When Rowan goes to RomeR. William Franklin
- 18 November 2006
For four decades, Anglican leaders have visited the Vatican amid hopes for the restoration of ecclesial unity. On the eve of the Archbishop of Canterbury's visit, the prospect looks unlikely, given Catholic concerns over issues such as same-sex unions and women bishops. Yet the spirit of ecumenism remains, albeit tinged with caution. Could ‘wait and see' turn out to be the most fruitful policy?
When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, arrives in Rome on Tuesday to begin a six-day visit during which he will meet the Pope, Vatican officials and Anglican representatives, it is likely to be a far more subdued affair than the start of the historic visit of his predecessor, Michael Ramsey, 40 years earlier. Yet it will be a profoundly important time in the history of Anglican-Catholic relations, coming as it does after a season of struggle with some harsh realities facing the Christian faith and the Churches, both within their walls and in their dealings with outside forces.
There will be services of prayer and meetings, both private and public, during Dr Williams' trip, which will indicate a desire of both Churches to come together in a spirit of ecumenism. But in contrast to the exuberance of 1966, the tone of this visit is being described in Rome as one of "wait and see". There are two reasons for this caution. The first concerns the possible admission of women to the episcopate in the Church of England, while the second concerns the future of the Anglican Communion as a coherent, united, orldwide communion.
On previous visits by archbishops of Canterbury to Rome - for example, the one that resulted in the joint declaration issued by Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert Runcie on 2 October 1989 - the goal of both Catholics and Anglicans has been defined as "the restoration of unity and of full ecclesial communion". At the heart of this restoration of "full communion" is a mutual recognition of ministries so that there might be complete interchangeability of ordained ministers and sacraments between Anglicans and Catholics.
This would have been unthinkable at one time. In 1896, the papal bull Apostolicae Curae declared Anglican ministry to be "absolutely null and utterly void". As long as Apostolicae Curae remains in place, there can be no full communion. And yet theological agreement between the two Churches on the nature of the Eucharist and on the nature of the ordained ministry - the theological issues at the heart of the condemnations of Apostolicae Curae - has been achieved in the discussions and published statements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). This had progressed so rapidly that in July 1985 Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, could state in a public letter to the co-chairs of ARCIC that the consensus achieved had "put the issue of the Roman Catholic Church's judgement on Anglican Ordinations into a new context".
Cardinal Willebrands' letter may be considered the high point of relations between Canterbury and Rome in the last 40 years. It is a document in which the cardinal stated that because of the remarkable doctrinal agreement of the dialogue, such "agreements", endorsed by the proper authorities of the Anglican Communion in a solemn "profession of faith", could remove what in Apostolicae Curae was perceived as the Anglican nativa indoles, the native nullity of Anglican ordained ministry. This is a nullity that stands in the way of reconciliation and, wrote the cardinal, "full communion".
Cardinal Willebrands' letter was the first public statement in 90 years by a high Vatican authority to cast doubt upon the negative judgement on Anglican orders. But in June of 2006 his successor as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, travelled to Market Bosworth in Leicestershire to tell the House of Bishops of the Church of England that this desired goal of "full communion" will be "unreachable" if the Church of England goes ahead with plans to consecrate women as bishops.
Cardinal Kasper defined the present terrain of November 2006 in these words: "Besides the official dialogue there was a thorough historical and theological discussion of ... Apostolicae Curae ... Such dialogue and discussion achieved a pleasing rapprochement that justifiably aroused promising expectations ... Ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the restoration of full communion ... That prescription would no longer exist, following the introduction of the ordination of women to Episcopal office."
The Roman Catholic Church objects so much more to women bishops than to women priests because the bishops are seen to be the sacramental "sign and instrument" of the unity of the contemporary local churches with the Universal Church of all times and places. The office of bishop is basic to the structure of the Church, for the dioceses link the Church sacramentally across the world, thus making the "catholic" Church a reality. "If", Cardinal Kasper warned the Church of England's House of Bishops, "the consecration of a bishop becomes the cause of a schism or blocks the way to full unity, then what occurs is something intrinsically contradictory."
