The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby this week expressed his regrets over the anti-Catholic violence and persecution that followed the Reformation.
At the time of going to press Lambeth Palace said Dr Welby would make a joint statement with the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, on Tuesday of this week ahead of next month’s General Synod of the Church of England which is expected to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Wittenberg Theses.
“People often look to the past so they don’t make the same mistakes again and can move on,” said a spokesman for the Archbishop. It is part of a wider move to promote reconciliation and peace between Protestant and Catholics. Dr Welby has met Pope Francis three times since he was elected Pontiff in 2013.
The move was described as “pointless” by former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe who converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism.
‘These gestures are pointless. The Archbishop has not put anyone to death, as far as I know. Modern Christians are not responsible for what happened in the Reformation. You might as well expect the Italians to apologise for Pontius Pilate.’
The Rev Andrew Atherstone, a member of the Church of England’s Synod and the Faith and Order Commission, said the Reformation remained “deeply embedded in our national psyche” in the context of the Spanish Armada and the Gunpowder Plot.
“As the Church of England prepares to celebrate the Reformation, it should also repent of the violence and brutality it sometimes committed in God’s name,” he told The Daily Mail.
The English Reformation arose from Henry VIII’s break with Rome after the Pope refused to let him divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn.
Lord High Chancellor Sir Thomas More, Henry’s Lord High Chancellor, and Bishop John Fisher were executed for opposing the King. Both were canonised as saints long after their deaths.
Henry’s elder daughter Mary became Queen in 1553, remained loyal to Rome and waged terror on Protestants, including her persecution of Protestant martyrs, burning around 300 ‘heretics’ including former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer. Elizabeth I succeeded Mary in 1558 pledging allegiance to Protestantism and ordering the hanging, drawing, quartering of large numbers of Catholics and the imposition of Protestantism in Ireland.