Anglican Archbp. Williams to Rome: set aside issue of female bishops

From the liberal daily The Guardian comes this with me emphases and comments:  

Rowan Williams urges Rome to rethink position on female bishops

    * Riazat Butt and John Hooper in Rome
    *, Thursday 19 November 2009 19.50 GMT

The archbishop of Canterbury insists there is more uniting Anglicans and Catholics than dividing them.

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 Saturday’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[And what a great job they have done of it!]

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.  [I don’t think there was any question of that.]

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?[So… what would those secondary issues be?]

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.   [In other words, forget about the Petrine dimension of the Church and accept women priests and bishops… for the sake of these other "first order" matters, which I assume would be something like belief in the Trinity, Incarnation, Resurrection, etc.]

Williams challenged Roman Catholic thinking on female bishops, saying there was no proof that their ordination damaged the church[You mean other than the fact it is it contrary to the God’s will, the Christian tradition, and the obvious rifts it has caused in the Anglican Church.  Hey!  Other than that, its fine!]

For his part the "ecumenical glass" was "genuinely half-full". [Why wouldn’t people want a fuller glass?] 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[If ordination is solely about "organization", then Williams has a point about female clergy.  In that case, anyone who is competent can do it.  But the nature of the clergy, the priesthood in particular, is of fundamental importance to who the Church is.]

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.

Bishop Brian Farrell, the secretary of the Vatican department that deals with ecumenical dialogue, told him: "You have certainly presented us with a challenge." [Which is pretty much a way of saying, politely, "Nice try."]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. chcrix says:

    The antics of the Anglican communion over the past 30 years are the best argument I can think of for Papal primacy.

  2. southern orders says:

    I have a little ditty on my blog, southern orders that speaks to Archbishop Williams

    Indeed, it is to laugh

  3. A thought popped into my head as I read this, that the “Year for Priests” is intended to help more than just Catholics understand what it means to be a priest.

    If people do not have a grasp of what priesthood is, then certainly, anyone can be a priest. It would be interesting to know in the future, how many converted Catholics were impacted by what they learned about the priesthood this year.

  4. pyrosapien says:

    I have some experience in negotiations. This appears to be a “poison pill”. The Anglican Archbishop knows full well that there is 0% chance of any agreement from Rome on his assertions regarding ordination and Papal Primacy. He is attempting to get the Catholic Church to react in a way that gives the appearance of Catholics pulling away from Anglicans. The Anglican response will then be to publicly lament that the Catholics refuse to discuss and collaberate on issues. They will assert that Catholics are rigid and closed minded. Things that will find an appreciative audience with much media.

    The fact that the Anglicans would assert that priestly ordination and the Petrine Ministry are secondary issues reaveals one of two things. 1)They are ignorant because after decades of discussion, and centuries of seperation [the impetus of which was a refusal to recognize Papal authority] they haven’t figured out that those issues are important. 2)They are dishonest because they are more interested in political posturing than in honest communication which must acknowledge that some things are of primary importance simply because your counterpart in the discussions considers it so.

  5. Father S. says:

    Even though the question of female clergy is not up for discussion, having been definitively taught by Pope John Paul II in “Ordinatio sacerdotalis,” I do wonder what concessions Archbishop Williams would be willing to make. What if Rome asked him to add the feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher to the Anglican calendar? What if the Rome asked for an oath of fealty from the British monarch? Where would Archbishop Williams draw the line?

  6. ljc says:

    “The archbishop of Canterbury today pleaded with Roman Catholics to set aside their differences with Anglicans over the issue of female bishops”

    …You mean set aside the Bible, the 2000 year Tradition, and the will of God…

  7. Random Friar says:

    The Anglican archbishop forgets that women’s ordination it is NOT a “Roman Catholic” issue. It is a Catholic (and all the Churches in communion with Her) and an Orthodox issue. The Anglicans were warned when they were considering the move that it would cause grave difficulty to any future hope of communion. They assumed that their “prophetic” stance would bring Rome, Moscow, Constantinopole and everyone else along.

  8. FranzJosf says:

    If there were a couple with marital problems on my street, and their constant public bickering hampered the enjoyment of neighborhood bar-b-ques or the effectiveness of neighborhood charitable efforts, the ‘raised-right’ mature thing to do would be to pull the husband aside and say, I mean you no offense, but your public behavior is derailing any positive affect you might have at our gatherings; until you two get your behavior in order, you’ll not be included.

    Rome ought to tell Canterbury something along those lines.

    Now, even thought the Orthodox have some inner fightening, it not doctrinal. Since we agree on the great moral questions we can be partners in fighting secularism. Not so with the Anglicans.

  9. Steve K. says:

    “Catholics and Anglicans had achieved “striking” agreement on the broader questions.”