One aspect of the "wait and see" mood of this moment in Rome stems from the fact that it is by no means certain that the Church of England will proceed in the immediate future to enact the canonical changes necessary for "the introduction of the ordination of women to Episcopal office". Currently in its General Synod there are insufficient votes to effect this change. Will there be more in the future? And what is the response to the installation earlier this month of the first woman bishop as a primate of a Church of the Anglican Communion in the person of the Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church in the United States?
Cardinal Kasper believes that such developments "lower the temperature" of the relationship. But from the Anglican point of view, a series of documents issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith while Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was Prefect, have already had this effect. A "Doctrinal Commentary on the Professio fidei" of June 1998 added to its list of truths "connected to revelation" the judgement of Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations.
In August 2000 the declaration Dominus Iesus included Anglicanism among the "ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine ... Eucharistic mystery [and] are not Churches in the proper sense". Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey replied that he was "surprised and affronted" by Dominus Iesus. A "Note on Sister Churches" issued shortly before Dominus Iesus rejected the use of the term "Sister Church" as suitable for Anglicanism. The Director of Rome's Anglican Centre, Bishop John Flack, says: "Part of ‘wait and see' is if this harsh tone will be replaced in print in the near future by the de facto warmth I experience in Rome as an Anglican."
A second reason for "wait and see" is that the Anglican Communion is at a crossroads, characterised by Anglican theologian Mary Tanner as "a communion in via, struggling to understand how decisions are to be made, how communion is to be maintained when questions of truth and unity are posed, and how to develop structures of belonging".
At the heart of this problem is how Anglicans reconcile the value they place on diocesan and provincial structures of autonomy, and a legitimacy given to a comprehensive range of practices and positions, with the bonds of ecclesial communion that allow the Anglican Communion coherence as one effective, united, interdependent worldwide body of Christians. At a time of seeming internal ecclesial fracture within the body of the Catholic Church's dialogue partner, Benedict XVI will inevitably ask Archbishop Williams: "What will the future structure of Anglicanism be?" The answer must inevitably be: "Wait and see."
In 2003 developments in the Episcopal Church in the United States (the unilateral authorisation by one national Church of the consecration as bishop of a priest living in an open, same-sex relationship) and in the Anglican Church of Canada (the authorisation by an individual diocese of Rites for the Blessing of same-sex relationships) led to the impairment of communion between some of the national Churches of the Anglican Communion. Some Anglican national Churches said that they could no longer remain in "full communion" with the American Episcopal Church. In the area of ecumenism, the completion of a major joint Anglican-Roman Catholic common statement of faith was also put on hold in November 2003. As a response to rapidly escalating internal and ecumenical fragmentation, the primates of the Anglican Communion set up the Lambeth Commission to study the nature of the structures of communion within Anglicanism.
The resulting Windsor Report, issued by the Lambeth Commission in the autumn of 2004, asks the Churches of the Anglican Communion to begin a process that could lead to future structures that will place new and fundamental limits on the provincial autonomy of each national Church - a provincial autonomy that was seen to have been exercised in North America in 2003 in such a way that communion was broken. By contrast, the Windsor Report asks each national Church "to act interdependently, not independently". As an example of such interdependence, the Windsor Report requests a moratorium on the election and consent to the episcopate of those living in same-sex unions. It also asks national Churches not to proceed unilaterally with the authorisation of public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions.
Rome has been positive about many aspects of the Windsor Report. It is regarded as a "blueprint" for a future evolution of the Anglican Communion that would be well received by the Roman Catholic Church as an enhancement of the Catholic traditions of Anglicanism. On several occasions Cardinal Kasper has stressed his appreciation for the ecclesiological foundations of the report. He values the fact that it is "largely consistent" with the koinonia ecclesiology that is articulated in the agreed statements of ARCIC.
