Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Urges the Pope to Change His Mind About Female Bishops

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Patrick's Blog


In related news, a junior-high science teacher in Dismal Seepage, Illinois, is urging the dean of the MIT science department to change his mind about the law of gravity.


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)
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21 Responses to “Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Urges the Pope to Change His Mind About Female Bishops”
  1. Patrick Madrid says:

    Whoops. "Business" should have been "busyness."

  2. Patrick Madrid says:

    Hi again, Greg. I'm sorry for neglecting this thread and your comments. A combination of business and the fact that this post went off the main blog page awhile ago led to that. Anyway, thank you again for your measured comments in response to my questions about what you wanted me to say/do regarding the women in the priesthood issue.

    I can see that there's a divide between how you and I perceive whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis does or does not fall within the boundaries of an infallible papal statement, and I appreciate your additional post, just above this one. Let me add to the conversation this article by Dr. Jeff Mirus, former a professor of theology at Christendom College. As you will see, he takes the same view I do about the infallible nature of this teaching. Rather than try to restate the case he makes in this article, I feel I should defer to his superior explanation. I would be sincerely interested in your thoughts about his arguments.

    The article is located here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/ISSUES/ORDIN.TXT

    Thanks.

  3. Greg says:

    I'm not wishing to beat a dead horse here Patrick, but I just came across something that is illuminating. I just picked up Avery Cardinal Dulles' posthumously published collection of Laurence J. McGinley Lectures entitled "Church and Society" (published by Fordham University Press). The question of infallibility that you raised is one I've continued to think about, and this paragraph from Dulles' lecture from Spring 2006 entitled, "Priesthood and Gender," is very illuminating in this regard. Dulles appears to suggest that neither one of us is right in our interpretations of Ordinatio sacerdotalis. Here's the paragraph:

    "On October 28, 1995, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, in a document approved by the pope, responded to a question pu to it about whether the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis was to be understood as belonging to the deposit of the faith. After replying in the affirmative, the Congregation added that the doctrine, founded on the written word of God, had been constantly held forth by the ordinary and universal magisterium. In his apostolic letter, therefore, the pope was not making the teaching infallible but confirming a teaching that was already infallible for the reasons stated" (p. 205).

    If Dulles is correct, then neither one of us was right in our interpretation of Ordinatio sacerdotalis. But, admittedly, your position was closer to the Congregation's understanding of the document than what I proffered.

  4. Greg says:

    To follow up on the infallibility question…

    749.3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law indicates that, for a papal proclamation to be infallible it must be explicitly noted as being infallible: "No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly so." The pope must, in other words, make it explicitly clear that he is speaking ex cathedra. When he does not do this, the teaching can be considered authoritative but not infallible. Hence, when the Vatican official presented Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae, he pointed out that the encyclical did not claim infallible status. Does that mean that we can disregard Humanae Vitae's teachings? Of course not. But, it cannot be considered infallible.

    Likewise, I would submit to you that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, while authoritative, cannot, under the parameters of Vatican I and Canon Law, be considered infallible.

  5. Greg says:

    Patrick:

    Thanks once again for your comments. One point of clarification: I wasn't saying you were "thoughtless" or "incredibly insulting"; that comment was directed against some of the comments made by your readers. Your sarcasm is not insulting; I appreciate sarcasm as much as the next guy. I just think that you occasionally treat issues flippantly when I know, from having heard you on the radio, that you are capable of much more than that. I certainly did not mean to be insulting when I referred to thinking intelligently about the issue, though I understand how that could be read as being insulting. And for that I am sorry. What I meant was that I know very well how much you have studied issues, I know very well how intelligent you are, and yet your post on Archbishop Williams displayed none of the intelligence and insight that you can display (and which you display above in your responses to me). There have been two times that I can think of where your blog posts have come off as triumphalistic and non-ecumenical; this particular post is one of them. Now, I'm not saying we (as Catholics) need to change our beliefs or message to suit other Christian traditions. What I am saying is that we cannot and should not dismiss the ideas of other Christian traditions out of hand. If you're asking for what I'm asking from you it is this: I want you, and others (including myself) to tackle serious theological issues without sarcasm, triumphalism, or flippancy. I want you to acknowledge the logic of other arguments (even when you may rightly disagree with those arguments). You and I share a love for the Catholic tradition, and for the divine truth, goodness, and beauty that is to be found within it. But that doesn't mean that truth, goodness, and beauty isn't to be found in other traditions. Vatican II makes this point clear.

