Leading Article: Appeal of Rome amid Anglican internal row

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The Independent Online
THE RIDICULOUS suggestion in some quarters that England might reconvert en masse to Roman Catholicism has recently gained great currency. The Church of Rome has become chic as the Princess of Wales has apparently flirted with it, the Duchess of Kent has converted to it and it has become smart to be wooed by the bells and smells of it.

Roman Catholicism, garlanded with snobbery, has lost its below- the-stairs image while retaining a whiff of the forbidden, making it attractive to those seeking something a little different and mildly shocking. Those with a conservative streak have been drawn by the apparent certainties of the Catholic Church, which seem in such contrast with the agonising of Anglicanism. A few traditionalists in the Church of England, disenchanted with the ordination of women, have beaten a path to Rome for refuge.

But the notion of mass conversion has never amounted to more than the fevered romanticism of a few journalists, egged on by embittered Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England. Writers such as Paul Johnson, the right-wing Catholic commentator, have become carried away by their own deluded, triumphalist language, which is now proving an embarrassment to the Catholic laity and bishops alike. Meanwhile, ordinary Anglicans - united in few things beyond their dislike for Rome - are mystified by the fantasy that they would change their allegiance.

The reality has not been the conversion of England but civil war in the Church of England. The Anglican church has a tiny but noisy group opposed to women priests that seeks to cause maximum disruption and is happy to join with Roman Catholic triumphalists to add to the upset within its ranks. The result is that Roman Catholicism in this country is in danger of being drawn into the Anglican internal conflict. Absurd allegations are flying in a row about the existence of a papist plot that would not be out of place in medieval times or in Ian Paisley's sermons.

These are dangerous developments, which will do little for ecumenism or religious harmony and have stirred ancient hatreds. The sooner those Anglo-Catholics dithering over conversion make up their minds as to their future, the better for both churches and for Christianity in England.

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