London — A lively debate is under way in England about how many Anglican churchgoers are ready to accept the Pope as ''universal primate'' so as to bring about unity with Rome.
''While the majority of British people don't go to church at all, many have an opinion about the Pope,'' said Derek Pattinson, secretary-general of the General Synod of the Church of England, in an interview.
''And they are expressing it already,'' he added. ''Anti-Roman feeling is not far beneath the surface, I fear.''
Clifford Longley, the Roman Catholic religious affairs correspondent of The Times (London), estimates that up to 10 percent of Church of England clergy have decided that communion with Rome is necessary. Some have stayed within the Anglican Church ''to urge the whole body Rome-ward.''
They conduct high mass according to the Roman rite and offer prayers for ''our Holy Father Pope John Paul II.''
Mr. Longley also argues that somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of Anglicans generally consider Pope John Paul II as ''our Pope.''
A veteran and perceptive observer of church affairs in Britain disagrees with Mr. Longley's figures. This man, not a Catholic, comments:
''About 27 million people in this country have been baptized into the Church of England, and to say that 20 percent of them recognize the Pope is much too high. It is also too high to say 20 percent of the country's 11/2 million regular churchgoers recognize the Pope.
''But if you're talking about the Anglican clergy, well, perhaps 40 percent might be accurate enough.''
Men like Mr. Pattinson align themselves with the ''high'' church of England -- close to Roman Catholic views.
''The Anglican Church is not a Protestant church,'' the Rev. Peter Delaney told a group of visiting correspondents recently. ''It is a reformed Catholic church, which accepts some of the elements of Protestantism - individual conscience, and so on.''
Dr. Delaney, rector of All Hallows by the Tower of London, considers Protestant churches to be Methodists, Presbyterians, and others in similar tradition.
''The word 'Catholic' means 'of the whole,' '' comments this observer of church life in Britain, ''and the Church of England certainly regards itself as 'of the whole Catholic church' despite the break by Henry VIII, who nationalized the church, if you will, but inherited a Catholic tradition.''
Mr. Pattinson told visiting correspondents that the Pope's visit May 28 to June 2 will mark the first time a Pope has visited ''a Catholic community not under his own jurisdiction.''
Questioned later, he made it clear he regarded the Church of England as a Catholic church in its form and inheritance, which had been ''strongly influenced'' by the reformation and ''Protestant thinking.''
That is a view of the church rejected with equal strength by many churchgoers here, as well as by church leaders such as the Bishop-elect of Chester, the Rev. Michael Baughen.
''We believe a man is made right with God by faith,'' he said, ''whereas the standard Catholic teaching is that the church and the clergy intercede for man.''