THE TABLET THE I NTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY
Founded in 1840
WANTED: SUPERHUMAN ANGLICAN
The paradox of Dr Rowan Williams is that he brought great distinction to the office of Archbishop of Canterbury without actually achieving anything remarkable. The cards were stacked against him from the start, and would have daunted a lesser man long ago. The present-day Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion contain too many instances of immovable objects colliding with irresistible forces – conflicts that even divine grace apparently cannot resolve – for anyone trying to manage them to feel anything but besieged and beleaguered.
Dr Williams’ usual air of cheerfulness came from somewhere else – from a sense of priorities rooted in more important things, the worship of the One True God chief among them. And he has that special ability as a man of God, last seen at large in British public life in the person of Cardinal Basil Hume, of conveying a sense of spiritual groundedness to all who meet him.
To measure him by achievement is to miss the point. He has shone forth as pastor, poet, sage, philosopher and outstanding spiritual example to the whole nation. When devious political skills were called for, he played Machiavelli badly – which was also to his credit. The necessary ambiguities and compromise formulas that leaders of large organisations must sometimes learn to live with were manifestly uncongenial to him. This may explain, indeed, why he was so comfortable in the presence of Pope Benedict – that, and an instinctive appreciation, common to both, of how beauty and truth may serve each other in the liturgy. Cunning as serpents they are not. Things may fall apart around them while they maintain a serene centre – to the exas-
peration, no doubt, of those who want problems quickly fixed.
He is wise to have tendered his resignation nevertheless, as other tactics are at least worth trying if the Anglican Church, in both its national and international incarnation, is not to fall apart in the near future. The model he offered was a Catholic ecclesiology based on Eucharistic Communion. He was interested in exploring, with a deep understanding of church history, what conditions were, and what conditions were not, compatible with that principle. It is a valuable approach worth developing. Indeed, he will be free to pursue his research in Cambridge. But not enough people understood enough theology – or were humble enough – to follow his lead towards a solution. His peacemaking initiatives were repeatedly repulsed by those they were designed to help, the latest being the Anglican Covenant that even his own Church of England is in the process of rejecting.
So if healing and reconciliation is no longer possible, the next archbishop will be faced with hard choices. The Anglican Communion seems to be redesigning itself as a federation of separate Churches. Is its future to be as a faithful inner core with an outer heterodox penumbra? Or would the effort of trying to adopt that model generate so much odium theologicum that bits fly off angrily in all directions – Evangelical Nigerians one way, liberal American Episcopalians the other, and ne’er the twain shall henceforth meet? Where does Anglicanism’s mother Church, that of England, fit into that fissiparous pattern? It too is under growing stress. These are formidable challenges, and Dr Williams’ successor will need superhuman qualities to meet them.
IT’S THE CREDIT RATING, STUPID
As every spin doctor knows, Budget day is a battle for hearts and minds. The Government has to present its case in a way that leaves a favourable impression long after the detail has been forgotten; the Opposition strives to do the opposite.
On this occasion, the Coalition Government’s strategy was high-risk. At a time of rising unemployment, it was lowering the top rate of income tax, paid by those earning more than £150,000 per year, from 50 per cent to 45 per cent. For Labour leader Ed Miliband this was an open goal, and he duly scored. This was “the same old Tories” helping their wealthy friends. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s arguments were cogent – the tax raised little, and he was introducing a raft of higher property taxes that would collect five times more revenue from the same wealthy people. But headline-grabbing it was not.
On the other hand, the Government has accelerated its bold programme to take everyone earning £10,000 a year or less out of income tax altogether, as this year’s tax-free allowance was raised to more than £9,000 with one further step to go. However, George Osborne also announced that savings as a result of the current welfare reforms were still not enough, and another £10 billion a year would have to be cut from the benefits budget.
This is not a good time to be poor or unemployed. The Government did various favours for business, cutting corporation tax again, but Mr Osborne refused to envisage any departure from his general principle that deficit reduction – paid for by cuts in public spending – must take priority over growth, hence over reducing unemployment. Overall, the Budget redistributed the nation’s tax burden rather than reduced it.
