Rowan tweaks Benedict on unity, women’s ordination

Updated. Reuters and the New York Times read the speech that the Most Rev. Rowan Williams gave at the Vatican this week as both a defense of the Anglican Communion and a mild rebuke of the Roman Catholic approach to ecumenism. The Times of London thinks that the Archbishop could do a little more tweaking. Bishop Alan Wilson says that Williams speech signals another kind of unity, not a juridical unity and not a homogenized church but something deeper.

Tom Heneghan of Reuters writes

Roman Catholics should look beyond the divisive issue of ordaining women to see how much they share with the world’s Anglicans and work toward greater Christian unity, the head of the Anglican Communion said on Thursday….

…Williams said decades of Catholic-Anglican dialogue had achieved wide consensus on core Christian teachings and left only lesser issues of church organization and authority open.

“The question … is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain,” he said.

“Do the arguments advanced about the ‘essence’ of male and female vocations and capacities stand on the same level as a theology derived more directly from scripture and (our) common theological heritage?”

…In his speech, Williams asked whether, since Catholics and Anglicans agreed so much on core theological doctrines, “is it really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital?”

Rachel Donadio of the New York Times says:

In his 30-minute speech, Archbishop Williams asked why the ordination of women by some local Anglican churches had become a deal-breaker in Catholic-Anglican dialogue, in spite of the fact that the two religions had reached agreement on far more complex theological questions in the years since the Protestant Reformation.

And he added a rebuke to the Catholic Church. “In what way,” he asked, does ordaining women as priests “compromise the purposes of the church?”

The Times of London editorializes that, in their view, the Archbishop should stand up more firmly to Rome and, more than that, espouse a clearer teaching based on his own theology why Anglicanism should ordain women to the episcopate and open the doors to gays.

In the interests of his own authority and the integrity of the Anglican tradition, he should give the pontiff two clear messages.

First, the Anglican Communion is not an arrangement of convenience among disparate parties. In creating the new structure, known as an apostolic constitution, the Vatican acted precipitately. Second, there is an impeccable case for the Church to welcome women priests and homosexual clergy. On these issues that have sharply divided Anglicans, Dr Williams is clearly liberal by temperament. Stating that position openly, regardless of its effect on Anglican-Catholic relations, is overdue….

…Today’s meeting should be the occasion for a tougher tone. The Vatican has driven a wedge into the Anglican Communion. The Pope’s decision has undermined Dr Williams’s authority. Dr Williams has made valiant attempts to keep Anglicans united, partly for the sake of relations with Rome. He should recognise when effort is unavailing. There is every good reason, in theology and natural justice, for the Church to embrace the ministry of women and homosexuals. Anglicanism will be richer for it. Dr Williams will be a bigger man for espousing it unreservedly.

Bishop Alan Wilson says that Williams is making an appeal for another kind of unity. A unity based not on jurisdiction nor a homogenized “lowest common denominator” unity, but one that has already been bestowed by Christ and which requires a different kind of submission.

Catholic Unity isn’t something humans create by obliterating others. God created it on Good Friday, and it’s inherent in the Unity of Christ. Is Christ divided? When Jesus prayed for Unity, did God say “no?” or did God decide that the effectiveness of the whole enterprise depends on ecclesiastical politics come right? Or did he say yes, create a spiritual unity by the death and resurrection of Jesus, clothe Jesus’ followers in it by baptism, and ask them to make sense of Unity, not as a goal on the distant horizon to be achieved by diplomacy or conquest, but a resource to be realised in an emergent way by faithfulness in a multiplanar reality we call “communion.” The submission required is necessary but mutual, not one-way. The obedience is primarily to God in Scripture, mediated through the whole life of all the baptised…

All I have been attempting to say here is that the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full – and then to ask about the character of the unfinished business between us. For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain. And if it isn’t, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us thus far?

Read the Reuters report here, the New York Times article here and Bishop Alan’s blog here.

See the Times leader here.

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