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Austen IvereighJuly 19, 2008

The Guardian has obtained a letter by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, addressed to the delegates attending the Lambeth conference of 650 Anglican bishops worldwide.

There’s not much surprising in it – “New issues that have arisen in our relationship pose a further and grave challenge for full and visible unity”, is all the Guardian’s religious correspondent, Riazat Butt, thinks worth quoting.

But what’s significant is that Bertone has written it at all. Can anyone remember a Lambeth Conference (they happen once every ten years) which has been attended by three leading Catholic cardinals and sent a letter by the Vatican’s secretary of state?

The letter, says Butt, “was largely supportive of the Archbishop of Canterbury”. She goes on to quote Keith Pecklers SJ at the Gregorian University – a Jesuit who, in my experience, is usually on the button  -- as saying that the Vatican does not want to be seen to be encouraging defectors. “The fundamental issue is that the Vatican wants to support the Archbishop and hold everything together,” says Pecklers.  

The point is also made by an anonymous Vatican source in the same report. Rome “doesn’t want want to look like they’re poaching people ... They won’t turn anyone away, but they can’t be seen to welcome people en masse.”

I’ve been making the same point in these posts. It’s worth underlining, because in the UK one well-known right-wing commentator is insisting that the Vatican is preparing a kind of “Anglican rite” Church to accommodate disaffected Anglo-Catholics. This is largely wishful thinking, for the reasons I have given previously, but it is also wishful in that the commentator involved is starry-eyed at the prospect of “traditionalist” Anglicans reshaping the Catholic Church in England in a more conservative direction.

 In my America article this week on the Anglican crisis, I begin with a quote from Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, a brilliant Scripture scholar (you may know him as  “N.T. Wright”)  and acute observer, who is a friend of Rowan Williams and supportive of his current efforts, despite being much more conservative than him on the divisive issues. My quote has Wright likening the crisis to a “slow-moving train wreck”. He used the metaphor at a recent Church of England synod, but now explains what he meant in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

But you have to go back to the Guardian to hear Bishop Wright spot the connection between the decision of the American Anglicans (TEC) to consecrate the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003 and the US invasion of Iraq. Both showed an “implicit arrogance”, he says.

George Bush said he was going to invade Iraq. Everyone told him not to because there would be consequences, but he did it anyway. The Americans floated the balloon in 2003, when they consecrated Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. They knew exactly what they were doing then and they know exactly what they are doing now. They knew it would be unacceptable to the majority. They are doing exactly what they please.

Incidentally -- and while on the subject of Catholic-Anglican dialogue -- N. T. Wright has become fed up with Richard Neuhaus’s pillorying of his scholarship and has put in a vigorous riposte. Read it here if you have a First Things sub, or a report here.

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