"The consequences which the Report draws from these foundations are also helpful to our ecumenical relations," writes Cardinal Kasper, "notably the interpretation of provincial autonomy in terms of interdependence, thus ‘subject to limits generated by the commitments of communion'. This is consistent with [ARCIC's] understanding that maintaining and strengthening the koinonia and a commitment to interdependence are constitutive aspects of the Church and vital for its unity." In technical ecumenical language, from Rome's point of view, the Windsor Report is a "reception" by Anglicanism of the ecclesiology of ARCIC.
So why is the Windsor Report a cause for concern this November? Why is it a second factor contributing to this atmosphere of "wait and see"? The answer is because it is not yet clear that the Windsor Report will be "received"; that is, understood by all the national Churches as a process leading to a "blueprint" that is compatible with their own polity. The Episcopal Church in the United States is a case in point. Is the Episcopal Church, a small but influential member of the communion, "Windsor-friendly"?
As a sign of the embrace of a greater interdependence and as a movement away from provincial autonomy, the Episcopal Church in the United States, among other things, was asked in the Windsor Report "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same-gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges". At last summer's triennial seventy-fifth General Convention of the Episcopal Church - a synod made up of the bishops and elected clergy and lay deputies - the wording of the moratorium could not be accepted because, in the American polity, the Convention cannot legally call for a "moratorium" on any episcopal elections in the United States.
The Windsor request was replaced by a resolution calling on bishops and standing committees to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider Church and will lead to further strains on communion". The "wait and see" includes "waiting and seeing" if bishops and dioceses will heed the sense of the General Convention. So far, in all recent US episcopal elections, they have.
In the meantime, a group appointed by the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Primates will be assisting the Archbishop of Canterbury in considering the resolutions of the seventy-fifth Convention in response to the questions posed by Windsor. The primates of the Anglican Communion will meet in February 2007 to consider whether the Windsor Report has been "received" by the US Episcopal Church. Archbishop Williams said this autumn that "it is clear that the Episcopal Church has taken very seriously the recommendations of the Windsor Report; but the resolutions of General Convention still represent what can only be called a mixed response to the [Primates'] requests ... This obviously poses some very challenging questions for our February meeting [of the Primates] and its discernment of the best way forward."
With the issue of women in the episcopate, it is clear that to Cardinal Kasper the reception of the Windsor Report is key to the shape of things to come for Anglicans and Roman Catholics. "Above all", he writes, "it would be the reception of Windsor's ecclesiology, concretised by tangible decisions to give it an authoritative character, which would enhance our understanding of the Anglican Communion precisely as a communion, which is the premise on which we have proceeded in our dialogue since the Second Vatican Council."
It is still too early to know if Cardinal Kasper's hopes can be fulfilled in the near future. If the Anglican Communion is in via, it is difficult for its Roman dialogue partner to define with it the next stage of unity. It is clear that the relationships between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church are now evolving at a time marked by ecumenical shifts in doctrine and in liturgy, and by the looming cultural and interreligious challenges, which contribute an air of ecumenical and Christian caution to this November. However, it is also the cumulative effect of the growing number of ecumenical events that has allowed the archbishops of Canterbury and the popes to know each other personally over the past 40 years.
Symbolic gestures, both positive and negative, that inevitably occur during such visits can be diversely assessed. Yet, whether exuberant or subdued, the effect of these visits reinforces the impression that relations between the two communions have entered a phase marked by serenity and cordiality. With the creation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Anglican Centre, the wish to substitute dialogue for polemic has been given permanent institutional instruments.
But there are new complex questions about what the structures of Christian institutions should be like in the near future. Should they be interdependent or autonomous, reconciled or separate? Many will be hoping that at the end of next week's visit, the Pope, despite the role that he played as Cardinal Ratzinger in producing documents that slowed the momentum of the dialogue, and the archbishop, despite his burdens of presiding over an impaired communion, will encourage the theologians of their two Churches to assess anew the past and present climate of their relationships and suggest possible ways forward to preserve and promote the ecumenical impact of Vatican II and recent dialogues.