Cardinal speaks of sadness at prospect of end of Anglican unity process
posted on 12 June 2006
The Archbishop of Westminster says he is sad at the prospect that full Anglican-Catholic unity will be ‘out of reach’ following a decision by the Church of England to ordain women as bishops.
He told the Sunday programme that as the Church of England moves towards ordaining women as bishops “ we will more and more now exist, as it were, in parallel rather than converging towards the full communion, unity which we believe is the will of Christ”.
Although no decision has been taken by the Church of England, the mechanism for deciding to admit women as bishops has been put in place.
The Cardinal’s language marks a shift from his previous insistence over the years that the process towards unity was a “road without exit”. It follows a bracing speech last week by Cardinal Walter Kasper to the Church of England’s House of Bishops in which the head of the Vatican’s Christian Unity Council warned of the consequences that would follow the Church’s decision.
Cardinal Kasper said that while the decision to ordain women as bishops followed logically from the decision to ordain women as priests, the move was more significant because of the bishop’s role as the agent of communion.
“Cardinal Kasper was saying to them very seriously these are the consequences if you do ordain women to the Episcopate it will affect relationships not only within the worldwide Anglican Communion but also within the Church of England itself and also, of course, relationships with the Roman Catholic Church and with the Orthodox,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said.
But the Archbishop of Westminster stressed that “ the relationship and the friendship and the cooperation between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church will continue” whatever the Church of England’s decision.
But “we would be glad if this step was not taken,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said.
The two cardinals’ intervention comes at a testing time for the Anglican Communion, as the North-American Episcopalians (ECUSA) vote whether to accede to the Anglican primates’ bar on practising homosexuals becoming bishops.
TRANSCRIPT OF ‘SUNDAY’ INTERVIEW, 11 JUNE 2006:
Roger Bolton: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, has spent a great deal of his life working to bring about closer relations between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and, ultimately, their unity. And since the Second Vatican Council relations have undoubtedly improved, with meetings between successive Archbishops of Canterbury and the Pope. It looks now, however, that any hopes of unity in the foreseeable future have been dealt a knock-out blow and the last rites were given earlier this week by Cardinal Walter Kasper who heads the Vatican department on Christian unity. He told Church of England bishops that, while the growing practice of ordaining women to the Anglican priesthood had led to a cooling off in the ecumenical relationship, the ordination of women bishops would, and I quote, “lead not only to a short-lived cold but to a serious and long-lasting chill”. He went on: “ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the restoration of full church communion. That has been the pre-supposition of our dialogue until now. The pre-supposition would realistically no longer exist following the ordination of women to Episcopal office.” Earlier I talked to Archbishop Cormac and I asked him if he agreed with his fellow Cardinal’s pessimistic assessment.
Cardinal: I am very much in accord with Cardinal Kasper and what he said. And one bit of me feels very sad because for years I was co-chairman of ARCIC, which is the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, which has as its goal the establishment of full Ecclesial communion between us. We had agreement on the Eucharist and on ministry and hopefully more and more on authority. And my dream was that gradually we would come from that full Eucharistic community for which we believe is the will of Christ. Now the ordination of women to the priesthood and especially to the Episcopate seems to put that out of reach and that’s really what Cardinal Kasper said in his own very clear and charitable way but very frank.
Your dream, in other words, is shattered of unity. In your lifetime or maybe in the foreseeable future, of unity between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church, that dream’s over.
Let me be clear. That I think that the relationship and the friendship and the cooperation between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church will continue. There’s no doubt that particularly here in our own country, my own relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury is very close. We’ve witnessed together, do a number of things together for the Gospel. But I think there is no doubt that what Cardinal Kasper said, that we will more and more now exist, as it were, in parallel rather than converging towards the full communion, unity which we believe is the will of Christ.
Could that unity still be saved? I mean, are you asking the Church of England, even at this late hour, to consider not consecrating women bishops, to stop before they do that?
Well, I think there’s no doubt that Cardinal Kasper was saying to them very seriously these are the consequences if you do ordain women to the Episcopate it will affect relationships not only within the worldwide Anglican Communion but also within the Church of England itself and also, of course, relationships with the Roman Catholic Church and with the Orthodox.
So, you’re still appealing to the Church of England at this late moment not to vote for the consecration of women bishops?
I think the Roman Catholic Church and its authority has always been careful in its relationship with other Christian bodies is not seen to be saying “don’t do this” because we don’t want to interfere with their processes and judgement. At the same time, given what Cardinal Kasper, and I agree with this, there is a sense in which we are saying we would much prefer, not only much prefer, we would be glad if this step was not taken.
Some people are rather baffled that you make this distinction between the Anglican Communion as a whole, where of course there are now women bishops, and the Church of England. Why is it so important what the Church of England is about to do?
I think there are two reasons. One is because the Church of England has a particular place within the Anglican Communion. After all, the division with the Roman Catholic Church began here in England back in the 16th century, and there’s a sense in which what happens here affects the whole of the Communion in a particular way. And it is also true that the Archbishop of Canterbury is, as you said, is the instrument and focus of unity within the Anglican Community. And for those two reasons I think what happens here and the steps that we take here has a profound influence on the whole of the Anglican Communion.