    Perhaps I'm reading something into your posts that isn't there, and I'm just being overly sensitive. If that's the case, my apologies.

    As to your reading of Vatican I, there are, I think, very few bishops and theologians who read Vatican I's proclamation of papal infallibility as loosely as you do. Indeed, I strongly doubt whether Pope Benedict XVI would understand Vatican I's doctrine as loosely as you do. You've compelled me, however, to research this issue more carefully. However, I am a professor at a Catholic university with a Ph.D. in theology (this may or may not put me in good stead with you), and I've never encountered an interpretation of Vatican I like yours.

    Thank you for your time in responding to me. I truly appreciate your willingness to address my concerns, even if those concerns are misplaced.

  6. Patrick Madrid says:

    Greg, I'm sure you mean well, and I appreciate your positive comments about my radio demeanor, but I'm still at a loss to know what you are looking for here. You may think that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not an infallible statement by Pope John Paul, but that does not make it so.

    You also take umbrage at the sarcasm I used to introduce this post originally, at least, I assume that that's what you are complaining about when you say that I am "flippant," "incredibly insulting," and "thoughtless." Wow.

    I'd suggest that anyone who might wonder if your words are an accurate description of my comments introducing this post should re-read what I said and then ask themselves honestly if they rise to the level of "incredibly insulting," etc. I don't think they do.

    Also, Greg, is it not really you who are offending in those ways against me when you attacked me with this comment: "why not start actually thinking in an intelligent manner about female ordination instead of dismissing it out of hand?"

    You say I am not thinking intelligently. Hmmm. And you say it with no knowledge whatsoever regarding how much I have personally studied this issue over the years. Does this seem reasonable or fair-minded to you to come to my blog and say that about me when you have no grounds for doing so? Of course not.

    Which gets me back to my original question to you:

    What would you like me to do with regard to the issue of the "ordination of women" (a theological misnomer, but we can use it for the sake of discussion)? We can discuss it, if you'd like, but just as I would be willing to discuss the fact that the earth is spherical with a proponent of the flat-earth theory, I could no more say to him that his theory might be true than I could say that to someone who thinks that the ordination of women could ever happen in the Catholic Church. I am convinced that what Pope John Paul II said on this issue falls into the specific criteria enunciated at Vatican I for what is required for a papal teaching to be understood as infallible.

    "Faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable" (Pastor Aeternus 4:9).

    Let me turn the question around here: If you, Greg, believed as I do that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis fulfills the requirements mentioned above, what would you say to someone who asks you to engage the issue beyond what I have said here already?

    Please understand that I am asking you this question sincerely. Even though we obviously disagree on this, I am not trying to run you off, just understand what you're seeking.

  7. Greg says:

    Thank you for your comments Patrick. I am certainly not asking for you to dissent from the teaching of the church. I am well aware of your work in print and on the radio. I notice, however (and perhaps it is just my imagination) a disconnect between the thoughtfulness you display on your radio show and the often flippant (and occasionally insulting) comments on your blog, particularly when engaging Christians of other traditions. That flippancy then translates into the kind of incredibly insulting and thoughtless comments by your readers, and while you cannot account for them, I am very surprised that it is me you're engaging and not the other comments above. Rowan Williams is a tremendous scholar of patristics, one of the translators of Hans Urs von Balthasar – who is, as you know, of central importance for 20th century Catholic theology – for Ignatius Press, a theologian of tremendous depth and wisdom, and a man of deep prayer. But you accord him absolutely no respect, you fail even to try to comprehend his perspective. Instead, you dismiss him out of hand and represent him as ludicrous.

