Skip to comments.The archbishop's days are numbered
Posted on 11/24/2006 5:45:19 PM PST by sionnsar
By Damian Thompson
Dr Rowan Williams's first official encounter with a Pope was a sad affair: he had to lean close to John Paul II in order to decipher his whispers. On being asked how the meeting had gone, he replied: "Well, I won't see him again."
Yesterday's discussions between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Benedict XVI were more lively. The Pope has been transformed. Not only is the role of the pontiff being played, Doctor Who-style, by another man; but that man, Joseph Ratzinger, has also managed to shrug off his own saturnine image and emerge as a beaming pastor with possibly the finest theological mind in the Church.
Moreover - although he offended Muslims by declining to describe Islam as a religion of undiluted love - he has been careful not to rant about bioethics or sex. His view is that Catholics cannot explain what they are against until they do a better job of explaining what they are for.
As for the archbishop, more and more commentators are arguing that he is not the same man who met John Paul II three years ago. In the words of one Church source: "He is so weakened. In 2003 there was only one Archbishop of Canterbury. Now there are effectively three."
Perched uncomfortably on the chair of St Augustine, Dr Williams is constantly aware of two figures on either side of him: his predecessor, Lord Carey of Clifton, and his probable successor, Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. We do not know whether Dr Sentamu wants the post, but the chances are that he will be offered it, and sooner rather than later.
Clergymen spend a lot of time on the internet, mostly for innocent purposes, such as following ecclesiastical backstabbing. The "Anglican blogosphere" is a rich source of speculation - very well-informed speculation in the case of the blog written by Andrew Brown, Church Times media correspondent. On November 13 - days before Dr Williams got himself into a pickle by implying that the Church of England might backtrack on women priests - Brown wrote: "It is the sensible bet that Rowan will retire, defeated if not broken, after the formal schism at the Lambeth Conference [in 2008], and Sentamu will be his successor."
The idea that Rowan Williams will step down in two or three years' time - a decade before he is required to - is being discussed in many quarters. It was first floated on Ship of Fools, a theological internet chat site, by someone calling himself "Spawn", who also predicted that the coming Lambeth Conference would be the archbishop's swansong. Does Spawn have inside information? He makes no secret of the fact that he is Andrew Carey, son of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury.
Like the Pope, Lord Carey has surprised everyone by reinventing himself. As Primate of All England, he was dismissed as a self-important booby: Captain Mainwaring in a mitre. Since his retirement in 2002, however, he has become "the king over the water" for conservative evangelical Anglicans, who - thanks to mushrooming churches in Africa - now far outnumber communicants of the Church of England.
Carey has done this partly by offering moral support to anti-homosexual Africans and Americans, even to the extent of travelling to Virginia to confirm opponents of Gene Robinson, the gay Bishop of New Hampshire. According to one Sunday newspaper, "a personal feud between the Archbishop of Canterbury and his predecessor has burst into the open" - a claim to be taken seriously, given that the commentator who made it, Christopher Morgan, was Rowan Williams's best man.
But, to give Lord Carey his due, he has also developed a knack that eluded him in office: of talking common sense. He was the first senior churchman to attack moderate Muslim leaders for not condemning Islamic suicide bombers "clearly and unequivocally"; this week he criticised the wearing of full-face veils by Muslim women.
Such outbursts fly in the face of every convention governing the behaviour of retired primates. Lord Carey's conservative admirers are not concerned; they continue to regard him as the real Archbishop of Canterbury. But that baton is now about to be passed, over Dr Williams's head, to a prelate whom African conservatives can truly consider one of their own: the Ugandan-born Dr Sentamu, who in his previous incarnation as a judge was a ferociously brave critic of Idi Amin.
Actually, it is not just Africans who look to Dr Sentamu as the de facto leader of the Church of England.
As Brown notes, he has been "anointed" by the tabloid press for speaking out on topics that his boss has sidestepped or overlooked. It was York, not Canterbury, that issued a long-overdue condemnation of the BBC's anti-Christian bias; it was York that attacked British Airways' fatuous ban on employees wearing a cross.
In other circumstances, Rowan Williams could have relied on liberal bishops to come to his rescue. But his equivocation over gay clergy and his private criticism of the calibre of women priests have alienated them.
If Rowan is so clever, they ask, why does he tie himself in rhetorical knots every time he opens his mouth?
Certainly, the archbishop will not have got far if he has tried to play intellectual games with the razor-sharp Benedict, who knows that the pursuit of Anglican-Catholic unity is now a waste of time (and BA jet fuel). And he also probably knows - since he has an impressive network of spies in England - that the archiepiscopate of Rowan Williams is itself a lost cause.
This time, it may be the Pope's turn to say: "Well, I won't see him again."
Cute line. "Who's playing the Pope in this film, Roger Moore or Sean Connery?"
He sounds like he has all this insider-information, but does not name sources. I find this article to be written in a smug know-it-all tone, and it just makes me wonder: how does a reporter for the TELEGRAPH know this?
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