The politics that lie behind this are becoming plain. The Coalition has succeeded in persuading a majority of the public that, rightly or wrongly, the size of the national deficit is Labour’s fault, due to its public spending extravagance when in office. As long as that perception remains, the blame for the pain of dealing with the deficit is deflected on to the Opposition. Politically, it is a sweet spot to be in.
The reality is more complicated, for much of the deficit resulted unavoidably from the previous Government’s dealing with the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis. Behind this battle of conflicting perceptions lies an issue neither side seems keen to talk about – the role of the international credit ratings agencies. Despite all the Budget day pomp, it is they rather than Mr Osborne who set Britain’s underlying economic strategy, for he is determined at all costs not to risk Britain’s triple-A rating, which in turn influences the interest rate on British government loans.
The ratings agencies believe that austerity is the only cure for over-borrowed nation states, a policy that has devastated economies from Ireland to Greece. The United States, on the other hand, has disregarded the agencies’ ratings, and has avoided austerity. Its economy is growing at twice the rate of Britain’s; unemployment is falling. But while Mr Osborne’s policies are examined in the minutest detail, the credit ratings agencies and their policies remain off limits. Mr Miliband did not mention them. It is a strange silence, seeing how crucial they are to the nation’s well-being.
2 | THE TABLET | 24 March 2012 COLUMNS
7 CL I F FORD LONGLEY
‘The Anglican Settlement gave the primate responsibility but virtually no power’
9 CHRISTOPHER JAMISON
‘Muamba’s fiancée asked for prayers and her direct request moved people to pray’
1 2 P E T ER STANFORD
‘However lapsed, many still maintain a Lenten fast, and do it with diligence’
1 6 CHRISTOPHER HOWSE’S
PRESSWATCH ‘The Times was not afraid to assume a morally higher ground than the archbishop’
1 8 PARISH PRACTICE 1 9 NOTEBOOK 2 0 L ETTERS 2 1 THE L I V I NG S P I R I T 2 2 PUZZLES
2 3 I AN BRADLEY
Leaving Alexandria: a memoir of faith and doubt Richard Holloway
SUE GAISFORD London in the Eighteenth Century: a great and monstrous thing Jerry White
ALEXANDER LUCIE - SMITH Northwest Corner John Burnham Schwartz
2 6 F EATURE
Laura Gascoigne Van Dyck in Sicily – Painting and the Plague 1624-1625
C I NEMA Francine Stock The Hunger Games
THEATRE Mark Lawson Sweeney Todd
2 4 MARCH 2 0 1 2
COVER STORY 4 Fellow pilgrims Elena Curti and Abigail Frymann
The Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church have their differences, but their leaders’ rapport has helped bridge the divide
4 Working with the archbishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor
Rowan Williams’ strength is as an example of faith
5 Children of Abraham Anthony O’Mahony
Dr Williams’ engagement with Middle Eastern spirituality
6 A nigh-impossible job Jonathan Wynne-Jones
The next Archbishop of Canterbury will inherit a faction-riven Church that is still trying to find a role in the modern world
8 Caught in the crossfire Patrick Nicholson
A Christian aid agency in Lebanon is helping refugees of all faiths from the fighting and oppression in Syria
1 1 Son of the Church, man of conscience Bill Cash
To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of The Tablet’s founder, a descendant recalls a remarkable campaigning convert
1 3 The deepest love that inspires Sally Read
Is eternal life the reward for self-sacrifice? Our Lent series continues with a meditation on John 12:25
1 4 ‘Hail, Mary’ Aidan Mathews
The Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated this week, is a time to reflect not only on the fiat of the Virgin, but on the angelic messenger
3 0 THE CHURCH I N THE WORLD
Pope orders criminal inquiry into ‘Vatileaks’ 3 3 L ETTER FROM ROME 3 4 NEWS FROM BRITAIN AND I RELAND
Vatican voices concern at dissent in Irish Church 3 8 OBITUARY
Pope Shenouda III
COVER PHOTO: CNS/REUTERS, ANDREW WINNING
24 March 2012 | THE TABLET | 3