Pope Benedict's controversial state visit to the UK begins tomorrow, but even before his arrival two facts are clear. The first is that it is bringing into focus the extent to which Christian values have collapsed in British society and the second is that, despite the much publicised sexual abuse scandals, the Church of Rome has a coherent intellectual and strategic grasp far beyond that of the Anglican Communion's Lambeth leadership.
As the authority and gathering power of the Archbishop of Canterbury continues to decline and senior African Anglicans begin to talk openly about the need to re-evangelise England itself these facts help to clarify that the Anglican Communion needs new governance structures which are not tied to English law and culture and are able to articulate a strategic vision rather than the pragmatic platitudes of institutional survival such as 'bonds of affection'.
As to the first fact, the libertarians and secularists who are expressing nothing short of sheer vitriol to the Pope are not marginal figures, but those who are regarded as making the cultural weather. So the journalist Claire Rayner writes 'His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him and the leaked British Foreign Office memorandum which suggested that the Pope should, among other things, open an abortion ward and bless a gay 'marriage' showed, despite a subsequent apology, just how much contempt is felt for an institution which continues to uphold marriage and the family.