Paul Vallely: Why the Pope is not rejoicing at the split

The Pope might be expected, privately, to be rejoicing at the splits in Anglicanism. He might be expected to issue an open invitation for disgruntled Anglicans to join the Church of Rome. Instead, he is trying to bolster the beleaguered Archbishop of Canterbury.

Why is he doing this? Rome is playing a very long game here which began in 1966 when Pope Paul VI took off his ring and gave it to Dr Williams' predecessor Michael Ramsey. It was a gesture of huge symbolic importance.

In the past four decades, the relationship between Rome and Canterbury has markedly deepened. Years of talks, despite a setback on women priests, have produced joint statements on the eucharist and authority which laid the basis for healing the rift of the Reformation.

The Pope now fears this is at risk. He worries that the Church of England, which for centuries has prided itself on being both catholic and reformed, could mutate into hardline Protestantism.

He is at one with Dr Williams on this. The two leaders have a strong personal empathy and share a deep and sophisticated theology. Both emphasise the importance of reason as well as faith.

The Pope feels more in common with him than he does with theologically primitive and doctrinally ideological evangelicals who share his objections to homosexuality or women bishops. Both men see preserving unity as key and the Catholic bishops in England have warned Rome about the deeply factional nature of Anglican politics. A number of the Anglicans who moved to Rome when women were ordained brought with them a rancorous divisive mentality.

Which is why those Anglican bishops who recently approached the Vatican to ask if traditionalist C of E parishes could migrate en masse to Rome, under an Anglican liturgical rite, were sent off with a flea in their ear.

Click here to have your say