Will Queen Elizabeth give the pope a warm welcome next year?
One can guess what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will say to Pope Benedict when the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion travels to the Vatican later this year. The more interesting question might be what Queen Elizabeth is likely to say when she hosts the pope next year.
(Photo: Queen Elizabeth, 13 June 2009/Luke MacGregor)
The timing of the trips couldn’t be more intriguing, especially the second one. The pope is due to visit Britain in September 2010 and is expected to preside there over the beatification of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman, a famous 19th-century convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism.
The queen is, after all, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, many of whose flock the pope is seeking to poach with his offer last week allowing Anglicans to convert en masse while keeping many of their traditions. And among her honorifics is “Defender of the Faith.” While that sounds impressive, it pales in comparison to Benedict’s long string of titles including “Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.” But oneupmanship is a British sport, so one never knows how these things can turn out.
It is unclear how many CofE traditionalists, upset at moves to ordain women bishops and the issue of homosexuality, will move over to Rome, but the conservative Anglican group Forward in Faith suggested 12 Church of England bishops may switch – more than a quarter of their total.
It was suggested by the Daily Telegraph newspaper earlier this month, before the Vatican effectively sabotaged decades of dialogue between the two churches, that the pope would receive a warm welcome at Buckingham Palace. “The warmth of her welcome will come as no surprise to the pontiff,” it said.
Citing sources speaking to the Catholic Herald weekly, the Telegraph said the queen has “grown increasingly sympathetic” to the Roman Catholic Church over the years while being “appalled,” along with her son and heir Charles, at developments in the Church of England.
(Photo: Pope Benedict, 11 Oct 2009/Max Rossi)
The Sunday Telegraph in July said the queen had told the heads of a traditional group that she “understood their concerns” about the future of the 77 million-strong global church.
But whether the warmth will stand up to the pope parking his tanks on her lawn, as Ruth Gledhill described it in The Times — especially Buckingham Palace’s lawns — would be astonishing.
As head of her faith she must defend her church, and can do so on an equal footing in both political and spiritual terms, Vicki Woods of the Telegraph wrote. “When Pope John Paul II met the queen on his visit to Britain, he was for once wrong-footed,” she pointed out. “She spoke to him not as a fellow head of state but as a fellow head of the church: her church. Her faith. Which she defends. He was quite taken aback.”
It is not only her church’s clergy and laity which are up for grabs, but possibly also the buidlings.
And it was Queen Elizabeth I, after all, who so staunchly defended the English Reformation introduced by her father Henry VIII in 1534 in his dispute with Rome over his desire to divorce one wife and marry another.
The queen has already potentially been slighted by her Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who it has been reported in the media, apparently personally invited the pope to visit Britain during a private audience last February.
“He should read Carla Powell’s diary in The Spectator,” Woods wrote. “Gordon Brown says he invited His Holiness, which if true would represent a gross breach of protocol. Only the queen can invite a head of state to Britain.”
(Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 11 Feb 2009/Kieran Doherty)
The queen, needless to say, has said even less than her archbishop. The older royals don’t often leave themselves open to be quoted. On one of the rare occasions they have, the late queen mother was reported to have only commented that church services should not last beyond an hour. The archbishop has barely said much more in response to the pope other than he did not see it as “an act of aggression” and that it would not derail dialogue between the two churches.
But when you become the focus of general sympathy, you must know that you have probably been dealt a rum deal.
The fact that the archbishop was only notified two weeks before the pope revealed just how far he was prepared to go in accommodating the Anglo-Catholics must have left him “starting to wonder if he has any friends left,” Gledhill wrote in the Times over the weekend. “He is like the academic boy at school who no one wants to play with because he doesn’t understand the rules of fisticuffs,” she added.
Many religious figures have been indignant at the way the Vatican has behaved towards Williams, with his predecessor George Carey urging him to protest at its “appalling” injustice.
The Vatican is expected to reveal more details about the offer in the next week or two. The conservative Anglican group Forward in Faith debated the offer in London at the weekend and decided its members would be consulted, with a decision due in late February after the CofE general synod.
“It is beginning to sound like an abusive marriage,” said the pro-women ordination spokeswoman Reverend Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, chaplain at University College, Durham, in northern England. She suggested the disaffected will threaten to leave unless concessions are made on the possible ordination of women bishops, which is due to be discussed at the synod.
(Photo: Rev. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes)
The Vatican made moves 17 years ago to attract Anglicans when the ordination of women priests was being discussed. “They could say we will leave unless you do this and that,” she said.
What do you think? Will Queen Elizabeth surprise Pope Benedict and defend the faith, as she did with Pope John Paul? Or will diplomacy prevail?