I can't help feeling that most people have rather missed the point in the recent controversy about Rowan Williams and Sharia. Damian Thompson isn't one of these; in his typically acerbic style he has compared the Archbishop with Prince Charles, especially in the light of the latter's desire to be a defender 'of faith' rather than 'of the faith'.
Now, let's establish that I am not one of those who follow the tabloid line about the ArchImam of Canterbury. That's plainly nonsense and in some cases amounts to malicious misrepresentation. But there must have been some purpose behind what he said, and, entertaining though it may be to think it, I don't think that he is trying to deflect attention from the bigger issues at the up-and-coming Lambeth Conference.
Though I would identify myself as being rather a traditional Catholic, I have always had an abiding affection for the old C of E: I have never been a member of it, so my affection can come without cost or pain: evensong in a dark cathedral, the choirs, the dignified presence on state occasions, and many other things.
As my Anglican friends will know, however, there is one thing that gets right up my nose, and that is the Anglican claim to pastoral responsibility for all people living within their territory, irrespective of whether they belong to any other faith. When I was a curate (ah me! I was a pale young curate then!), the local vicar went as far as to describe my boss and me as his 'delegates for the Romans in Xville'.
With Damian, I think that the Sharia comments of the Archbishop were aimed along these lines. Since he thinks of himself as the spiritual leader of the whole country and all people here, of whatever faith, he feels that British Moslems, too, are put by the Establishment (and therefore God?) into his tender care, and therefore he should do his best for them, as for any other members of his flock.
There are times when I think that as Catholics we continue to live in something of a ghetto, for many good historical reasons; we tend to restrict our work to our own people a bit too much. But I think that the Archbishop, and the same principle down the line into the parishes, goes too far in the other direction.
I really do not see that 'Establishment' confers, by law, on all Anglican clergy the right of entry to all peoples homes. This point of view was advanced to me by a vicaress of my acquaintance. I do not see that it confers a sort of universal pastorate on the C of E clergy, which comes across as at best patronising and at worst infuriating.
Finally, I wonder whether the Moslem clergy find this intervention on the matter of Sharia touching or irritating.