The Vatican’s reaction to the Church of England’s historic decision to press ahead with the consecration of women as bishops without compromise measures was pretty much as expected.
"Such a decision signifies a breaking away from the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the churches since the first millennium and is a further obstacle for reconciliation between the Catholic church and the Church of England,” said Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Christian Unity council, who is due to speak at the Lambeth Conference later this month.
His reference to the “apostolic tradition maintained by all of the Churches since the first millennium” is calculated. Year after year, Cardinal Kasper comes to the UK to give more or less the same speech, in which he challenges the Church of England to decide whether it is “a church of the first millennium” or “a church of the Reformation”.
To which Anglicans answer: “Why not both?”
The answer to that question, of course, is everywhere in the Anglican "summer of schism" – and it lies in ecclesiology. Containing the differences and resolving them without moving apart requires following Dr Rowan Williams’s essentially “Catholic” method of resolving disputes, ie: move together or not at all; give time and space to allow the Holy Spirit to meld what is not humanly irreconcilable; in the meantime, prefer unity to the assertion of liberal or Biblical principle.
But Dr Williams’s ecclesiology has been constantly rejected: by the North-American Episcopal Church (TEC) in 2004, by the evangelicals of the developing world (FOCA) just recently in Jerusalem, and by the liberal reformers of the Church of England this week in Synod. Each is following the logic of an essentially Protestant ecclesiology.
Which is why, as the Bishop of Durham graphically put it at Synod, Anglicans “are living through on many levels a massive outworking of the law of unintended consequences -- or in plain English a slow-moving train wreck."
Cardinal Kasper’s further observation that the decision to consecrate women as bishops “will have consequences on the future of dialogue, which had up until now borne fruit” is a little disingenuous. For some years the official Anglican-Catholic ARCIC dialogue has stalled over the Anglican Communion fractures: it’s been a long time since anyone could be found still talking of seeking “full visible unity”.
Until the Anglican Church resolves its identity crisis – runs the Roman line – there’s little point in trying to forge unity. But that doesn’t stop us being sincere friends.
That friendship could well be tested by way in which possibly a few hundred Anglo-Catholic clergy now looking for a new home might end up crossing the Tiber. An Anglican-rite church -- possibly along the lines of the Anglican Use parishes in the US – might just provide a model.
Wherever the traditionalists go – and not all of them will go -- their departure will expose still further what are now essentially Protestant faultlines within Anglicanism. As The Times points out in a comment piece on Monday’s Synod decision, there is, at least, a novel clarity in the decision to move to women bishops.
No more fudge, one might say; Cardinal Kasper can at last get an answer to his question. This is a Church of the Reformation.