A church martyred by its own followers: Easter brings new life to the internal feuds that are tearing apart a bewildered Church of England, writes Andrew Brown

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The Independent Online
GOOD FRIDAY means that it must be time to crucify the Church of England once again. But who are the people who are trying to do so? Oddly, they are almost all Anglicans. Roman Catholic journalists may sneer at the Church of England but they do not hate it. It takes an Anglican to do that.

The focus of this hatred at present is women. The civil war in the Church of England might have remained simmering for centuries yet, had it not been for the ordination of women. After the fact, opponents have been able to find perfectly acceptable and compelling reasons for leaving the church, reasons in which women are hardly mentioned. Yet none of these reasons seemed half as compelling before women had been ordained.

I know of only one supporter of women priests - Sara Maitland, the novelist - who became a Roman Catholic after the Anglican vote because she believed that the Church of England had no authority to make the decision on its own, even though it was (she believed) the right decision. The overwhelming majority of those who cite the General Synod's lack of authority to decide on women's ordination as their reason for moving to the Catholic Church would never have seen this problem with the Synod's authority if the vote had gone the other way.

None of this might matter so much were it not that the money is running out. Anglicans pay startlingly little for their church - an average of about pounds 3 a week; and if regular church-goers would only up this figure to about pounds 5 the problem would be over. But they won't. The Church of England, it seems, will die like Tinkerbell, because no one can be bothered to believe in it.

It is not clear yet how many priests will become Roman Catholics as a result of the decision to ordain women - not even to the priests themselves. But it is clear that the authorities gravely underestimated the number who would go. One archbishop remarked before the vote that he thought that, after all the huffing and puffing, only 60 would leave. Possibly three times as many have already gone.

The Anglo-Catholic opponents of women priests who have remained in the church are certainly trying their best to dismember it. The Maundy Thursday service yesterday in St Paul's, which should have been an expression of the solidarity of all the diocese's priests gathered around their bishop, was boycotted by almost all the Anglo-Catholics. This showed how far events have overtaken all the elaborate charades with flying bishops that were meant to hold the Church of England together. They could only work, and will only work, with goodwill on both sides. And there is remarkably little of that around. Traditionalists, so-called, are publicly contemptuous of their opponents, who, in turn, despise them - though largely in private. Each side really doubts that the other can be Christian at all.

The Forward in Faith movement, which contains almost all the opponents of women priests in the church, is divided about its final destination. It knows, however, that it is not the Church of England as at present constituted. Forward in Faith wants at the very least its own bishops, with the power of appointment; and its own money. It already has its own doctrines. The only reason not to call it a separate church is that the Church Commissioners are expected to pay for most of it.

Members are urged to withhold their money from the central structures of the church. Priests in Forward in Faith will as far as possible ignore not only women priests, but male priests and bishops who recognise women priests. And there are a lot of them. The movement claims nearly 4,000; 570 signed a declaration committing them to become Roman Catholics, and another couple of hundred signed a weaker version.

However, the people who leave will be less of a threat to the church than the ones who stay. And, among those who stay, it is not Forward in Faith but the Reform movement that most worries the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey. Reform is the brainchild of David Holloway, the vicar of Jesmond in Newcastle, a politician of enormous energy and fluency.

For as long as I have known him, he has had some scheme to turn the Church of England upside down. When he was high in the councils of the General Synod, these were to the advantage of the Synod. After he lost his seat, he was quiescent for a while. But his newest wheeze seems designed to emasculate the General Synod completely.

Reform, like Forward in Faith, proposes to set up a church within a church, using the premises and pensions provided by the central bodies of the Church of England but urging congregations to withhold their monies from central funds, and even central training. As Dr Holloway tells it, when he heard that a parish next door to him in Newcastle was proposing to bless a lesbian couple, his response was 'not with our money they won't'.

Reform, too, is opposed to women priests, not on the grounds that the Pope disapproves of them but because St Paul believed women should be subordinate to men, and a woman priest might be in a position to boss a male curate around. This is such a risibly sexist position that Reform will never have the glamour in the outside world that the Catholic opponents of women priests have. This hardly matters. Their political programme can be boiled down to one simple slogan: 'Upset and bewildered by the Church of England? Then you don't have to pay for it.' This is a winner.

Perhaps the only man never upset and bewildered by the Church of England is Dr Carey himself. But he always has been praised for courage, rather than discernment.

Andrew Marr's column will return on 12 April.