During one of his more unusual interviews, given to a comedian at a football ground on Bonfire Night, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked what his favourite firework was. Scarcely pausing for breath, he replied: “I think the wrong answer to that would be ‘a Roman Candle.'”
Benedict XVI’s full state visit to Britain in September was the first by any pope for 400 years.
He was given the warmest of welcomes from the Queen, the Prime Minister, hundreds of thousands who lined the streets, and leaders of all the major faiths, including Dr Williams.
But barely a month after the crowds had gone, the Roman Catholic Church was once again pitted against the Church of England in what some commentators saw as the greatest struggle for the souls of Anglicans since the Reformation.
October saw the first anniversary of Benedict XVI’s historic – and hugely contentious – offer to accommodate conservative Anglicans who could not accept the ministry of women bishops.
His unprecedented proposal to establish a separate section of the Roman Catholic Church for them – the so-called English Ordinariate – bore its first fruit in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own back yard.
A hitherto quiet parish in Folkestone, Kent, announced that it was to become the first in England to join the Ordinariate and defect en masse to Rome.
Within hours, an Anglican bishop, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst, the bishop of Fulham, disclosed his intention to follow suit.
By mid-November, no fewer than five Church of England bishops had announced their resignations, while some 50 vicars and several hundred worshippers were said to be ready to convert to Roman Catholicism in protest at the ordination of women.
Their decision was the inevitable result of a divisive meeting of the General Synod, the Church of England’s “parliament”, in July. In a vote that seriously weakened the authority of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, traditionalist Anglo-Catholics opposed to women’s ministry were denied a compromise which would have given them the option of a future in the pastoral care of male bishops.
Many conservatives felt they had no option but, in Dr Williams’s words, to “jump ship”.