The leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justin Welby, is poised to issue a statement of remorse this week for the thousands of Christians put to death during the Reformation 500 years ago for their religion. A former minister of government, Ann Widdecombe -- a convert to the Catholic Church from Anglicanism -- said of the coming apology: “These gestures are pointless. The Archbishop has not put anyone to death, as far as I know.”
Archbishop Welby will join Archbishop John Sentamu of York to beg repentance for the involvement of the Anglican Church in the killing of thousands of Christians during the Reformation. The statement is set to come just a month before the Parliament or General Synod of the Church of England. Rev. Andrew Atherstone, a member of the Anglican Synod and the Faith and Order Commission, said the Reformation remained “deeply embedded in our national psyche” as well as events such as the Gunpowder Plot and the Spanish Armada. “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.”
A spokesman for Welby said that by looking to the past, people may be directed away from committing the same mistakes and “move on.” The statement will mark a week of prayer for Christian unity and an effort to improve further the relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.
The Reformation, which had begun earlier in Germany and Switzerland, is dated in England to the break of Henry VIII with the Pope after being refused an annulment from his wife Catherine when he wished to marry Anne Boleyn. Most nobles and leading ecclesiastics fell in line with Henry and his Oath of Supremacy, which recognized his dominion over the Church. Notable exceptions were Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, Henry’s closest advisor and Lord Chancellor. Both were beheaded by Henry. Under Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, the Protestant Reformation gained new ground after Henry’s dissolution and seizure of monasteries and Church properties. The persecution of Catholics and other Christians, who defied the Anglican or Established Church of England, worsened. Among the victims of the religious persecution was Edmund Campion, a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order who, despite pledging fealty to his queen, was ultimately hung, drawn and quartered. English Puritans who also diverged from the Established Church fled to the Netherlands where they found a Protestant community that welcomed them. They became the Pilgrims who eventually sailed to America and Plymouth Rock in the 1600s.