    On to your first question. Unless I am very much mistaken, and I know I'm not on this point, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not proclaimed ex cathedra. John Paul II was very definitive in this statement as you rightly state. But, magisterial statements are not all alike in terms of their authority. Do I think that female ordinations will take place in my lifetime? Absolutely not. The church's teaching on this point is clear at the moment. But you of all people know that doctrine develops, that God continues to guide his church, and who is to say that this particular point will not develop in the future?

    What I find most disturbing about some Catholics is their desire to see the world continually and always in black and white terms. They fail to recognize that theology, of all disciplines, very rarely falls neatly into easy categories. That said, to recognize the legitimacy of differences of opinion is not to fall into relativism; it is, rather, to be properly humble in the face of a transcendent God. Newman describes the problem of narrowmindedness well in Sermon XIV, and perhaps I'll finish my lengthy comments with this quotation from that sermon:
    'Men of narrow minds, far from confessing ignorance and maintaining Truth mainly as a duty, profess…to understand the subjects which they take up and the principles which they apply to them. They do not see difficulties. They consider that they hold their doctrines, whatever they are, at least as much upon Reason as upon Faith; and they expect to be able to argue others into a belief of them, and are impatient when they cannot. They consider that the premises with which they start just prove the conclusions which they draw, and nothing else. They think that their own views are exactly fitted to solve all the facts which are to be accounted for…They conceive that they profess just the truth which makes all things easy. They have their one idea or their favourite notion, which occurs to them on every occasion. They have their one or two topics, which they are continually obtruding, with a sort of pedantry, being unable to discuss, in a natural unconstrained way, or to let their thoughts take their course, in the confidence that they will come safe home at the last.'

    Thanks for engaging me. I express my viewpoints and criticisms (I hope) in love, and do not intend offence.

  8. Patrick Madrid says:

    Greg, what sort of "engagement" would you like from me regarding this ludicrous request of Dr. Williams to Pope Benedict? You are aware that I am a Catholic, right?

    Have you not read Pope John Paul II's definitive statement on this issue in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis? He said:

    "Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

    "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

    So, I ask you in all seriousness, Greg: What part of that magisterial statement, in your estimation, leaves an opening for the Catholic Church to change its teaching on this settled issue in order to placate the hapless Archbishop of Canterbury?

    And my second question is, in light of the first: What kind of "engagement" are you seeking from me? If it's dissent from the teaching of the Church, then you're not going to get it, at least not from me. I agree wholeheartedly with Pope John Paul II.

  9. Greg says:

    Aedan:
    I'm not saying I'm for female ordination (I'm also not saying I'm against it). What I was commenting on was the lack of intelligent contributions to this particular post, and indeed I wasn't very thrilled with Mr. Madrid's flippant 'engagement' with the issue. You, however, have indeed provided a worthwhile contribution and for that I thank you. That said, let me respond. There are very few scholars of scripture and theology who think Paul is very clear about the offices of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, let alone that he was clear about which sex was to fulfill them. Precisely what Paul meant when he refers to these things is a little ambiguous, so I don't think you can really point to his writings as definitive scriptural proof of your point. Moreover, you know as well as I that scripture is not the complete source of authority for us as Catholics, so I'm not certain that a scriptural argument is going to do the trick for you either.
    I guess what I'm saying is that most theologians, as well as many bishops, see female ordination as an open issue that can and should be debated in the church. It is not, as with so many issues, a black and white issue.

  10. aedan says:

    Greg,

    St. Paul clearly indicated that the offices of bishop, presbyter, and deacon be filled only by men. Likewise, Christ chose only men as apostles and Christ was a man. If a bishop is to succeed the apostles, and during the Eucharistic Sacrifice the celebrant (either priest or bishop) stands "in persona Christi", then it follows that as Christ is a man those standing in persona Christi must be a man as well.

    To press for women's ordination is a blatant rejection of Holy Scripture to cave into popular demand. Christ's Church is a Kingdom, not a democracy. Kingdoms are ruled by the fiat of their monarch…not the vote of the populace. The King has spoken, it is ours to obey.

