There has been a lot of material in The Times about this.
Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester interviewed Phil Woolas on 18 October. At the very end, he is reported thus:
But he also warns Christians that they need to be more accepting of other faiths. The Church of England will, in his view, be disestablished in the end. “It will probably take 50 years but a modern society is multifaith.”
Rachel Sylvester wrote There’s a God-shaped hole in Westminster. Towards the end, she said:
When Alice Thomson and I interviewed Phil Woolas last week, his comments on immigration hit the headlines – but it was his suggestion that the Anglican Church would be disestablished that got Downing Street in a jitter. The minister’s claim that the link between Church and State would be broken within 50 years because “a modern society is multi-faith” was potential dynamite, with implications for the monarchy, the armed forces and the judiciary as well as Parliament. In fact, Mr Brown has already started to break the link between Church and State – he has given up the power to appoint bishops and is considering a plan to abolish the Act of Settlement, which ensures that only a Protestant can succeed to the throne – but he had hoped to move to the point of disestablishment by stealth.
It would be wrong to suggest that Britain is any longer a Christian country in terms of the population – only 7 per cent of people regularly attend an Anglican church. Yet neither is Britain a secular State like France. Its history, culture and constitutional settlement are based on the link between Church and State. Earlier this year, Nicholas Sarkozy criticised the French republic’s obsession with secularism and called for a “blossoming” of religions. “A man who believes is a man who hopes,” he said. It is ironic that politicians in this country have abandoned belief – at the very moment that the people need hope.
Then, there was this report by Richard Ford and Ruth Gledhill that enlarges on the point. Phil Woolas contradicts government policy over position of Church of England:
Phil Woolas, the new Immigration Minister, was again at the centre of controversy last night after contradicting official government policy over the position of the Church of England.
The outcome of the Government’s attempt to reform the House of Lords would be to strip the Church of its privileges, he said. Within 50 years the Church of England would have lost the special position it has held in English life since the Reformation.
Mr Woolas told The Times: “Disestablishment – I think it will happen because it’s the way things are going. Once you open debate about reform of the House of Lords you open up debate about the make-up of the House. It will probably take 50 years, but a modern society is multifaith.”
His remarks caused consternation in Whitehall: the Government has no intention of igniting a political row over the issue, which has consequences for the monarchy…
The Times has also published a leader on this, titled Church and nation. This concludes:
…Disestablishment would in a sense allow the Church of England to be more Christian. Its concerns would be less expansive, and a more distinctive voice might thereby emerge. Whether that is the right course for the Church and for the nation is a conversation worth holding. It should, however, be conducted with an eye to posterity, if not eternity. While a national church might appear an anachronism, changing its status must not be undertaken lightly.
Above all, this is an issue on which the Church itself should deliberate. Politicians have transient authority, whereas the Church has existed for centuries. For a decision that would be irrevocable, there is no need to adopt a timetable.
A sidebar in the Ford/Gledhill article says this:
Disestablishment would put at risk
— The presence of a parish priest for every community
— The right of all, unless there is a separate legal inhibition, to be married, baptised or given a funeral at their parish church
— The Church’s central role in helping the nation to mark important events, such as royal weddings
— The role of the Church as an education provider through church schools
— The public enactment of church legislation. The laws of the Church are part of the laws of England – measures passed by General Synod also need to be passed by Parliament – and therefore the Church’s courts are part of the English legal system
— The role of the Sovereign as supreme governor of the Church
— The role of the Crown in appointing bishops and other senior clergy
— The presence of bishops in the House of Lords – they are not there to protect self-interest but to represent communities in a non-party-political way