Tuesday 20 October 2009

Two Archbishops clutching at a straw

Today Canterbury and Westminster published a joint statement. Now, one of these Archbishops is seen by the other’s church as having Orders which are null and void (so the Papal Bull ‘Apostolicae Curae’) and conversely the other is seen as a subject of a Bishop of Rome who “hath no jurisdiction in this realm” (Article 37). So what was it that drew these two men together?
It was the announcement * by the Holy See of the extension of the pastoral provision for former Anglicans, already operative in the USA, to ‘groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church’.

There was a time, not so long ago when it appeared that the whole Church of England might have been just such a group. The Holy See’s announcement recalls this: ‘The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) produced a series of doctrinal statements over the years in the hope of creating the basis for full and visible unity. For many in both communions, the ARCIC statements provided a vehicle in which a common expression of faith could be recognized. It is in this framework that this new provision should be seen.’
Now, though, events in the Anglican Communion have made it clear that there is no longer any real desire for unity. ‘In the years since the Council, some Anglicans have abandoned the tradition of conferring Holy Orders only on men by calling women to the priesthood and the episcopacy. More recently, some segments of the Anglican Communion have departed from the common biblical teaching on human sexuality—already clearly stated in the ARCIC document "Life in Christ"—by the ordination of openly homosexual clergy and the blessing of homosexual partnerships’. In recognising the problems, Rome is also recognising that there are still some of us who DO long for corporate reunion.

Of course, Rome has not totally despaired of eventual unity with the Anglican Communion, but it is on the back burner, shifted from the centre of Rome’s concerns to somewhere on the periphery: ‘At the same time, as the Anglican Communion faces these new and difficult challenges, the Catholic Church remains fully committed to continuing ecumenical engagement with the Anglican Communion, particularly through the efforts of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity’.

This is the straw at which the two Archbishops are clutching. From their statement it seems they are trying to minimise the possible effects of the Apostolic Constitution. In it the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that ‘provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony’. (you can find out how this works in the USA in two earlier blogs of mine, 'Anglican Use' and 'Anglican Use 2'.)

Could it be that Canterbury fears this because it could mean he loses the greater part of those who would call themselves catholic Anglicans? And could it be that the Cardinal Archbishop is equally afraid of such people joining the Catholic Church in England but being in the pastoral care of someone other than one of his bishops? For, as the Holy See has proposed, ‘Under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution, pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy’. That seems to go even further than the Pastoral Provision in the USA, where personal Prelature is exercised by a Roman Catholic bishop and not a former Anglican.

My, what exciting times we live in! And how well timed, to come in the same week as the Assembly of Forward in Faith! The two Archbishops only speak of those “who have made requests to the Holy See”, so minimising the possible effect of the Apostolic Constitution. But who knows if there might not be one more group making requests to the Holy See? And what if Forward in Faith were the core of such a group?
The announcement from Rome concludes ‘the Personal Ordinariates established by the Apostolic Constitution can be seen as another step toward the realization the aspiration for full, visible union in the Church of Christ, one of the principal goals of the ecumenical movement’. I wonder if the two Archbishops see it quite like that?

* Full texts may be found at:-


  1. Being a "Roman" who lives in Argentina, I don't understand many of the things that are happening, but I'm very happy and praying for you all to be "in full communion" with us.
    I promise to keep the Assembly of Forward in Faith in my poor prayers.
    In Christ and Mary,

  2. Some time ago I responded to a leading article by yourself in the Church Union publication. It referred to obedience to bishops (Anglican) as being somewhat undesireable. My point was that obedience to bishops is at the heart of catholicism and that if you want a reliable bishop to obey he must be the Bishop of Rome.

    Your reply to me did not merit a reply as you simply dismissed this by saying that you could not accept that a few men in authority could be infallible (or words to that effect).

    Your response made me realise that you have little or no understanding of what papal or church infallibility is or really means. It seems that, from your 'Thunderer' piece in today's Times that you have either grown in understanding or you have done what Anglicans usually do and chosen the route of expediency.

    If you do go down the way of that now proposed by the CDF then you will have to accept that the (Roman) Catholic church is the one, true Church of Jesus Christ and that the Holy Father is granted (within the terms of its given meaning) infallible when teaching 'ex cathedra' on matters affecting faith and morals. The Church too, is similarly gifted.

    We await the outcome of these recent initiatives.

  3. Yes, Michael, I expect you are right and I am just acting from expediency. When the Holy Father makes so generous an offer towards anglican catholics (a term which he seems to understand, though I daresay you would not) then we must respond. When reconciliation has happened, no doubt we shall all be given the fulness of grace and charitable understanding which is yours in such abundance.

  4. Grace, yes - but prevenient. We have to be led to the fulness of the truth and make a public profession of it, before full communion and not after. If you do not do this then you are accepting the Holy Father's offer on your own terms and not his. I hope this is in charity, as was certainly meant.