Anglican Archbp. Williams: Benedict XVI’s provisions seen as “theologically eccentric”

I think Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, likes the word "eccentric".  It seems to be a word he understands inside and out.

A few alert readers sent me links to an article in the Daily Telegraph  which has comments about Archbp. Williams about, inter alia, the Holy Fathers provisions for more traditionally Christian Anglicans to come into union with the Catholic Church.

I found the follow rather amusing.  Here it is with a little run up.

Dr Rowan Williams: taking a break from Canterbury travails

By George Pitcher

We’re sitting in the bay window of the 11th-century drawing room of the Archbishop’s Palace in Canterbury. Watching the winter dusk envelop the cathedral, it feels a long way from the pressures of London. “It is different here,” reflects Dr Rowan Williams. “When people live in human-sized communities, they behave rather more, well, humanly.” He has just greeted the St Nicholas Day procession, and led the motley band into the cathedral, their pagan drumming filling the nave.

He is obviously happy here. In contrast to the critical Lambeth Conference held here last year, he’s clearly tired but not exhausted. “It’s a nourishing place to be,” he agrees. Then he catches himself, sensing this might sound too much as if it’s all about him: “There’s a lot of deprivation in Kent. Once flourishing communities are now finding it very hard. When I came here, it reminded me of Gwent with an English accent.”

The journey from his native Wales to the See of Canterbury propelled him on to an international stage. Almost exactly concurrent with that teatime in Canterbury, Canon Mary Glasspool was being elected a bishop in Los Angeles, making her the second openly homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church in America[Good luck with that.]

Fast-forward a couple of days to the Archbishop’s study at Lambeth Palace, another ancient room but a less tranquil atmosphere. Dr Williams has admonished the Episcopal Church (again) for another provocative act in deepening Anglican schism. “It confirms the feeling that they’re moving further from the Anglican consensus,” he tells me. [Contradiction in terms, perhaps?] Can there ever be a consensus in which biblical traditionalists can be in communion with homosexual bishops? The man who has committed his archbishopric to unity pauses: “I’m not holding my breath.”


With Anglican friends like those in America and Uganda, one wonders whether Dr Williams really needs Pope Benedict XVI, whose surprise new Anglican Ordinariate in October offered a home in Rome for disaffected Anglo-Catholic traditionalists. Dr Williams declines to be drawn on whether, when he saw him in Rome recently, the Pope was regretful or sorry for effectively jumping him – “private conversation, I think” – but he does concede that the hastily convened press conference, at which he sat uncomfortably alongside the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, was a big mistake. [Gee… I dunno… I thought it went rather well.]

“I think everyone on the platform was a bit uncomfortable … I know the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the whole doesn’t go in for much consultation – we were just on the receiving end of that.”  [What were they going to consult about.  Whether or not the CDF believed its own documents about, say, homosexuality, or about ecclesial communities, or the validity of Anglican orders, or whether women can be ordained?]

Really? Isn’t there something rather acquisitive and invasive about this Pope, [Yah… a real invader, Pope Benedict!  On the other hand, I remember some old phrase about "being mugged by the truth"… something like that….] who wants us to know that there is one universal voice of authority and it speaks from Rome? Dr Williams suddenly opens up: “Nothing entirely new about that of course. [Right!] At the end of John Paul II’s pontificate you have that discussion of how papal authority is meant to be understood, how it might be received by others. I think that’s treading water at the moment. I’d like to see that revived and that’s part of what I was nudging at in Rome. [Imaging our surprise.]

“Second thing is that in British Catholicism there’s a kind of resurgent – no – recurrent cycle [So we can more easily say, "Don’t worry, this is nothing new.", and then have another cup of tea.] of the ‘second spring’, in Cardinal Newman’s imagery, and in the wave of distinguished converts in the interwar years, Evelyn Waugh and so on. There was just a hint of it when Cardinal Hume uncharacteristically talked about the reconversion of England [Shocking!   Read Aidan Nichols book The Realm.] – and I think he regretted that actually. And a few people in the last round. It’s a pattern, the sense that the Reformation wounds are going to be healed in favour of Rome. And it just keeps coming back – I think this has been the occasion for another little bit of that. It’s bits of the repertoire.”  [Dismissive enough?  Soooo… Archbp. Williams…. what again are your plans about that spankin’ new Lesbian bishop?]

