In a speech in Rome the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, came out in strong defense of the Anglican Church's positions on women priests, bishops, and governnance when it comes to further ecumenical talks with the Roman Catholic Church.
Archbishop of Canterbury tells Pope: no turning back on women priests
Times UK November 19, 2009
The Archbishop of Canterbury has mounted a direct challenge to the Roman Catholic Church's stance against the ordination of women priests.
In a speech in Rome today, he made clear there could be no turning back of the clock on women priests to appease the Pope, the Catholic Church or malcontents in the Church of England.
He dismissed the Pope's plan to welcome disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church as little more than a "pastoral response" which broke little new ground in relations between the two churches.
Speaking at an ecumenical conference at the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome, Dr Rowan Williams went on to outline complex proposals for church unity, but on Anglican rather than Roman Catholic terms. (Perhaps this is a little more backlash.)
He damningly described the papal decree which outlined norms for a new Anglican Ordinariate to allow Anglicans to convert to Rome as creating a "chaplaincy" rather than a church.
"It does not build in any formal recognition of existing ministries or units of oversight or methods of independent decision-making, but remains at the level of spiritual and liturgical culture," he told the meeting of senior priests, bishops and cardinals in Rome.
"As such, it is an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground."
And in a significant departure from Anglican polity, he did not apologise for the ordination of women priests, the development in 1992 that derailed progress towards full unity between the two churches.
Instead, he issued a direct challenge to the Catholic prohibition on women's ordination and said that refusing to ordain women could not enhance a Church communion.
"For many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women," he said.
The Anglican provinces that now ordained women had retained rather than lost their Catholic holiness and sacramentalism, he said.
Acknowledging the divisions in the Anglican Communion, he said that the way Anglican leaders were dealing with division and dissent held its own lessons for Catholics. "Is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene?" (Good question, but the answer may wind up being two systems with much in common but some very sharp divisions concerning the complete dignity of women and gays and governance sharing.)
Dr Williams made clear his determination not to allow the formal talks between Catholics and Anglicans to be derailed by the Catholic bid to capitalise on the flight of traditionalist Anglicans from the Church of England and other provinces in the Anglican Communion. He said that the ecumenical glass was half full rather than half empty.
He put the row over the Apostolic Constitution into the context of a centuries-old debate about the soul of Christian unity, and questioned whether unity talks should even continue if there was no hope of resolving disagreements over issues such as Papal primacy. (Another good question.)
"I want to propose that we now need urgent clarification of whether these continuing points of tension or difference imply in any way that the substantive theological convergence is less solid than it appears, so that we must still hold back from fuller levels of recognition of ministries or fuller sacramental fellowship," he said.
But he went on to argue that if there was hope that such issues could be resolved, the churches could begin to talk about converging their structures of administration and governance, and seeking "sacramental" fellowship. (Perhaps the answer is to allow sacramental fellowship and maintain the other differences.)
The speech laid the groundwork for a frank encounter with the Pope on Saturday, the highlight of Dr Williams's Rome trip. Dr Williams is expected to discuss the Pope's forthcoming visit to Britain next autumn, including the status of the visit and whether it should proceed as a pastoral or State visit.
If the latter, it would be the first ever State visit by a Pope to Britain and he would be hosted by the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England. (I'll believe this when I see it.)
I wonder how long it's going to be before Rowan Williams turns the tables on Pope Benedict and offers Catholics the pastoral opportunity to cross the Tibre in parishes, dioceses and religious orders with the freedom to keep their own liturgy, and the freedom to adapt the Epicopalian notions of governance, priesthood, and the dignity of women and gays.
Maybe Rowan Williams should call the next ecumenical council. The results could be highly beneficial for a lot of disaffected Christians.
No photo today and short commentary because Verizon has been having technical difficulties in my area the last couple of days. Today has been very frustrating. The difficulties are effecting both internet service and cell phone coverage. I'm thinking it could be solar flares, military intelligence testing, satellite issues, or alien interference. Any of these are theoretically possible in New Mexico.