    They “marry” gays in that “church.” Really, the CofE (like its American affiliate the TEC) is fast on its way to complete apostasy, we have so very little in common. It is up to us to rescue the actual Christians remaining there.

  10. Athelstan says:

    “The question is whether this unfinished business is quite as fundamental as our Roman Catholic friends believe.”

    The Church has been consistent all along in saying that it is.

    Try that question on the other side of the Bosporus. You’ll get the same answer.

  11. mpm says:

    Comment by pyrosapien — 20 November 2009 @ 11:31 am


    You’re probably right about the “poison pill”. If you are the head of an established church, though, are you not ineluctably engaged in the political process?

    Clearly, ++Williams has zero “street cred”, but wants to keep the ball rolling “ecumenically”. Why else, but to pay for his keep? If the Ecumenical Ball stops rolling, might Parliament begin asking “what’s he for, then?”

  12. vox borealis says:

    It’s classic rhetoric. Williams declares some issues “secondary” and thus deems them less vital to the “real core” of Christianity. This is the same trick used by EVERYONE who dissents from church teachings: “sure we disagree about a abortion, but we agree on the primary Christian values of love and forgiveness”, etc.

    Yet his very statement is a rejection of magisterial teaching authority, which is of FUNDAMENTAL importance to understanding what separates Anglicans (and other protestants) from the Catholic Church.

    But even if we set aside that argument, how can Williams argue with a straight face that the question of women bishops is a “secondary” issue? Whatever one thinks on the topic, it is bound up FUNDAMENTALLY (again) with the issues of both apostolic succession and of valid ordinations; these in turn are tied to administration of sacraments.

    What Williams is asking, in effect, is for everyone simply not to worry about whether your priest (or priestess) is validly ordained or whether or not the sacraments you receive are valid. Because, you know, we also have a lot in common.

    Bizarre reasoning from a man who is supposed to be a theologian and the more-or-less head of a communion that claims both apostolic succession and sacramental theology.

  13. Warren says:

    I agree with pyrosapien – the ABC’s comments are a poison pill.

    The ABC is dealing himself and his cadre of revisionists out of the ecumenical game, so to speak. And, I say let him go. To continue the metaphor – he has shown his hand, and has demonstrated by his mistreatment of his own catholic-minded folk that, among those in the CofE and TEC leadership, there is little or no respect for the Catholic (and Orthodox) Church’s Apostolic teaching on matters such as ordination, papal authority, etc. Don’t be fooled by the posh accent. The polite Anglican sneer at things Catholic conceals a scorn as vile as any overt form of bigotry.

    Given the waffling and confusion among the various Anglican bodies (especially the CofE and TEC) regarding the sacraments, the person of Christ, the nature of the Church, etc., would it not be more appropriate that conversations with Anglicans be directed to the Vatican body responsible for dialogue with non-christian religions?

  14. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    “[T]hese other ‘first order’ matters, which I assume would be something like belief in the Trinity, Incarnation, Resurrection, etc.”

    Well, given the fact that TEC and the Anglican Communion haven’t broken with John Shelby Spong about such things, even these must be, in Dr Williams’ mind “second order” matters. [I, too, thought of him as I read that.]

  15. Rich says:

    What a joke. He can’t take care of his own church but he tells the Catholic Church what to do.

  16. Seraphic Spouse says:

    They turned their backs on Christian Unity when they ordained women. Some influencial Anglicans (e.g. in Canada) resisted female ordination knowing it would become a MAJOR stumbling block to Christian unity. However, they were wrongly convinced otherwise.

    Is the Archbishop of Canterbury going to make his little speech to the Orthodox patriarchs, also?

  17. Aaron says:

    I agree that this is an attempt at a poison pill, and the Archbishop knows there’s no chance of it happening. But if you take him at his word, he’s saying the Catholic Church should bring the Anglicans into unity by becoming more Anglican. Seems to me we tried that method with Protestantism in general over the past half-century, and it didn’t work out so well.

  18. An American Mother says:

    Oh, dear.

    An Episcopal blogger (at MCJ) some time ago stated the principle which has become known as Johnson’s Law: It is impossible to parody the Anglican Church because it gets ahead of you every time.

  19. john 654 says:

    In his address at the Gregorian University, Williams said the Anglican communion was proof that churches could stay together in spite of their differences.

    How did the audience keep from laughing when he said that. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I read that.

  20. Stephen Anthony Gregory says:

    “imaginative pastoral response, but did not break any new ecclesiological ground.”

    So? Since when is authentic ecumenism about breaking new ecclesiological ground? It doesn’t have to be a profound change in theology, moreover it can’t be. If it were the WCC would be a shining example of “Christian Unity” we would just be able to say “we don’t have anything in common, even our image of Christ, yet, we are one.”

