The long Anglican goodbye to Rome

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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 9 months ago
Sir, You're being not a little disingenuous by overlooking that Card. Kaspar's question has alway been merely rhetorical. The Catholic Church has always understood the Church of England to be a Protestant entity, as evidenced by its denial of the validity of Anglican orders. Card. Kasper has simply been trying to spur the Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican fold to come to their senses, recognize that the Church of England is not the English branch of the Catholic Church, as they have naively claimed at times, and come home to Rome.
9 years 9 months ago
The "church of the first millenium" is a bit of a stretch, don't you think? Does that mean that the doctrines regarding the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and papal infallibility are invalid because they are of the second millenium? The Roman Catholic Church as it is constituted today appears to be one of the 19th century, which is not significantly different than most churches. The world in which we minister, however, is of the 21st century and the third millenium. It is in the here and now that Christ calls us to minister.
9 years 9 months ago
Cumanus writes, The Catholic Church has always understood the Church of England to be a Protestant entity, as evidenced by its denial of the validity of Anglican orders. ----I don't that is completely true. Rome's official position (according to Vat II) is that Anglicanism is a ''Reformation Church'' which ''holds a special place.'' Though not to be overplayed, that is an acknowledgement of a residual catholic character within the CofE. It would not be disingenuous for Card. Kasper to want to see that character cultivated.
9 years 9 months ago
The author tee-totally misses the point of GAFCon, the Jerusalem meeting he mentions. The intention of the gathering was to form a council of Primates that in the future can authenticate the apostolic faith within the Communion. This was deemed necessary because Williams has himself observed that there is little if anything he can do to address the schismatic-Protestant actions of TEC in North America. He claims that he has no mechanism to discipline TEC but then abets the US sect (consider their own attendance figures) by announcing that the forthcoming Lambeth will not permit the rest of the Communion to draft and approve resolutions. There ain't nothing ''Catholic'' about this, and the Global South ain't buying it. The majority of Anglicans were represented in Jerusalem. They just handed a very un-Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury a new instrument of unity, a first step toward a working conciliar system. Dr Williams will have to decide what he wants to do with it.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The appointments are part of an ongoing effort to give a greater role to women in the work of the Roman Curia offices, the central administration of the Catholic church.
Gerard O’ConnellApril 21, 2018
Ivette Escobar, a student at Central American University in San Salvador, helps finish a rug in honor of the victims in the 1989 murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter on the UCA campus, part of the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Jesuit martyrs in 2014. (CNS photo/Edgardo Ayala) 
A human rights attorney in the United States believes that the upcoming canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero in October has been a factor in a decision to revisit the 1989 Jesuit massacre at the University of Central America.
Kevin ClarkeApril 20, 2018
Journalists photograph the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in California in 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
In California, Catholic opponents of the death penalty are trying to protect the largest population of inmates awaiting execution in the Western Hemisphere.
Jim McDermottApril 20, 2018
Photo: the Hank Center at Loyola University Chicago
Bishop McElroy said that Catholics must embrace “the virtues of solidarity, compassion, integrity, hope and peace-building.”