Mr Williams Goes to Rome

Archbishop Rowan Williams is in Rome to give a speech at the Gregorian Pontifical University and he meets with the Pope on Saturday. I’d like to see a copy of the whole speech, but it seems he downplayed the importance of the new Apostolic Constitution, stuck up for women’s ordination and asked “Which way Ecumenism?”

The Times reports on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech in Rome here. Ruth Gledhill–the paper’s religion correspondent, always manages to report on Anglican-Catholic relations with a kind of schoolgirl drama that never fails to entertain. When the announcement of the new Apostolic Constitution was made last month, her breathless headline was “Pope drives his tanks onto Lambeth Palace Lawn” Today she writes, “The Archbishop of Canterbury has mounted a direct challenge to the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against the ordination of women priests.” The Daily Telegraph has a more objective and clearly written report on the Archbishop’s speech here. The Guardian reports here saying that the Archbishop challenged the Catholic Church to accept women bishops.

Ruth Gledhill says his speech was a  “direct challenge” You have to give it to the English. They never fail to inflate their own importance. Ruth Gledhill should remember that from the Catholic perspective the Church of England is an interesting, but small player in the world ecclesial scene. While the Vatican listens carefully and respectfully to the Archbishop of Canterbury we mustn’t imagine for a moment that his words will be taken for more than they’re worth…that is if they can be understood in the first place.

As usual he speaks in that strangely obtuse and fuzzy language of the Anglican theologian…”I think that in some way I would wish to propse that it might be said that in a manner of speaking it could be asserted that among many views, of course not to say that one might be more as it were ‘correct’ than another, nevertheless it might be possible to say that one believes (if ‘belief’ is a category that is possible in the modern world) that some might wish to propose in a way that does not, of course, negate the opposite…..”

Here are some of his quotes: On the new Anglican Ordinariate: “It does not build in any formal recognition of existing ministries or units of oversight or methods of independent decision-making, but remains at the level of spiritual and liturgical culture,” What on earth does that mean? Did he read the Apostolic Constitution? That’s exactly what it does–it recognizes previous ministries and grants the ordinary his own independent level of decision making.

On the ways Anglicans muddle through their divisions and dissent he actually seemed to be recommending the Anglican Church as a model of muddle. . “Is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene?” Uhh. Can anyone offer a translation into simple language? I think he’s saying, “We Anglicans like each other even though we disagree and we think you ought to too.”

He went on to say, “I want to propose that we now need urgent clarification of whether these continuing points of tension or difference imply in any way that the substantive theological convergence is less solid than it appears, so that we must still hold back from fuller levels of recognition of ministries or fuller sacramental fellowship,” Sorry ABC, you lost me. I think he’s saying, “So tell me Benedict, are you saying that the ecumenical game is over? You’re not really going to allow intercommunion with us and say our orders are valid after all?”

About not ordaining women the scholarly Archbishop said, “For many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women,” Any idea at all what that means? I think he’s saying, “We think if you don’t ordain women you think they’re second class citizens and that’s not nice.”

From what I gleaned from the report on the Archbishop’s speech, what is really revealed is the depth of his blindness about the real situation between the churches. Can it be that even now he is defending women’s ordination and therefore women’s elevation to the episcopate? He may defend it in his own backyard, but is it possible that he really thinks the Catholic church has not decided on this? Does he honestly think the Pope is going to say, “Errm. I guess we flubbed on that one. For you guys it is obviously working really well. I mean your church is going from glory to glory. Is it too late to jump on the bandwagon?”

It seems that beneath all the fuzziness that Rowan Williams may really be calling for the Vatican to speak even more clearly. I sense that beneath the bluster and obfuscation and diplomatic and academic speak that the Archbishop is saying, “Let’s be clear. Is there a future in this ecumenical stuff or not?”

If he is, I hope Rome will grant him the clarification that he longs for.

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