“Don’t give up on us…. We need each other!” That was the message from Archbishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Orthodox and Catholic churches this week, after the General Synod of the Church of England voted to ordain women bishops.
With so much troubling the world today, Archbishop Welby emphasized that common witness to the Gospel was of greater importance than ever.
But try as he might, Archbishop Welby will not be able to reconcile that controversial vote with his goal of greater cooperation and unity between his denomination and other Christian churches. From Catholics to Orthodox to many within his own denomination, the move to accept women into the episcopacy is seen as a denial of apostolic succession and church authority.
A case in point: Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom many Catholics have come to regard as on the far liberal end of the theological spectrum, holds fast to the Catholic Church’s constant teaching.
Ruth Gledhill, writing in The Tablet, reported on Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper’s remarks at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, which brought together bishops from throughout the world. Cardinal Kasper, then president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, had been asked to speak to the title: “Roman Catholic Reflections on the Anglican Communion”:
Regarding the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, the Catholic Church’s teaching was clear, he said, citing correspondence between Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II with successive Archbishops of Canterbury: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
This was not what the Anglicans wanted to hear. But there was more. For him, the decision to ordain women implied a turning away from the common position of all Churches of the first millennium. He was clear about the implications. “While our dialogue has led to significant agreement on the understanding of ministry, the ordination of women to the episcopate effectively and definitively blocks a possible recognition of Anglican orders by the Catholic Church.”
Catholic Online, in an analysis published July 15, further explains:
The vote rejected the Catholic and Orthodox theology of Apostolic succession, the nature of the priesthood and the of sacraments. It also removes any real hopes for institutional and structural reunion of the Catholic, Orthodox and what is now called the Anglican and Episcopal Church.
It rejects an entire theology of Church, Sacrament and Holy Orders. It dismisses centuries of Anglican tradition. The Church of England has been deeply divided over this issue.
And the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued a “statement of regret” which said, in part:
“The Catholic Church remains fully committed to its dialogue with the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. For the Catholic Church, the goal of ecumenical dialogue continues to be full visible ecclesial communion.”
“Such full ecclesial communion embraces full communion in the episcopal office. The decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate therefore sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us.”
Catholic Archbishop Bernard Longley, chairman of the international Anglican-Catholic dialogue body Arcic, said last week that the decision “sadly places a further obstacle” on the path to unity, but added that the bishops were still committed to ecumenical dialogue.
The Russian Orthodox Church’s department for external relations said it was “alarmed and disappointed” by the vote. “The decision to ordain women, which the Church of England took in 1992, damaged the relationships between our Churches, and the introduction of female bishops has eliminated even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognise the existence of apostolic succession in the Anglican hierarchy.”
Canon Simon Killwick, chairman of the Catholic Group in General Synod, said that while he was pleased with the provision that would be made for Anglicans who cannot accept women bishops, “we are deeply concerned about the consequences for the wider unity of the whole Church”. He added: “We remain committed to working together with all in the Church of England to further the mission of the Church to the nation, and to model a way of living and working together despite deeply held differences.”
Thomas Peters, writing last year for CatholicVote, pointed out that one factor which may have influenced the Church of England’s embrace of women’s ordination and women bishops is that those who disagree–Anglicans who supported the constant teaching of the Church–have been leaving to join the Personal Ordinariate approved by Pope Benedict XVI to allow Anglicans into full communion with the Catholic Church. Peters quoted the UK Independent,
Advocates for women bishops last night welcomed the resignation of five Anglican bishops to the Catholic Church saying their departure should help quicken the arrival of full equality within the Church of England.
The five bishops, three of whom are still working bishops, have left the Church of England following prolonged disagreement over the consecration of women bishops, an issue which has bitterly divided the Anglican Church.
As Catholics, we pray with Christ that all may be one. However, we cannot achieve that mighty goal at the expense of the big-“T” Tradition that’s been handed on to us from the apostles.