I am one of those secularists who think that the Church of England should be disestablished but minus most of its assets which should remain in public hands for use, for renting out and for disposal. This would free up the Church of England to become a religious organisation.
But I can see the attractions when I visit a town like Chichester. There is a cathedral and next to it a Bishop’s Palace and then, clustered all around, some very desirable residences right in the centre of town but away from the traffic. You can’t buy them but I bet you can get a better deal than an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. There will be a pecking order, of course, and - for example - there is a very impressive Deanery which not everyone will qualify for.
The Palace Gardens are now public property or, at least, open to the public and maintained by the local authoirty and they are, indeed, a very pleasant place to sit and relax.
I think its properties are one of the few remaining attractions of the Church of England. How else can one explain the pull it has on those towards whom it has shown centuries of animosity? In heaven’s name, no woman or gay person would want to be a high up in this unpleasant organisation; but for purely material reasons, why on earth not? Those cottages in the Cathedral Close would cost a few hundred thousand each on the open market. If all you have to do is put on a collar to baptise, marry and bury – well, it’s a no brainer. People who work for high-paying corporations may have private doubts about the ethics; why should anyone worry too much about the ethics of a church which will give you a nice house in exchange for some modest public duties?
Henry VIII isn’t looked down upon because he looted the monasteries. He counts as one of our more effective kings – I don’t think any of them count as virtuous so it’s as close as it gets. A government which decided to dispossess the Church of England could go a long way to solving many social problems. Who could possibly object?