So this is how long schisms last. It's the 500th anniversary of King Henry's accession to the throne (1509-2009), and Pope Benedict is saying all is forgiven.
Forgetting for just a moment the troubles the Church of England is currently embroiled (lack of leadership, lack of unity, lack of orthodoxy), here are three historical reasons why traditional Anglicans might welcome His Holiness's extremely generous "a church within a church" offering of Anglo-Catholic reunification:
1. The chronically adulterous wife-murderer Henry VIII has never been a very compelling religious leader;
2. Parliament's illegal dethroning of James II for his Catholicism and religious tolerance was a shabby pretext for a so-called 'Glorious Revolution', and;
3. Anglicanism has been more a measure of well-placed cultural faith in the English-speaking upper classes, institutions and work ethic, than a worldly portal to the kingdom of God.
Lord Black, a once nominal Anglican, explains why he finally became a Catholic:
I had always had some problems with Henry VIII as a religious leader. That he apostacised to facilitate marriage with a woman whom he soon beheaded on false charges of adultery, seized the monasteries to finance his wars in France, and required his puppet parliament to give him back the title "Defender of the Faith", (still on the Canadian coinage in honour of the present Queen), that the pope had given him in recognition of a canonical paper Erasmus had ghost-written for him, never filled me with confidence in the legitimacy of the Church of England. More and Wolsey were more morally compelling figures than the Henricians, and many of Britain's great pre-Wren Anglican churches were seized from Rome.Yes, my Lord, how true. That "we-don't-Pope" thing is wavering yet again today.
Nor was I convinced that the replacement of the Stuarts with the House of Orange was the "Glorious Revolution" that MacAulay and the Trevelyans and other talented Whig myth-makers have claimed. James II was a blundering monarch, but his Toleration Act, promising religious freedom for Jews, Roman Catholics, disestablished Protestants and non-believers, was not subversive or ignoble, and was a shabby pretext for a revolution.
The Anglicans, as Newman had written, had an impressive lower clergy, but it seemed more (to me) a measure of well-placed cultural and ethnic faith in the British and American upper classes and institutions, and a contingent, sectarian insurance policy, than the earthly portal to the kingdom of God. The Anglicans have never really decided whether they are Protestant or Catholic, only that they "don't Pope", though even that wavers from time to time.