A Canterbury Tale of Woe or Opportunity?

Signs of Christianity’s decline are now clearly showing in England’s historic cathedral city.

Canterbury Cathedral from the Green Court of the King's School.
Canterbury Cathedral from the Green Court of the King's School. (photo: Edward Pentin photo )

Britain’s general election this week heralded ominous signs for the country’s Christians.

Not only did Thursday’s election lead to a number of respected Christian parliamentarians losing their seats, the historic city where St. Augustine of Canterbury began evangelizing England lost its Conservative Member of Parliament — the first time that has happened for at least a century.

So-called Tories are not of course always promoters of Church teaching, but Sir Julian Brazier, who represented my native city for 30 years, was a Catholic who valiantly stood up for the faith and the family in the public square.

He lost his seat to his Labour rival, Rosie Duffield, by just 187 votes.

Perhaps a reflection of a country where the family is under attack through legalized abortion, same-sex “marriage” and where 42% of marriages end in divorce, Brazier, a married father of three, was defeated by a single mother of two.

Also telling was that his defeat was largely thanks to the city’s burgeoning student population, generally lacking — through no fault of their own — in a solid Christian education, and therefore easily seduced by Labour’s socialist idealism.

Labour’s leader, radical socialist Jeremy Corbyn, attracted wide support not only in Canterbury but across the country (12.9 million people voted Labour on June 8, marginally fewer than the 13.6 million who voted Conservative under the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May).

Some of that surprising support was due to other factors including May’s poor campaign, Brexit, and Labour’s pledge to end university tuition fees — a cynical but successful ploy copied from Bernie Sanders to buy the student vote.

But many of Britain’s faithful will be disturbed to see such wide backing for Corbyn whose quasi-communist political positions range from past vocal support for Hugo Chavez, Castro and the IRA, to being a fervent and long-standing advocate for homosexual and abortion rights. A strong environmentalist, he speaks up for the materially poor, but as with any socialist, always in the context of looking to the state for help through welfare, nationalization and high taxation.

A crisis of reason, the spread of cultural Marxism and the moral relativism it engenders can perhaps best explain the surprising extent of the support Labour received under his leadership.  

It certainly appears to have reached Canterbury. Amid tight security, and in the shadow of the cathedral, the city will host its second annual “gay pride parade” on June 10.

The event follows a Feb. 18 service for Freemasons in Canterbury Cathedral, the place of St. Thomas Becket’s martyrdom which, for centuries, was a center of Catholic worship and pilgrimage.

That such events, together with Brazier’s historic election defeat, are happening in what was once England’s Primal Catholic See are portentous signs — part of a steady decline which dates back to the Reformation.

And yet a positive aspect of Corbyn’s surprising success was that the young gravitated to his authenticity, strength of (misguided) beliefs and ideas, offering some hope that given the right formation, they could similarly be attracted by the Truth, originality and hope of the Gospel if it were taught with similar conviction.

Such was Cardinal Carlo Caffarra’s entreaty given in a recent interview with the Register. 

Perhaps this election therefore marks the beginning of a new Canterbury Tale, one not so much about decline as an opportunity: the chance with the Lord's aid to re-evangelize the country and finally help a deeply secular, post-Christian Britain rediscover its Catholic origins and roots.