Archbishop Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, said the ecumenical situation really is a “glass half full.” He then held his water glass up to emphasize the point during a lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on Nov. 19. Even in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s special provisions for Anglicans who want to leave Archbishop Williams’s flock and join the Roman Catholic Church, his assessment of Catholic-Anglican relations seemed to surprise some people in the audience.
But they showed less surprise at remarks about what the next steps in ecumenical dialogue should be. Anglicans and Roman Catholics—indeed, all Christians engaged in ecumenical dialogue over the last 40 years—the archbishop said, need to ask themselves if the doctrines and practices still dividing them are anywhere near as important as the essential dogmas they share. His remarks came on the evening before beginning a series of meetings with Vatican officials and with Pope Benedict.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also spoke on Nov. 19, and he affirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment to continuing the search for full unity. “Ecumenism has a future, not because we want it, but because Jesus Christ wants it and because his spirit helps us in our commitment,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot simply stop and wait,” he said. “It has a special responsibility. Its unique ecumenical responsibility comes, paradoxically, from the Petrine ministry [the ministry of the pope], which often is seen as the main obstacle for unity, but which understands itself as a ministry of unity.”
As for the questions still dividing Catholics and Anglicans, including the ordination of women, Cardinal Kasper told reporters, “We have to distinguish between differences that are contradictory and differences that are complementary. Complementary differences can exist in the church.”
During their meeting, the archbishop and Vatican officials were expected to make final preparations for the third round of meetings of the formal Anglican-Roman Catholic Inter-national Commission, the official group for theological dialogue.
Archbishop Williams said that “for many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptized men and baptized women,” a difference that is not made in any creed or fundamental statement of Christian faith.
The Anglican leader said the disagreements within the Anglican Com-munion over ordaining women obviously have caused internal tensions, but Anglicans still are seeking ways to preserve their unity without forcing those who have opposing views out of the communion. “And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene?” he asked.