Speaking at an ecumenical meeting in Rome yesterday prior to meeting with the pope today, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams threw down a theological gauntlet to Roman Catholics who regard things like papal primacy and the ordination of women as fundamental obstacles to ecumenical progress. Rather cleverly, Williams used the divided Anglican Communion as a model to show how those who disagree vigorously on issues of practice can nonetheless be in communion with each other (kind of).
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?
In the course of his talk, Williams waved away the pope’s recent opening to disaffected Anglicans as so much pastoral piffle:
[I]t is an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological
ground. It remains to be seen whether the flexibility suggested in the
Constitution might ever lead to something less like a ‘chaplaincy’ and
more like a church gathered around a bishop.
Bottom line, the ABC accused his Catholic interlocutors of being prepared to sacrifice Christian unity for the sake of matters on which spiritual grown-ups ought to be able to agree to disagree:
And the challenge to recent Roman Catholic thinking on this would have
to be: in what way does the prohibition against ordaining women so
‘enhance the life of communion’, reinforcing the essential character of
filial and communal holiness as set out in Scripture and tradition and
ecumenical agreement, that its breach would compromise the purposes of
the Church as so defined? And 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 the common
theological heritage such as we find in these ecumenical texts?
This strikes me as a message not only for Catholics but also for his own fractious flock.