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“Reflecting” on the future of the Church of England

As the C of E affirms an ever-widening spectrum of “lifestyles,” where will tradition-minded Anglicans turn?

St. Paul's Cathedral in London (photo via Wikipedia)

Britain’s Secretary of State for Education, Miss Justine Greening, has told the Church of England it should “keep up” with modern attitudes and accept same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister, herself the daughter of an Anglican vicar, has urged the C of E to “reflect” on this matter, with the hint that such reflection should result in accepting the idea.

The C of E’s General Synod has voted to “affirm” people who decide that they are “transgender” and has asked the Anglican bishops to discuss a liturgy to celebrate such a transition. The vote was passed by a massive majority—284 votes to 78—and was accompanied by speeches emphasizing that people who proclaim themselves to be lesbians or homosexuals should not regard their condition as being in any way disordered. The Synod also voted to ask for a ban on forms of ministry offering healing or therapy for people who with same-sex attraction.

The official Anglican position seems now to be one of strong opposition to the mere suggestion that we are created as male and female. To hold to the facts of human biology will be declared morally culpable, by the Synod of the Church of England. The Synod affirms that it is possible, and worthy of celebration, to announce a transition from one sex to another, and that opposition to this opinion is not acceptable. One exultant Synod member exclaimed: “Synod has changed—we have turned a corner.”

When these issues come up in conversation with Anglican friends I find that they have three ways of responding:

  • Deep gloom. “It’s terrible. But what can one do?” This is often accompanied by a quiet drifting away from regular church attendance.
  • A feeling that the Synod votes do not bind anyone; what matters is the local parish. “Our church here is great and it’s a community where I feel I belong.” This sometimes morphs into a general acceptance of what the Synod has decided anyway: “I used to be against gay marriage but I’m not really sure now…”
  • A more rare response: some talk of a clear split within the C of E, of seeking oversight from some alternative missionary bishop from a network of Evangelical Anglicans, or some other similar arrangement.

What about the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, through which Anglicans can come into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining their liturgical, musical, and spiritual traditions and heritage? Reactions to this idea again are again threefold.

  • A vaguely despairing sigh, and, “Oh…yes…I daresay I might end up doing that.” But they mostly don’t.
  • “But I’m Anglican. Our family has never been Roman Catholic.” (Not strictly true, if you think about it, but understandable—1535 is a longish way back.)
  • A more rare response: a disagreement with some specific teachings of the Catholic Church such as Our Lady, confession, etc.

In general, the spiritual state of Britain feels bleak. Suicide is now the biggest killer among young men.  Substantial numbers of young people have grown up with no experience of living with two married parents. There is much talk of the rising tide of violence among small children—the numbers expelled from school for attacking teachers or fellow pupils are now significant. “Sexting”—sending sexually explicit photographs—is now a recognized teenage activity. And the government is committed to trying to force forms of “relationship education,” including the promotion of homosexual activity, to children in all schools.

It seems all too likely that the Church of England will bend to pressure and allow same-sex “weddings” in Anglican churches. From allowing such ceremonies it will be a short move to marginalize any clergy that will not allow them. There may be theoretical freedom to disagree with the new line, but in practice conformity will be the rule.

There are various independent Evangelical Christian groups that still stand with the Christian understanding of marriage. But essentially, in putting the message in the public sphere, the Catholic Church will now be a lone voice.

Catholics in Britain have a sort of collective folk-memory of persecution: hiding-places for priests in ancient manor houses, families proud of their recusant history, old customs that never really died out, place-names and pub-signs rich in Catholic imagery.

Since the canonization of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope—now Blessed—Paul VI in 1970, the names of the martyrs have become better known than ever before: there are churches and schools named after them, and new generations have become familiar with their stories. An ordinariate church in Devon is dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham and St. Cuthbert Mayne—the latter a local priest who suffered for the Faith after many years of ministering secretly. A new school in Richmond-upon-Thames is dedicated to St. Richard Reynolds, the heroic Bridgettine priest from Syon Abbey. I recently visited a school dedicated to the martyr St. John Payne in Chelmsford. There are two modern churches dedicated to St. Anne Line in Essex.

Papal visits in recent decades established Catholicism in the public mind as part of modern Britain. Our schools are over-subscribed, and our churches are usually the most active in any given area. The arrival of large numbers of young Polish people has boosted Catholic numbers. There is an ordinariness about Catholicism that has seeped into people’s consciousness. Old-style anti-Catholicism—the “No Popery!” cry of the 18th and 19th centuries, and so on—is dead.