The languid manner in which he delivers this leaves no doubt that he’s not holding his breath for a Roman second spring either. I wonder whether the Pope has, unwittingly and ironically, provided the kind of “third province” that Anglo-Catholics were demanding because they can’t accept women bishops, lesbian or otherwise. The Revision Committee for women bishops, after all, dropped proposals for legal protection for them in the wake of the Pope’s initiative. [Whaddya know.]

“I would guess that the papal announcement had some impact on the way some people thought and voted on the committee,” concedes Dr Williams. “But actually I don’t think it is a solution. A great many Anglo-Catholics have good reason for not being Roman Catholics. They don’t believe the Pope is infallible. [Do they not?  Will they not?]  And that’s why they’re still pressing for a solution in Anglican terms, rather than what many of them see as a theologically rather eccentric option on the Roman side.” [You have got to love this guy.  What the Pope did was "theologically eccentric".]


What does eccentric really say?  Click HERE!

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  1. chonak says:

    It’s true that not all “Anglo-Catholics” believe in the full, divinely-instituted doctrinal and disciplinary authority of the Pope. Those who do are called Anglo-Papalists, I think.

  2. Melania says:

    This is the kind of clear thinking and decisive leadership that allowed the Anglican Communion to safely weather …. Oh, wait. It didn’t. The Anglican Communion is in complete disarray.

    This article provides the perfect image: Dr. Williams, sitting in his cosy 11th century drawing room, drinking tea, dithering, in denial, while his ecclesial community falls apart.

    Sadly, Dr. Williams has proven himself time and time again completely inadequate to the challenges of his position.

  3. Archicantor says:

    “You have got to love this guy. What the Pope did was “theologically eccentric”.”

    The context suggests to me, rather, that this option would be “eccentric” for Catholic Anglicans still committed to the Church of England, despite their disagreements with it. Those who thought that the ordination of women to the priesthood was an absolute deal-breaker left the C. of E. fifteen years ago. For those who remained, it’s obviously a more complicated question. (In other words, he is making no comment here on the theology behind the ordinariates — let alone attacking the Pope’s theology; though his recent lecture in Rome questioned whether the ordinariates were ever likely to look like “churches” — in the sense of the people and clergy gathered around their bishop — instead of “chaplaincies”).

  4. Oneros says:

    In some ways, for the Orthodox and traditional Anglicans…papal infallibility is actually a moot point.

    If we can agree on everything ELSE, then papal infallibility becomes merely an abstract hypothetical.

    In other words, if they can accept that the Pope never HAS taught objective heresy ex cathedra, in practice…then whether he ever “could”…is a hypothetical bridge we could all cross when and if we ever come to it again.

    So, based on the fact that, in practice, the Pope seems to have a heresy-free 2000 year record…they could “tentatively” accept the idea and everyone could wink, and then if the Pope ever were to proclaim something absolutely unacceptable to them…they could always just return to the status quo ante, which they clearly have no problem with.

    Surely no Pope would dare declare anything unilaterally for a long time after any such reunion, and at that point hopefully the union will have been truly internalized and accepted by the new generations more than just “tentatively”…

    So, if you agree with everything else about Faith and Morals…papal infallibility is a non-issue, unless you expect the Pope is going to promulgate a dogma you DONT agree with any time soon…

  5. Katie says:

    Give us back our ancient churches, you rascal, including the 11th century drawing room which was no drawing room but a part of the venerable Benedictine House at Canterbury.

  6. Tim says:

    In some ways it is a shame Rowan Williams was lured to Canterbury. As the head of a Welsh “ecclesial community”, he attracted some respect and admiration. In the impossible job of leader of the Anglicans, he is derided on all sides and may well preside over the final disintegration of that denomination (at least on the international sphere). Not so much a case of “But for Wales?” as “But for Lambeth?”.

  7. mpm says:


    Your comment reminded me of a funny anecdote which Prof. Eamon Duffy shares in the preface or introduction to his “Stripping of the Altars”.

    He, and some others, were visiting one of the great ancient cathedrals in England, now Anglican, and admiring its beauty. One of the party said in a half-whisper, “And to think that all of this was once ours!” A man nearby — an usher or janitor or something — turned to them and politely said, “And it still would be, if you had only behaved.”

  8. MikeM says:

    I wonder if “Archbishop” Williams “inadequacy” for keeping the Anglican Communion together is really as “unfortunate” as some of you claim. God works in interesting ways. Perhaps he is calling more and more of his followers all the more forcefully back to an ecclesial structure that allows them full access to the sacramental riches that can only come from an Apostolic line.

