apart from Christian charity, why Catholics should be concerned by what happens to the established or Anglican Church. It is that actions by the established Church affect the rights and privileges of all citizens in this country. And on this ground, all of us have an interest in the Clergy (Ordination) Measure which the Commons rejected recently.
It is one issue where it would be too easy for Catholics to pass by on the other side of the road muttering that it serves the Anglican Church right. If It had abided by the pre-reformation policy of an unmarried clergy this, and related issues, would not have arisen. But the advent of a married clergy outweighs the disadvantages.
Generally speaking, Anglican priests are presented with freehold livings. Unless they commit some hideous moral or criminal offence they cannot be removed from their post until the statutory retirement age catches up with them. The great strength of this policy is that the clergy can stand up to their bishop, and anybody else they choose, without fear of losing their job.
The disadvantage of the freehold, though, is that bishops cannot always deploy their clergy to best effect. Moreover, the actions of some clergy take them into what can best be described as a grey moral area. Divorce is on the increase. Some clergy divorce, or are divorced by, their wives, and subsequently remarry. Rarely will the bishop move against them on this score alone.
The Anglican Church does, however, hold the line that those lay people who are divorced and remarried, or who are married to a divorcee, cannot present themselves for ordination. The purpose of the Commons measure was to abolish this bar to ordination.
It was presented as a tidying up device, granting the laity the same rights as some of the clergy who are already divorced and remarried. But is It quite so harmless?
At une time it looked as if the Anglican Church was golog to change its mind about divorced people and allow them to remarry in church. A consequential reform was to allow remarried divorcees to become priests.
The Church threw out the main reform, but has pressed ahead with the Clergy (Ordination) Measure. It is here, of course, that Catholics have an interest not as Catholics, but as citizens.
Is it right for the national Church to attempt to create two tiers of citizens those who are divorced and are refused remarriage in church, and those remarried divorcees overwhelmingly men who will be allowed ordination, On this issue the House of Commons, whether it is composed of Moslems or Jews, Roman Catholics or Free Churchmen, has a right to decide what the national Church gets up to.
Of course in an ideal world England would not have an established church which is partly accountable to Parliament. Theologically speaking it is difficult to justify a sacred body being bound by civil powers.
Yet maybe this argument illustrates the limits of a theology written by the human mind. Over 450 years it does not appear that the Holy Spirit has not found it that difficult to work through a sacred organisation upon which there is a secular check.
Moreover, as this debate spills out beyond its Anglican confines it will raise other issues, too. Here is a church which generally refuses to remarry divorced people and which also refuses to ordain women, but k prepared to create a special elite mainly among men who have been divorced and who wish to be ordained. Is this fair?
Mark Haddon is on holiday. He will be back next week.