Peter Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, made the news recently when his Facebook and Twitter comments about the upcoming royal wedding were made public. Broadbent posted, “Need to work out what date in the spring or summer I should be booking my republican day trip to France. I think we need a party in Calais for all good republicans who can’t stand the nauseating tosh that surrounds this event.”
Broadbent bitched about what the wedding was likely to cost the people, noted that the royal family was full of philanderers and broken marriages, and predicted that the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton, whom he called “shallow celebrities,” would be set up by the gutter press to fail. He gave it seven years. He also referred to William’s parents, the Prince of Wales and the late Princess of Wales, as “Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll.” Okay, you have to admit that was pretty funny.
But the problem is, Prince William’s granny is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. William’s dad, and eventually William himself, are expected to inherit that title in their turn. So criticizing the royals is, by C of E standards, kind of blasphemous. Not to mention that it offends the sensibilities of silly girls throughout Britain who imagine William to be a Prince Charming of the highest order. There was a public outcry, with pundits and members of Parliament calling the bishop rude, ignorant, nasty, cruel, and unchristian. Anne Pickles, a tedious columnist for the News & Star, would write a particularly shrill and stupid piece claiming that Broadbent had attacked the very institution of Christian marriage and launched “an unprovoked attack on faith, hope and love.” Ms. Pickles wasn’t fast enough for Bishop Broadbent, though. It didn’t take him long to see which way the wind was blowing, and before her column appeared he issued one of those “sorry you were offended” unapologetic apologies:
I have conveyed to Prince Charles and to Prince William and Kate Middleton my sincere regrets for the distress caused by my remarks and the subsequent media attention about the forthcoming Royal Wedding. I recognise that the tone of my language and the content of what I said were deeply offensive, and I apologise unreservedly for the hurt caused.
It was unwise of me to engage in a debate with others on a semi-public internet forum and to express myself in such language. I accept that this was a major error of judgement on my part.
I wish Prince William and Kate Middleton a happy and lifelong marriage, and will hold them in my prayers.
As it happens, Broadbent isn’t a diocesan bishop. He’s a suffragan bishop of the Diocese of London, and his immediate superior is Richard Chartres, Bishop of London. Chartres was none too pleased with Broadbent’s anti-royal trashtalk, and was perhaps even less pleased with the promptness of Broadbent’s quasi-apology.
Chartres is a good friend of the Prince of Wales and a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, and is almost certainly hoping to officiate at the royal wedding next year. I’m sure he would have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to demand a public apology from Broadbent, but the turbulent priest robbed him of that pleasure by apologizing too quickly. So Chartres suspended him anyway. “I have also been in touch with St James’s Palace to express my own dismay on behalf of the Church,” Chartres announced. You bet your sweet ass he has.
Broadbent may be right about the royal wedding — and the royal family itself — being a “national flim-flam.” This episode underlines the extent to which the same is true of Broadbent’s church. Looking at Broadbent and Chartres, it’s hard to overlook what a sham the Church of England is, and what a complete waste of taxpayer money.
Broadbent, an Evangelical and a self-proclaimed republican, nevertheless chose to work his way up the ladder of a church that puts great stock in the supposed apostolic succession of its bishops, and is actually headed by the sovereign. When anti-gay bigots were staying away from the last Lambeth Conference in droves to protest the presence of bishops who approved of gay bishops — the Anglican Communion’s lone openly gay bishop had been told to stay away, but his friends were invited — it put Broadbent in a difficult position. He could hardly offend his evangelical friends by attending, but it wouldn’t have been politically expedient to offend the Archbishop of Canterbury by making a big stink about it, either. So he did what was probably the most spineless thing he could have done: he announced that he would refuse to attend, but declined to say why. He’s the sort of cleric who has convictions, but whose convictions have never been allowed to influence his decisions — the sort who mistakes making snarky remarks about the royals for social commentary, and thinks taking a principled stand means having a party in Calais.
Chartres, on the other hand, is an eminently suitable bishop of the Church of England. He’s Prelate of the Order of the British Empire, Dean of the Chapels Royal, Chaplain of the Venerable Order of St. John, and a member of the Privy Council. He confirmed Prince William and presided at the wedding of Lord Frederick Windsor. He exemplifies the kind of Christianity Sir Humphrey Appleby was thinking of when he mentioned “significant religious events like the royal garden party.”
In America, we have waged a constant — and largely unsuccessful — battle to maintain the separation of Church and State. The would-be theocrats of the Religious Right would like nothing better than to establish Christianity as the state religion not only in practice but also in law. Secularists correctly argue that the establishment of religion violates freedom of religion. But there’s another aspect of Church and State that our Christian friends have overlooked: When Church and State are joined, Church is a complete farce.