Catholics and Anglicans: state of play

Two interviews  -- Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of Rome's Christian unity council, in Osservatore Romano; and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster in The Tablet -- have coincided with a speech yesterday - text here -- by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at the Gregorian University in Rome. Taken together, they shed some new light on Catholic-Anglican relations following the announcement of "ordinariates" for Anglicans seeking communion with the See of Peter.

1. Canterbury kept in the dark. When he first learned of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)'s proposal, about two weeks before it was announced, Dr Williams called Cardinal Kasper in the middle of the night in search of reassurance. Cardinal Kasper: "We did not participate directly in the conversations, but we were kept updated". Archbishop Nichols: “It is a difficult thing to do and opening it up to public consultation would have made it public" he says, going on to blame Anglican bishops who were in contact with Rome about it for failing to inform the primate of the Communion. "While approaches had been made to the Holy See, I don’t think that had been conveyed to the Archbishop of Canterbury ... Frankly, it was the Anglicans' duty to do that." Asked if the CDF was discourteous to Dr Williams, he says: “I can’t answer that.”

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2. Significance of the announcement. Cardinal Kasper: "While a "Uniate" Church has its own structured hierarchy, with a patriarch and territorial dioceses, none of this will apply to the former Anglican "personal ordinariates," which will provide pastoral care for the faithful but without their own ecclesiastical territory, a little bit like the military ordinariates." Dr Williams describes it as "an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground." Archbishop Nichols: "The Pope wants to give expression and space to the fruit and character of Anglican patrimony. It is quite difficult to know what that means, especially in this country."

3. Threats to Catholic-Anglican dialogue. For Cardinal Kasper, these are entirely on the Anglican side. "There followed the ordination of women to the priesthood and then to the episcopate, the consecration of a homosexual bishop, the blessing of same-sex couples: decisions that have provoked serious tensions within the composite Anglican world." For Dr Williams, at least one of those obstacles is Rome's rejection of women priests. "For many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women," he says, before asking: “In what way does the prohibition against ordaining women so ‘enhance the life of communion’, reinforcing the essential character of filial and communal holiness as set out in Scripture and tradition and ecumenical agreement, that its breach would compromise the purposes of the Church as so defined?”

4. Future of that dialogue. Dr Williams: “If the issues are less basic than the agreement over the Church’s central character, then the future ought to be one in which there is a search for practical convergence in administrative responsibility and visible structures of governance." The “ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full", he adds; "the unfinished business between the two denominations is not as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain." Cardinal Kasper: Dr Williams's Vatican visit "demonstrates that there has not been any rupture". Archbishop Nichols, says The Tablet, "seems anxious to avoid is any risk to relations between Catholics and Anglicans in Britain."

See clips of +Rowan's speech and of Card Kasper's response to journalists' questions after it at Ruth Gledhill's blog here. Her headline? 'Rowan in Rome: the fightback begins'.

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