  9. TNCath says:

    Funny, I thought it was the “Anglican Communion” that was theologically eccentric. I thought it was Henry VIII’s breaking away from the Church that was theologically eccentric. Hmmm.

    Time for Archbishop Williams to get a haircut and get real.

  10. Dave N. says:

    Since Abp. Williams apparently enjoys Canterbury, perhaps he should consider moving out of Lambeth Palace in London and down to Kent WHERE HIS CHURCH IS!

  11. mdillon says:

    That rascal, Abp. Williams’ theology = “Canterbury (Tall) Tales.”

  12. catholicmidwest says:

    It would be eccentric to remain Anglican after the torture Anglicans have received in the last few years. The Anglican Church has foregone the essentials of Christian doctrine and practice, so I don’t understand what there is to cling to, except habit or perhaps, ethnic identity?

  13. catholicmidwest says:


    You said, “and it still would be, if only you’d behaved.” How true, how horribly true.
    Play that out thousands of times across the world, in Boston, in Ireland, in Germany. I don’t think a thing has been learned.

  14. archambt says:

    How do we deal with good Pope Honorius, in light of papal infallibility?

  15. robtbrown says:


    The dogma of the IC depends on papal infallibility. Believing in the IC is an a priori belief in papal infallbility.

    The IC is not to be found among the Fathers.

  16. Sid says:

    I’ve said it before: My guess is that the Episcopal Church USA, rather than fall apart, will increase significantly in numbers, as liberal Roman Catholics leave an increasingly “conservative” (i.e. “authentic”) Roman Catholic Church.

  17. John 6:54 says:

    Rowan Williams certain knows “eccentric” just look at his hair.

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    I’m not so sure Sid. That may only be true for the institutionalized amongst us. Lay catholics, when they leave, either go to evangelical churches with their friends, or just leave in disgust and become unchurched.

  19. Archicantor says:

    May I risk a suggestion that the fascination with Abp. Williams’s hair and beard expressed in some of the comments above is misplaced? When you consider that he is deeply learned in Eastern Orthodox theology and practice (especially Russian: he did his Ph.D. on Vladimir Lossky), his appearance makes perfect sense in the light of that tradition, in which clergy wear (or used to wear) their hair and beards long as a sign of humility and of being set apart from the world. For the same reason, he usually foregoes the purple cassock of a (Western) bishop, opting instead for simple black. I quite understand why he might be a figure of fun to many fellow wdtprsers (and if you’ve ever heard him speak or preach, you’ll know that he himself gets the joke), but don’t let it be because you think he looks like a hippy!

  20. Re: Duffy’s anecdote —

    But the point of the anecdote and the book is that Catholics largely did behave, that Henry VIII and Elizabeth I misbehaved, but that Tudor and anti-Catholic propaganda had triumphed over truth. It was, in short, an anecdote about misinformation, and divulged the reason that The Stripping of the Altars needed to be written.

  21. Steve K. says:

    Sid, if there is some big exodus of liberal Catholics to the TECUSA, then I think it’s at best some halfway house. Eventually that ilk just stops going to church. And if not them, their children for sure.

  22. germangreek says:


    Dr. Williams: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  23. MAJ Tony says:

    archambt: Pope Honorius I never did anything “ex Cathedra” (no pronouncements or specific actions) contrary to the teaching of the Church. He may have been weak, and said some things in his personal capacity to the contrary, but nothing done ex Cathedra, concerning doctrine concerning faith and morals, to be held by the whole church, was anathematized.

    There are two requirements to be met for something to be considered in the domain of Papal Infalibilty. “The pope must exercise his office as ‘teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,’ and he must define a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be ‘held by the whole Church’ (Pastor aeternus 4, iv, quoted in The Church Teaches, John F. Clarkson, S.J. et. al, ed., 102).”

    Guilty Only of Failure To Teach, by Stephen O’Reilly

  24. MAJ Tony says:

    Retraction: I know of nothing Pope Honorius I said to the contrary of the Church teachings. His anathema was due to his failure to protect the flock. Follows is from O’Reilly above.

    Though Agatho asserted the orthodoxy of all his predecessors and the infallibility of the apostolic see, he explicitly left open the possibility that a pope is nonetheless liable to judgment should he “neglect to preach the truth” to the faithful. Agatho thereby provided the tacit basis for the condemnation of Honorius on these grounds: that by neglecting to preach the truth, Honorius left the Lord’s flock exposed to ravaging wolves, as indeed the monothelite Eastern Patriarchs were and under whom the faithful suffered for many years.

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