But the future holds new and grim possibilities: the Secretary of State’s bullying tone and the Prime Minister’s pompous nagging send out a sinister message. They want everyone to toe the line on same-sex unions. The Catholic Church can’t and won’t. Dare we hope that they will leave us alone?

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About Joanna Bogle 77 Articles
Joanna Bogle is a journalist in the United Kingdom. Her book Newman’s London is published by Gracewing Books.


  1. “Dare we hope that they will leave us alone?” Let us hope that they do not. I am a priest in Canada and the same subtle, and not so subtle, pressures are being applied here to people of Faith. The Catholic Church is looked upon as obstinate and out of touch with the present politically correct climate. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of our bishops and priests are terrified to really stand up and be counted in defence of the True Catholic Faith. Although a bit apprehensive, I believe we need something that will jog us out of our fear and complacency. A good public attack against the Faith may be just the thing! I say – bring it on!

    • I can’t imagine too many (any actually) of our American bishops being martyred over same sex marriage, or the Real Presence or Christ’s divinity for that matter, or anything else that matters. For open borders maybe, for the Faith – no.

  2. In practice, the Catholic Church has already accepted same-sex marriage in many dioceses over the world, and the pontificate of Pope Francis strongly suggests that there is nothing wrong with the homosexual lifestyle. So it is only a matter of time, its seems, before the situation of the Catholic Church resembles that of the Church of England.

    The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was instituted with good intentions, but Anglicans who would consider it as a way to become Catholic are generally not stupid. They notice the present devestation of the Church, and what they see is a slow motion remake movie they already knew by what they have gone through in the Church of England. Catholic orthodoxy in doctrine and practice has become a rare thing in the Church.

  3. Isn’t it obvious to everyone that the Catholic Church is moving (being pushed?) in the same direction under Pope Francis? I guess we are going to find out if the Church is really what she has always claimed to be. She’ll either cave to the sexual revolution or she won’t. And then we’ll know whether she was a fraud from the start or the real thing. I used to be far more confident in the Church than I am now. The homosexualists seem to be in charge at the moment.

  4. At some point, we need to accept the fact that just because people use similar language does not mean they are worshiping the same God as is proclaimed by the Catholic Church. Mormonism has baptism “… in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” but we understand that what they MEAN by those terms is so different that the baptism is invalid. Santería uses the names and images of Catholic Saints, but they associate those names and images with very different spirits.

    For all their differences, Westboro Baptist Church and the bulk of Anglicanism seem to fall into the same category: they use language that might seem familiar, but they worship some other god.

  5. The CofE abandoned Apostolic succession with women priestesses, and now heads toward paganism with affirming an objectively disordered behavior. These decisions have been made by people to whom we were raised to honor. But they are not honorable anymore. I escaped from them a year ago and now celebrate the same Liturgy each Sunday as a Western Rite Orthodox Priest.

  6. The “obstinacy” Canadian Fr Paul Murphy is what will become more apparent among faithful clergy. The pressure and much worse seem immanent. Insofar as the Church of England it’s a Corpse. I used to visit the English College and always impressed by the 40 portraits of the Martyrs lining the long vestibule entrance. Hallowed ground. The Church that had them garroted, hung, drawn and quartered, cut down is now suffering its infidelity accepting any and all regardless of Christ’s, the Apostles admonition. Not all. I had many Anglican convert friends at the Beda. They’re wonderful men to be around. If we learn to tolerate English exclusivity and an ingrained sense of superiority. That evaporates when you laugh at it. If we are headed down this awful path of heresy [how can it be denied when so many see it?] the Heroes will resurrect. Not from the graves of the martyrs. Rather from the parish rectories. Even from retirement. Guaranteed. Christ’s love is too potent a force, too appealing to many of us not to respond to the challenge.

  7. Is Bogle seriously so unself-aware as to propose Rome under Francis as a safe haven? Does she even read the other articles here? How is the C of E more depressing than Cupich’s Chicago or the gay bathhouses of Fr Jim?

  8. The Church of England, indeed Anglicanism – is a lost cause, just liberal secularism in a fancy cope! Anglicans with a ‘Catholic heart’ should leave fantasyland and come home to the Rock of Peter, where a warm and familiar welcome awaits them in the Ordinariates set up by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI.
    Fr Ramsay Williams

  9. Five years on and the trajectory of the C of E is clearer than ever.
    Catholic Church in Germany seems determined to follow in its footsteps.

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  3. Joanna Bogle reflects on future of Church of England at Catholic World Report | Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog
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