  11. Greg says:

    I know The Right Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams, and he is a man of tremendous faith and prayer whose knowledge of Christian history and theology would undoubtedly surpass everyone who posted to this story. Before trying to defame someone, and especially a fellow Christian (which he is…read Lumen Gentium), try actually reading a bit about him. Also, why not start actually thinking in an intelligent manner about female ordination instead of dismissing it out of hand? I guess I'd just like some intelligent commentary, argumenet, and dialogue from both Patrick as well as from his readers.

  12. Nick says:

    My fellow commenters,

    Do not indulge in a man's past as a means to deface him or harm his reputation, because, as you do unto others, so you do unto the Lord. I admit, I thought at first the first commenter was throwing out the link as a means to show the BBC was not as reliable a news source as thought, but when I saw this wasn't the case, I had to come to the archbishop's defense. And as a side note, the BBC is a reliable source of news, but dose put a negative spin on the news, so, while reliable as far as current events go, it is not the source to go to for, say, facts on religion.

    As for the archbishop's plea, I will just repeat what another Catholic on another website said: "The Catholic Church will never ordain women."

  13. Roland's Dad says:

    It's interesting that someone who knows so little about the Catholic Church is requesting such an imposible action! He wonders why there are "secondary" differences that are keeping us apart. He fails to see that these are not "secondary" issues to us!

    Great cartoon

    Dominus Vobiscum!

  14. Susan L says:

    I see. So Dr. Williams wants everything his way, huh? If we can't agree to let the Anglicans have their way on these "secondary" points then it's our fault for them not coming into the church.

    What a con man he is. :(

  15. becket says:

    Quote: no proof that the ordination of women damaged the church.

    Dr. Williams must have altzheimers disease. The Anglican communion is not a communion any more, bechase of women priests and bishops. Why is there a Anglican Church of North America, as well as the Traditional Anglicans. "Women Priests".

  16. Kevan Knowles says:

    Perfect comparison Patrick, The Pope will change his mind when the theory of the law of gravity changes.

  17. cast says:

    They just don't get it, and most never will!

  18. Ismael says:

    I guess Mr William (I cannot give him the title of 'bishop' with a straight face, sorry!) forgot the pass of the Gospel that said: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Mark 13:31) or "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." (Luke 16:17).

    How can a Bishop call himself such and betray the very Gospel his Church should be built on?

    Williams might want to urge the Pope to change these views for the sake of unity, but there can be NO unity with a church that has lost its ways and fallen into such deep heresy.

    If unity has to be had… first the disease of the lost sheep must be cured, or, if allowed back with the flock, they will infect it with the same disease. Such event cannot be allowed.

  19. jzepi says:

    Wow – thanks for that article. So… Dr Rowan Williams was actually a Druid before he became an "archbishop"? (the August 2002 article said at the end that "Dr Williams will succeed Dr George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury in October [2002].")

    (Merriam-Webster)
    //druid : one of an ancient Celtic priesthood appearing in Irish and Welsh sagas and Christian legends as magicians and wizards//

    The article quotes one of Dr. Williams' fellow Druids as saying the induction ceremony was "simply a rather quaint induction… for assisting the development of Welsh language and culture."

    But National Geographic recently wrote about some archaeological evidence that corroborates Roman claims that the Druids practiced human sacrifice.
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/03/090320-druids-sacrifice-cannibalism.html

    I know this is just a footnote to the matter at hand and I'm sure Dr Williams probably didn't know this was what he was associating himself with at the time, but to me it kind of shows the poor judgment and lack of perception of what is important on the part of the Anglican leadership. Yikes.

  20. Thursday says:

    even if that were true I admit I have sincere doubts if that would even faze them. earlier this year an episcopal diocese in michigan ordained a Budhist-Episcopalian bishop

  21. QHg2sfLrmiG3fAwJQ5b says:

    If I'm not mistaken, the Archbishop of Canterbury is also claimed by the BBC to have become a Druid in 2002: http://bit.ly/1O4JmF

    I wonder if that 'ordination damaged the church' ?

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