  21. chironomo says:

    “An Episcopal blogger (at MCJ) some time ago stated the principle which has become known as Johnson’s Law: It is impossible to parody the Anglican Church because it gets ahead of you every time.”

    Very similar to what I was told by one of my composition teachers at University (Herbert Brun):

    “You can’t parody Rock music because it is already a parody of itself”

  22. The Cobbler says:

    Anyone besides me notice that on the one hand he emphasizes how much agreement we’ve achieved and on the other tries to limit the amount we have to agree on — which, added together, means we’ve made progress on agreeing on the few basics? What does he think, that Rome had to be convinced Jesus was God and died to pay the price for our sins? That stuff wasn’t discovered in the past millenium, let alone the past century. (And of course, the reason Rome isn’t going to budge on what he calls secondary issues has in part to do with the fact that they weren’t either.)

    “Why wouldn’t people want a fuller glass?”
    Father: you are brilliant. Of course, we all knew that already.

  23. Sid says:

    The history of High Church Anglicanism is the history of three incredible blunders, with lasting damage.

    1. 1687 Laud attempted to force the Prayerbook on Scotland, resulting in a domino effect: Scotland rose up, Charles called Long Parliament for money to put down the rebellion, Charles and Laud lost their heads, — all with the lasting result that Christianity in the Anglophone world by the end of the 17th C was shattered, and continues to shatter, into a myriad of pieces.

    2. In 1687 The High Church leadership refused to support the Catholic James II’s Act of Toleration; in 1688 it supported William of Orange, and with William the High Churchmen lost Church leadership to the Latitudinarians, who have control the Anglican church ever sense. True, the Latitudinarians, with the Ritualist movement c. 1870s, put on the garb and actions of Catholicism, but has been facade. The so-called “High Church” today is Broad in everything but liturgy. Indeed, I’ve met Anglicans who are fine folk yet insist that they’re “Catholic”. They ain’t.

    3. The third disaster: the current ABC missing the chance– the last chance? — to bring his fold into the Real Catholic church.

    I say all this with regret; I pray Holy Father’s open hand to Anglicans will yield fruit. There is much to be praised in Anglican liturgy.

  24. j says:

    Set aside for what purpose?

    Is there still ecumenical dialogue? Yes.
    Is it more difficult? Yes.
    Have the Anglicans created another barrier to full communion with full knowledge that they were doing so? Absolutely.

    The Anglican communion is simply becoming less Catholic, making it harder to reconcile with the Catholic Church, and harder for those who find that important to stay Anglican.

  25. asperges says:

    The Guardian is not noted for its sympathy to matters ecclesiastical, especially Catholic. It is a secular Tablet in fact and would share many Catholic readers of that persuasion.

    Williams really has no hand to play now. He is a spent force, outwitted and beleaguered. He will be left with an even less united rump of the C of E shortly as he knows. Meanwhile, one gasps at the still extant fundamental differences after 35 years of fruitless dialogue and papering over cracks. Ecumenism in its practical form is now clearly shown to be the inevitable route to Rome.

    Forget women priests or bishops, meaningful dialogue or wishy-washy agreements of the ARCIC variety: this Pope (of Unity) takes the bull by the horns: dialogue over. Don’t mess about. No more ludicrous challenges or study groups groping in the dark for some common, formless Church. It didn’t work then and it won’t now. The door is open. Come in and welcome to the true Church. It’s now or never. Decision time.

    Moral: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

  26. Matthew in Vancouver says:

    I have a general question about ecumenical dialogue.

    Do other denominations work with eachother for unity? Anglicans and Protestants? Anglicans and Orthodox? Or, in general, is everyone only interseted in unity with the Catholic Church?

    If it’s the case that they really only work for unity with Rome, aren’t they saying something about their own status?

  27. Agnes says:

    Yep. Nice try.


  28. There are a series of letters between Pope Paul VI and whoever was the Anglican Abp. of Canterbury at the time, on the topic of things that divide the Anglicans from the Catholics (late 60’s, early 70’s I think). I have them in my “Documents on the Liturgy” tome… I wonder if they’re freely available online.

    Abp. Williams would do well to read them.

    The Catholic Church isn’t going to budge.

  29. kyle says:

    Not even Pope Benedict has the power to admitt women to holy orders.

  30. PJ says:

    Depressing. This just goes to show how far apart we still are from our separated brethren, really.

  31. Henry Edwards says:

    Kyle: Not even Pope Benedict has the power to admitt women to holy orders.

    Of course the Archbishop of Canterbury must understand as well as you or I that this has been defined infallibly. So we can only assume he’s suggesting the possibility of lay women as bishops. But in this case, why not lay men as bishops also? Surely the issue of lay bishops has nothing to do with gender! (In other words, start with one absurdity, you can wind up with another.)

