Unlike the United States, with its constitutionally secular government, the Church of England is the official state religion: the monarch is the head of the Church, senior bishops sit in the House of Lords and can vote on legislation, and many important state ceremonies and functions have a religious component. So perhaps it should not be surprising that it is having difficulty coming to terms with its steadily diminishing significance in English life. Censuses and other surveys consistently show the numbers of adherents of other faiths - and of no faith at all - continuing to grow and membership of the Church of England continuing to shrink.
And this is far from the first time it has been called upon to re-triangulate its position on the moral high ground. This is the Church, for example, that takes a strong official stance against the sin of gambling - despite the fact that it is one of the biggest players on the London Stock Exchange. In 2008, at the height of the economic crisis, the Church went on record condemning the practice of short selling - and were then caught doing it themselves. And recently, bishops who voted against a Conservative welfare reform bill were taken to task because their personal chauffeurs receive a salary lower than some of the benefits they voted to preserve.
It is high time that the Church of England realized what the monarchy, and in particular the current Queen, have long known: its proper role as a constitutional body in a modern democracy is, or should be, purely ceremonial. As an Englishman and a British subject, I have no issue with the monarch having to be an Anglican, with the national anthem being “God Save the Queen”, or with Church rites being part of state ceremonies and occasions such as the opening of Parliament or royal weddings. These institutions give our nation a unique structure and identity and provide continuity with our history. And even to an irreligious person like me, there is something reassuring about the presence of the parish church at the centre of every community; and it is impossible to enter one of our ancient cathedrals and not feel a great sense of calm and connection with the past, even among the bustle of tourists in its vaulted spaces.