The archbishop of Canterbury today pleaded with Roman Catholics to set aside their differences with Anglicans over the issue of female bishops, insisting there was more uniting the denominations than dividing them.
Rowan Williams was giving a lecture in Rome before Sunday’s meeting with the pope, their first encounter since the Vatican’s surprise announcement of a special institution for traditionalist Anglicans wanting to convert to Catholicism.
In his address at the Gregorian University, Williams said the Anglican communion was proof that churches could stay together in spite of their differences.
The communion has teetered on the edge of schism for nearly a decade over the issue of gay clergy but has retained a sliver of fellowship. Williams urged Roman Catholics to continue their 35-year dialogue with Anglicans in spite of theological and ideological divisions.
He said: “The various agreed statements of the churches stress that the church is a community, in which human beings are made sons and daughters of God.
“When so much agreement has been established in first-order matters about the identity and mission of the church, is it justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integrity?”
Those issues included papal primacy, female clergy and the relations between the local and universal church in making decisions. “Is there a level of mutual recognition which allows a shared theological understanding
of primacy alongside a diversity of canonical and juridical arrangements?” he wondered
Williams challenged Roman Catholic thinking on female bishops, saying there was no proof that their ordination damaged the church.
For his part the “ecumenical glass” was “genuinely half-full”. Catholics and Anglicans had achieved “striking” agreement on the broader questions. All that stood between them now were the “second order” issues of church organisation.
In an explicit but fleeting reference to the pope’s move last month, Williams said it was an “imaginative pastoral response, but did not break any new ecclesiological ground.” His speech was aimed at reviving dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics. But it also carried an implicit threat that there would be little point in continuing if the Catholic side continued to insist that the obstacles were insuperable.
Williams said: “The question is whether this unfinished business is quite as fundamental as our Roman Catholic friends believe.”
He seemed tense, biting the sides of his fingers while he listened to the speaker who followed. His anxiety is understandable. . . . (continue reading)