  32. patrick_f says:

    Seriously for this false ecumenism, I would have two things handy father Z

    One, A picture of Barney, the purple dinosaur.

    two, The Barney Song “I love you, you love me, we’re a Christian Family!”

    It would say fit silliness like this from people who cant just submit.

  33. John UK says:

    Whilst I agree with the majority of comments to date, Father S. wrote:
    I do wonder what concessions Archbishop Williams would be willing to make. What if Rome asked him to add the feasts of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher to the Anglican calendar?

    They are already there –
    July 6 Thomas More, Scholar and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, reformation martyrs.

    Along with, for example
    Jan.31 John Bosco, priest, Founder of the Salesian order
    May 26. Philip Neri, priest, Founder of the Oratorians and spiritual guide
    July 31. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus
    Aug.14. Maximilian Kolbe, Friar, Martyr
    Dec.3 Francis Xavier, Missionary, Apostle of the Indies.

    They appear alongside a host of other uncanonised worthies as “Commemorations” but may be observed as “Lesser Festivals” where there is an established celebration in the wider church.

    John U.K.

  34. chonak says:

    Would it be impolitic to refer to Dr. Williams’ approach as “half-glass theology”?

  35. Archicantor says:

    If anyone would like to read the Archbishop’s address in full, it can be found here: (And for what it’s worth, let me say that I think he’s talking rather good sense. But then I’m just a poor, benighted schismatic…)

  36. thefeds says:

    Apparently, the ABC was feeling a bit frivilous when he made the statements above. I, too, am feeling slightly frivilous, and so I have but one comment to make to the ABC, lose the “beard growing down the neck” thing.

    Sorry, I feel better now!

  37. Oleksander says:

    Father S.

    St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher ARE on the Anglican calendar, both on July 6, bizarre…

  38. rinkevichjm says:

    I’ve a better idea: since there is so little separating us as the smaller church, let them (the Anglicans) give these scandalous things up for advent this year: divorce and remarriage; papal objection(s); and ordinations of those of the opposite gender from Jesus, the Christ (i.e. of those who are female). That can’t be too hard for good Christians, can it?

  39. JohnRoss says:

    Rowan Williams prefers political correctness to Christianity and the gospel.

  40. Leonius says:

    Anglicans have always had a different idea of priesthood to Catholics, which is why they do not have any priests.

  41. k3vin says:

    Abortion. Buggery. Contraception and Sterilisation. Divorce. Euthanasia. Radical feminism. Genetic Manipulation. Ah, those pesky second order issues. Not to mention the theological ones. Nice try, indeed.

  42. barbara s says:

    I find it somewhat baffling that Dr. Williams has skipped completely over the question of women priests, let alone women bishops!

    I have had recent conversations with co-workers on just this topic and I have come to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church’s position is the only position of true humility.

    The Church cannot ordain women because Christ did not select any women to be His Apostles. Any “ecclesial entity” that dares do so has set itself up as God’s superior, an absurdity on its face.

    Of course, there are those who insist that Christ was somehow afraid of shocking the people of the first century by including women among His apostles. How ridiculous! At the risk of sounding flippant, what were they going to do, crucify Him?

  43. LarryPGH says:

    This whole deal about “female bishops” seems to be out of place, here. Nowhere in his quoted comments does Williams mention the episcopacy; however, in a few places, he discusses ordination.

    I’d bet a dollar to a donut that what Williams said was “female clergy” and a clueless journalist decided that “clergy” == “bishop”.

  44. CPKS says:

    Regarding women priests, one of my favourite stories is this one about Professor GEM Anscombe (professor of philosophy at Cambridge and fond of a post-prandial cigar):

    “Entering a Cambridge common room, she was bemused to hear some earnest women arguing that nothing in the Bible prevented the ordination of women. She calmly leaned her rather comfortable flesh against the mantelpiece, recited the names of the Twelve Apostles, and blew a smoke ring at them.”

  45. stephenocist says:

    Fr. Edward Hawks, an Episcopal priest convert, wrote about the Catholic and the Anglican’s diverging views of ecumenism and dogma in 1935.

    His words could have been penned as a response to the Archbishop of Canterbury:

  46. mwidunn says:

    And, yet His Holiness Pope Benedict gave a gold pectoral cross to “Archbishop” Williams:

    Does anyone at the Vatican understand the phrase, “cognitive dissonance”?

  47. catholicmidwest says:

    Somebody should tell the rascal from Canterbury that we’re not taking ALL of them in, miscreant heretics & all. We’re rescuing the ones that are still Christian and that can’t stand being CofE/Episcopalian anymore because yours truly has made it hell on earth for them.

    If he wants to talk to us anymore, he needs to stop acting like the crazy a$$ druid he is, and learn Christianity from the ground up–because he apparently didn’t comprehend it on the first pass.

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