Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

let's pretend

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 18, 2006

You'll soon get used to her looks, said he,
And a very nice girl you'll find her:
She may very well pass for forty-three
In the dusk, with the light behind her!

-- Gilbert & Sullivan, Trail by Jury, (1875).

The current Tablet has an article by R. William Franklin on the Archbishop of Canterbury's upcoming trip to Rome. Franklin admits that Rowan Williams' visit with the Pope is likely to be "a subdued affair," but indulges in some wistful reminiscence about the early days when prelates could splash around together in the ecumenical wading-pool with no tantrums or tears:

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.

Just to make it clear: Apostolicae Curae did not rule on Anglican orders per se. It said that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite (ordinationes ritu Anglicano actas) are null and void. And in fact a number of Anglican clergy quietly concur with this judgment, having gotten themselves re-ordained by schismatic bishops with valid episcopal orders (often Old Catholics) using a valid rite. Others have taken care that their ordination be performed by an Anglican bishop who himself had orders recognized as valid and in conformity with Apostolicae Curae. That is to say, whereas all Anglican clergy are in schism by virtue of their being Anglican, some of them have valid orders -- it's a question of the apostolic pedigree of the ordaining bishop, and the matter and form of the sacrament -- and these validly confect the Eucharist.

Thus it's possible in theory that the ecumenical goal of "the restoration of unity and of full ecclesial communion" is achievable: Anglican bishops and clergy would all need to have valid orders; all would have to submit to Petrine primacy; all would be obliged to abjure doctrinal error, etc. This scenario was never probable, but it was possible to pretend otherwise by banishing the real problems from one's consciousness and focusing exclusively on the gestures of good will displayed on occasions of official amity.

But the reality is that, within this same post-Conciliar period of gestural benevolence, the Anglican communion has distanced itself from the Catholic Church and not moved closer to her. The doctrinal near-anarchy of Anglicanism makes reunion impossible of itself, and that anarchy has been institutionally consecrated by the ordination of women and contumacious impenitents (divorced and remarried persons, thinking Anglicans) to the priesthood and episcopacy. The point isn't that these persons are more sinful in the aggregate than Catholic clergy; the point is that the Church couldn't accept them as clergy without ipso facto ceasing to be the Catholic Church. Franklin's rejoinder that the General Synod hasn't actually wet the bed yet is such special pleading that it's doubtful he believes it himself:

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?

Franklin is correct that it's "by no means certain" that the C of E will vote for women bishops; Iran might incinerate England tomorrow. But even if the inevitable is postponed a year or two, remember that "full ecclesial communion" means not simply that the Archbishop of Canterbury must furrow his brow and look thoughtful when the Pope brings up the subject, it means -- multa inter alia -- that all Anglican women bishops and priests will have to renounce their claim and admit their orders were spurious (or, conversely, that the Pope and the episcopacy will become Unitarian and declare with a shrug and a smile that everyone, everywhere, is endowed with Holy Orders at birth). Is there any evidence that either side is moving in the direction necessary for union? On the contrary, the chasm is widening every week -- whence Franklin, picking up a cue from Williams himself, somewhat sulkily complains that it's Rome who's the fickle one and who's throwing up new obstacles:

Cardinal Kasper believes that such developments "lower the temperature" of the relationship [he means the relationship has reached a plateau]. 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."

De facto warmth. Right. That'll do it.

In every discussion of this visit I've seen, the optimists cherish a hope that the Pope will fall victim to a trick of perspective by which Rowan Williams -- on his best Vatican behavior -- will somehow come across as the authoritative voice of a doctrinally coherent body and a man institutionally delegated to initiate the steps needful for reunion. Their hope, in other words, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury -- in the dusk, with the light behind him -- might pass for a pious, unworldly, temperamentally conservative high-churchman, who, while dimly aware of Bishops Gene Robinson and Jefferts Schori, regards them as isolated and wholly regrettable freaks -- in the same way the Pope looks on the Mad Milingo -- such that they and their supporters are peripheral distractions, of no consequence to the happy business of full ecclesial communion.

Uncle Di's prediction? Look for de facto warmth.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.