of Jesus when ingested.
Administration details are just as troublesome if not more so, Anglicans believe in women priests, gay priests, married gays, birth control by way of anti conception devices and don’t oppose abortion. Most of all is the sticking point of leadership. As I read the mood, the Anglicans will never accept the Pope as head of the church. To put bluntly, Anglicans are not prepared to bow to Rome and beg forgiveness as the father forgave his prodigal son.
The Church of England has enough problems with homosexuality and women as priests, two issues which have badly divided it. It isn’t going to fracture itself by bowing to the Vicar of Rome.