Ten years ago the then archbishop of Canterbury pulled off an ecumenical coup. Acclaimed with astonishing unanimity even by the religious competitors of Jerusalem, he repaired to Istanbul and Rome to be welcomed literally with open arms by the ecumenical patriarch and Pope John.

On his return to London, Dr. Fisher faced a press conference at the airport. “What is the most vivid memory of your tour?” asked a newsman. Replied the primate thoughtfully: “Of a camel which looked at me with most ineffable scorn.” Sic transit gloria mundi!

Eight years earlier (I am reminded by John Purcell’s Fisher of Lambeth) the archbishop had made in Boston another noteworthy statement. Preaching a sermon that was broadcast across the nation, he warned Americans: “If our civilization fails, it will fail because of an atheism no less real because it has not been deliberately chosen, but is the casual result of ordinary people letting their absorption with the cares and riches and bustle of this world shut their eyes to God.…”

He’s right in a way, but to pan common folk exclusively is to confirm that the above-mentioned camel maybe knew a thing or two after all. Here was a neat reversal of that charge of obsession with its vast wealth so often leveled against the English church commissioners.

All this came to mind last week as I was reading an irascible outburst in the Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Nettled by some comments in a money-conscious Swiss journal, the authorities huffily stated that Vatican capital is “not even one-hundredth” part of the $12.7 billion suggested. That should fix those who with childlike otherworldliness think you can run a church on Hail Marys.

Fisher’s successor at Canterbury, Michael ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.