Saturday, January 30, 2010

'Unhappy' Queen sends Lord Chamberlain to ask Archbishop Nichols about Pope's Anglican plan
by Damian Thompson Religion

In a surprising departure from protocol, the Queen has sent the Lord Chamberlain, the most senior official of the Royal Household, to see Archbishop Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, to discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s offer to Anglicans wanting to convert to Rome en masse.

My source says Her Majesty – who is expected to meet the Pope when he visits Britain this autumn – was “unhappy” about aspects of the scheme as she understood it. So, late last year, she dispatched Lord Peel with a list of questions for the Archbishop. The nature of the questions has not been revealed, but Archbishop’s House confirms that the meeting took place and was “mutually beneficial”.

The Queen – a somewhat “Low Church” Anglican who feels it is her solemn duty to preserve the Protestant identity of the Church of England – appears to have been alarmed by press reports of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. This allows groups of ex-Anglicans anywhere to convert to Rome together, retaining aspects of Anglican worship. Some members of the Church of England have expressed interest in doing so, but are very keen to carry on worshipping in their former Anglican parish churches. Possibly the Queen felt that this process might conflict with her Coronation Oath to maintain all the “rights and privileges” of the bishops, clergy and churches of England.

My source was surprised that the Queen should ask one of her courtiers, the Ampleforth-educated but Anglican 3rd Earl Peel, to quiz Archbishop Nichols on the subject. The source felt that the meeting – thought to have been held in November at Archbishop’s House, Westminster – could be seen as a breach of protocol: one would expect the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to represent the Church’s Supreme Governor in such a discussion.

There have been rumours that the Queen is dismayed by the Anglican drift towards homosexual blessings and women bishops. Perhaps she felt that she needed an adviser answerable only to her to convey information impartially – particularly given that she will probably meet Pope Benedict in Scotland, either at Balmoral or Holyrood, when he visits Britain in September. (The discussion between Lord Peel and the Archbishop is unlikely to have been about this meeting, however, since the Scottish Catholic Church is independent of England and Wales.)

At any rate, the spokesman for Archbishop Nichols insisted tonight that the meeting was a success. “It gave the Archbishop the opportunity to correct some of the misunderstandings about the Apostolic Constitution created by misreporting in the media,” he told me. “It was a very successful meeting and mutually beneficial.”

What the spokesman couldn’t tell me – and indeed, didn’t seem to know – was why the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales should have been asked to see the Lord Chamberlain, of all people, to discuss what is essentially a theological and constitutional question.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have been asked by Rome to discuss a provisional structure for the ex-Anglican “Ordinariate” (a quasi-diocese). Archbishop Nichols is a key figure in this process, and I don’t envy him. On the one hand, some of his bishops hate the Pope’s proposal and will work to make its provisions as ungenerous as possible; on the other, he has to report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is ultimately in charge of the Ordinariate scheme on behalf of the Pope, and which does favour generosity.

Now, it would seem, the Archbishop has also to bear in mind the Queen’s early misgivings about a scheme which could see a few parish communities moving from the Church that she governs – and that she promised to protect at her Coronation – to the jurisdiction of the Holy See.

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