There is a good deal of controversy in England right now about comments made by Anglican Archbp. Rowan Williams before Benedict XVI’s visit to England.
In an article in The Times published today, the contents of an interview with Archbp. Williams are exposed in advance of next month’s publication of a book entitled Shadow Gospel: Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion Crisis. The Times provided some of an interview of Williams by Ginny Dougary.
Inter alia, Williams says (for the first time) that he has “no problem” with homosexuals being bishops, but gay clergy must be celibate. I think the writer meant “chaste”, since celibate means unmarried. When will people get this right?
Williams indicated his personal support for the consecration of homosexual bishops in the Church of England, but that he will never endorse homosexual clergy in active relationships because tradition and historical “standards” dictate that homosexual clergy must remain chaste. He won’t endorse priests and bishops in active homosexual relationship because “the cost to the Church overall was too great to be borne at that point”.
No kidding. Then there is the fact that homosexual sex is wrong.
Here is an instance where the Archbishop of Canterbury could have said nothing. He didn’t have to say any of this. But, no. He opted for the gaiter in mouth approach and made a statement that will surely anger both sides of the issue in the Church of England, leaving no one feeling supported.
Williams’ comments have provoked a furious response from homosexuals. They will surely alienate more traditional Anglicans. Homosexuals will be angry that homosexuals have to be chaste but married heterosexuals don’t. Conservatives will be angry because Williams seems to set aside Christian tradition going back 2000 years. (Repeat quietly to yourselves… Anglicanorum coetibus… Anglicanorum coetibus….)
And why would he give this to a Murdoch paper, The Times, and not to The Guardian? And why provoke the firestorm when there are already so many problems in the C of E? Can he be so naive as to think that in an interview a reporter isn’t going to ask about homosexual clergy? Did he think that the reporter was going to stick to the 11 languages he speaks? His kids? His book about Dostoevsky?
Here is a commentary in The Times by Ruth Gledhill with my emphases and comments.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is treading an impossible path
Ruth Gledhill Commentary
The picture of Rowan Williams that emerges from Ginny Dougary’s revealing interview is of an honest man struggling to square an impossible circle.
Or put another way, this academic pastor with his formidable intelligence is imprisoned within the loop of a one-sided Mobius strip called the Anglican Communion in a modern world with more sexual dimensions than the early Church Fathers can have possibly imagined. [I think the Fathers of the Church knew about sin….but okay. They didn’t have to cope with interest groups supported by an instant global media machine promoting their … proclivities as if they were normal.]
Charles Raven, the conservative evangelical, in his new book, Shadow Gospel: Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion Crisis, published next month by Latimer Press, writes of Dr Williams’s leadership as a tragedy in which “the weight of an historic institution and the resourcefulness of a deeply learned mind are brought to bear in an attempt to sustain the unsustainable”.
Cardinal John Henry Newman, beatified last week by the Pope in the penultimate step before canonisation, tried to walk this Via Media in the 19th century. He gave up and went to Rome. Dr Williams admits the reason he opted to be an Anglo rather than Roman Catholic was because he could not accept that the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra.
Newman also had doubts about papal infallibility but they were not enough to stop him, perhaps because he understood what is now becoming dreadfully clear to the 80 million members of the Anglican Communion. [If they are paying attention.]
What is extraordinary is the candour with which he confesses, even if inadvertently, the double standards at the heart of the Church’s [C of E] teaching: either homosexuals and heterosexuals are equal in God’s eyes, or they are not. [But it is really a question about the sex they want to have, not about their dignity as human beings.]
What has been unsustainable from the start is the Anglican position, articulated with dreadful clarity by Dr Williams, that lay people can have sex if they are gay, but not clergy. What we are seeing, in the traumas and contortions of contemporary Anglican theology, is the impossibility of a Church trying to be both Catholic and reformed.
Damian Thompson had this:
But does the Archbishop hope that one day gay bishops can have partners? “Pass”.
Yes, he really did say that. Now, you may regard Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality as wrong, amounting to a declaration that it’s OK to be left-handed but not to write with your left hand, but it is at least clear. It’s inconceivable that Benedict XVI would produce the game-show reply “Pass” to a question about sexual morality.
What will it take, I wonder, for my liberal Catholic friends to recognise that – irrespective of your views on this matter – Rowan Williams emerges from this debate neither as a radical prophet nor a defender of biblical morality, but as a source of confusion and anxiety?
Perhaps liberals will continue with Archbp. Williams precisely because he is the opposite of a Pope.