More people are attending Mass in Ireland

Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading Anglican church spokesman, has hit back at the Vatican for its recent efforts to win over Anglican converts.

Williams was speaking in Rome at Pontifical Gregorian University at an event to mark the birth of Dutch Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, the first head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian unity.

In the conclusion to his speech, Williams said: “All I have been attempting to say here is that the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full – and then to ask about the character of the unfinished business between us.

"For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain.

“And if it isn’t, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us thus far?”

That all sounds very reasonable, but Williams is head of the "Established Church," which stopped at nothing in its day to end Catholicism as we now know it. They made Pope Benedict's efforts to win over Anglicans look like a child's tea party. Today's Anglicans may well be saying why "can't we all get along," but their predecessors were utterly savage in their fury toward Catholics

Anyone remember the Penal Laws? They were in place from 1695 to 1829 in Ireland. They were set up to end Catholicism in Ireland and force the population to become members of the established church: the Anglican church.

Among the laws were a price on the head of every priest; ₤5 as it was back then. The Anglican church even had their own priest-hunters, who were given large rewards to find priests and have them hanged. Who ya gonna call? Priest-hunters!

There was ₤5 on the head of every schoolteacher as well, in case he taught the Irish ways and the Irish language. Catholics were also barred from every Government job, from lawyer to tax collector to lowly steward if they did not denounce their religion and convert.

In addition, Catholics could not hold land worth more that 30 shillings or a horse worth more than ₤5. During the Famine, millions faced starvation unless they agreed to literally "take the soup," convert to the established religion, in which case they got fed.

All this for a religion founded on the fact that Henry VIII could not get divorced so he left the Catholic Church and set up a new one. But Anglicans also persecuted Presbyterians in Northern Ireland, forcing thousands of them to flee to America. Among them were the parents of Andrew Jackson, one of the great American Presidents and antecedents of several more Presidents as well.

So when we see Williams speaking softly, we can definitely agree that in its modern day incarnation, the Anglican church is very different to the old-style "flog 'em and burn' em" church it once was.

But it is healthy to keep an historical perspective on all this.