Archbishop Welby in Difficulty

After his visit to Pope Francis, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby acknowledges that having women bishops will cause difficulties in the search for church unity. John Bingham at the Daily Telegraph reports here.

Don’t you just love English understatement?

It reminds me of the classic English story of the Scott expedition to the Antarctic. The poorly equipped explorers were suffering from injuries, frostbite and hunger. They were being held back by Capt. Lawrence “Titus” Oates who was suffering the most. Not wanting to hold them back any longer he stepped out into the oncoming blizzard to a certain death saying, “I am going outside. I may be some time.”

Welby says about relations with the Catholic Church after endorsing female bishops:

“I am very conscious that this is something we have to deal with, This is a difficulty, but a difficulty that we can handle in the context of a good relationship rather than a pit into which we fall.”

Just how Archbishop Welby plans to “deal with it” isn’t made clear.

The traditional Anglican solution will be to be polite and not mention the matter. “Not the done thing don’t you know old boy?”

The underlying problem is that most Anglican really, honestly do think that the Catholic Church will have women priests quite soon. During my last foray into the world of the Church of England that was the conversation.

When members of the Anglican establishment learned that I was Catholic they immediately said, “Of course, don’t you think with this new Pope that the Roman Catholic Church will ordain women in probably about five years?”

When I reminded them that Pope Francis said, “The door is closed to women’s ordination.” they looked at me with faces of blank incomprehension reminiscent of Archbishop George Carey’s comment on the publication of Ordintatio Sacerdotalis which barred women’s ordination. Carey stuttered, looked befuddled and said, “We need to seek clarification on this…”

Clarification? How could it be clearer than

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of Our ministry of confirming the brethren. We declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

Or to put it in more down to earth terms: “The door is closed to women’s ordination.”

Nevertheless, the Anglicans continue to present themselves as brave reforming pioneers. They are leading the church to boldly go into a brave new world.

As for “clarification” it seems to me that within our cordial ecumenical relationships that Catholics might just wish to ask Anglicans for clarification.

What exactly does Archbishop Welby mean when he says, “This is a difficulty that we can deal with through a good relationship rather than a pit into which we fall.”

His choice of words remind me of an observation by the excellent, but obscure Catholic ecumenical theologian Mrs. Alison Saunders Longenecker who said,

“The gap between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church is not wide, but it is very deep.”