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By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 06, 2006

Some men have a talent for making murky problems clear. Others have a knack for making clear problems murky. The Archbishop of Canterbury emphatically belongs to the latter camp. It certainly hasn't hurt his career. Perhaps whatever unity the Anglican Communion today enjoys is due to Dr. Williams' ability to bring the disputants to the point where no one knows what he's talking about, and thus everyone goes away bewildered but still on the mailing list. Check out this intervention of Williams from last July, made during the General Synod on Women in the Episcopate. He is referring, obliquely, to Cardinal Kasper's Address to the House of Bishops given in June 2006, and to various conclusions of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Thus Williams:

The ARCIC document in 1973 about ministry stated that the Commission considered that it had settled essential matters where it considers that doctrine permits no divergence. But the agreement on the theology and the nature of ordained ministry in that document was relative to that fundamental area in which doctrine permits no divergence -- the implication being that further questions about the ordination of women, for example, did not belong to the essence of the nature of the ministry as conceived by our two Churches. It is a point which seems to me to be recognised in the later elucidation and even in the 1994 document of clarifications around Eucharist and ministry. That 1994 document recognised significant consensus on the nature of the ordained ministry -- that's the wording -- Cardinal Cassidy in 1994 said no further study at this stage was necessary on that convergence of fundamental area where doctrine permits no divergence. That's why I hope that both in our reflection at this stage of the debate and in the years ahead we will keep going back to that agreed received deposit of provision of the ordained ministry it will still be -- whatever the outcome of our presents discussions -- a deposit that will enable us to keep talking ecumenically -- I think in a fruitful and constructive way.

By "fruitful and constructive," Williams means the opposite. That's why he's an archbishop and you're not. Anyway, here's the program: we've got the ARCIC Statement (1973), the ARCIC Elucidation (1979), and the ARCIC Clarifications (1994). The stunt Williams is trying to pull is to suggest that

1) ARCIC's Statement on the non-changeable nature of ministry didn't mention women's ordination.

2) If we make-believe the Statement was meant to be doctrinally exhaustive, we can go on to pretend Catholics don't believe the maleness of Holy Orders belongs (his phrase) to "the essence of the nature" of ordained ministry; whence

3) If "we will keep going back" to that obviously inadequate and twice-tweaked 1973 formula, Anglicans can avoid the reproach of inconstancy, since lesbian bishopesses in committed same-sex relationships were never explicitly excluded therein.

Williams is noticeably shy about quoting the documents. In particular, he skates over the fact that 1994 Clarification concludes, "the Response maintains that the ordination of women 'affects' the Final Report's claim to have reached substantial agreement on Ministry and Ordination. We are confronted with an issue that involves far more than the question of ministry as such. It raises profound questions of ecclesiology and authority in relation to Tradition." Quite simply, when the women's ordination question is thrown into the mix, the agreements aren't agreements after all.

Later in the same intervention Williams rather petulantly complains that Catholics have changed their ideas about Holy Orders too. This passage rewards a careful reading, because it is a beautiful specimen of its type:

If I wanted to make one slightly critical remark [note: he does] about the way in which sometimes our ecumenical partners have addressed this question, it would be this; that since the original 1973 agreement and even since 1994 there has certainly been development in what the Roman Catholic Church has said publicly on the nature of the ordained ministry, going rather beyond what was taken for granted in those earlier discussions -- that's to say some of the documents that have come from the Vatican in the last decade an a half, lets say, have certainly raised the question of women's ordination to a higher level, I would submit, than the ARCIC discussion assumed they were at. That in itself slightly shifts the terms of engagement and I do think we ought to argue that with our Roman Catholic friends as they argue their points with us -- that we are not the only ones to be shifting ground here!
OK, lucidity is not what Williams is aiming for, but here's his point rendered in plain English:
"The Holy See's Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994) and the attendant Responsum ad dubium (1995) declared that the traditional reservation of the priesthood to males was part of the deposit of faith. Well that's hardly fair. I mean, if you follow the same practice uniformly for two millennia and only then come out and declare it's not going to change, how were we to know that the earlier solemn affirmations of the teaching were not simply played for laffs, and that it mightn't mutate any day in conformity to current fashion? Look at it from our point of view: How can you dialogue with a chap who says the same thing today as he said the day before, and then out-of-the-blue springs on you the news that he'll say the same thing tomorrow as well? Shifty, is what I'd call him."

The giveaway phrase in William's complaint is "going rather beyond what was taken for granted." For that kind of churchman, conventionally engineered progress is just a matter of time. In the interim, the game is to summon all one's charm, eloquence, and scholarly acumen to keep the issues as fuzzy as possible. No one can conserve what he can't find.

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