I don't keep track of Anglican news much any more, but this has been a particularly eventful week in its implications for Catholic-Anglican ecumenical discussions. It has been a week, too, with churches leaving the Episcopal Church here in San Diego County and elsewhere, and yet there do not seem to be as many stories as there once were of Anglican clergy leaving for the Catholic Church, at least not recently.
In the Church of England Synod this week, votes moving the Church of England toward an acceptance of women bishops by the year 2012 have led Catholic Cardinal Murphy-O'Conner, the Archbishop of Westminster, to say that the move will have a negative impact on future ecumenical discussions between Catholics and the Church of England. Catholic News Service reported here the Cardinal's comments at a press conference held February 6, the first day of the Church of England synod:
There is "no doubt that recent developments in the Anglican Communion with regard to the ordination of women as priests and now as bishops – even more profoundly because a bishop is in a particular way a figure of unity – as well as other developments in the ethical sphere have meant that ecumenism is at a plateau," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England. . . ."I think the reasonableness of Anglicanism has come under pressure," the cardinal said. "In a real sense England is 'terra ecumenica' (an ecumenical land), and we've got to keep on this road in every possible way, but the present difficulties are certainly something that gives me no pleasure."
And Anglican David Virtue reported yesterday in Virtue Online that Cardinal Walter Kasper expressed doubt about the future of such discussions. Virtue quoted a recent letter from Cardinal Kasper to Diakrisis:
"Official ecumenism with the leadership of post-Reformation churches has become more difficult; particularly in ethical questions we are drifting apart. This is leading to the self-destruction of these churches, as has become evident in the Anglican Communion but also in some Lutheran churches."
Last month, Cardinal Kasper was quoted with greater optimism in The Tablet, in an article which nonetheless said:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will hold further talks with Cardinal Kasper, with a visit to Rome scheduled in the autumn. The two enjoy a warm friendship and the cardinal quietly visited Lambeth Palace last February to advise Dr Williams before the Anglican primates met in Belfast to discuss the Windsor Report. It was a key meeting, with those taking part trying to map out a future for the Anglican Communion in the face of splits among member churches over the issue of homosexuality. Cardinal Kasper said Dr Williams asked him to produce a long letter setting out the implications for ecumenical dialogue. It was copied to the primates.
“More we cannot do,” said the cardinal. “It’s a very sad thing and we pray also for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion that they may find inner unity so that ecumenical dialogue can go on because we must know who is our partner,” he said.
Archbishop Rowan Williams' comments to the Synod this week, here, acknowledged the schism and the difficulties posed for ecumenical hopes, saying:
We are, as was said earlier this week, in uncharted territory. There is no option for not changing. A tidy vote for the ordination of women to the episcopate by something like a single clause measure is tempting but it entails the possibility of real disruption in the life of our church and, of course, forces upon us some unwelcome consideration about ecumenical consequences. We're going to isolate ourselves from somebody in this process and the challenge is how we can minimise the damage and the risks of mutual isolation.
‘We are all in schism’, as somebody said many years ago; it’s not a question of legislating for schism or providing for schism or whatever; we’re there already. The question is how we handle it prayerfully, mindfully and decently and, I would add, hopefully.
Alvin Kimel in Pontifications has a post entitled Catholicism and the Ecumenical Adventure today that discusses the difficulties of ecumenical discussions between Catholics, on the one hand, and Anglicans and others. There are differences in the way we view ecumenism and unity, as he mentions.
The week has been trying for Anglicans on other grounds as well. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey was reported in the Jerusalem Post yesterday as saying that he was "ashamed to be an Anglican" because of a vote in the Church of England Synod to encourage divestment from companies whose products are used by Israel in the Palestinian occupied territories. He explained his disagreement in a letter to the editor of the London Times published today here.
Meanwhile, there is news here in San Diego County of another Episcopal Church congregation leaving the Episcopal Church. The particular congregation where I once was is still in the Episcopal Church. Another church, in some ways affiliated with that one, going back to the beginning of its existence, just left. St. Anne's Episcopal Church, in Oceanside, California, voted on January 28 and 29 to leave the Episcopal Church and place themselves under the authority of the Anglican bishop of Bolivia. They affirmed that by another vote on February 7. A news story is here.
Saint Anne's was founded by the same nineteenth century Irish priest as Saint Michael's, where I was, and both churches remained orthodox. St. Anne's eventually took a more evangelical, charismatic path, and St. Michael's took a more Anglo-Catholic path, but I met people from St. Anne's at conferences and functions that brought together people concerned about the Episcopal Church's present direction.
Another local priest I met a time or two was Father Keith Acker of the Church of Christ the King in Alpine, California. Father Acker and part of his congregation left their building and the Episcopal Church behind in December, a couple of weeks before Christmas, and started a new church affiliated with the Anglican Province in America. An article about that is here.
I wonder about the people who remained there when I left, and I have wondered what they would eventually do. I wondered, too, about the Anglican - Roman Catholic day of dialogue here this year -- wondered about it but did not attend. The prospect of the Episcopal Church in San Diego moving closer to the Catholic Church in the near future is unrealistic.
It does leave me sad now, watching all of this going on around the same time, and still wondering what my former priest and former congregation may yet do. I still remain hopeful that more of them will leave for the Catholic Church, even form a new Catholic congregation as happened with an Episcopal priest and a number of his congregation a year or two ago in Pennsylvania. Yet I am not sure whether Anglican-Catholic dialogue still includes the right people, those who really want to move more closely into unity with the Catholic Church.
And yet prayer for unity and working for unity remains an obligation for Christians. I am not optimistic about the near future for unity, here or in England or elsewhere. It does not depend upon my optimism. In his homily on January 25, 2006, at the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI said:
The desire for unity on the part of every Christian Community and every individual believer and the power to achieve it is a gift of the Holy Spirit and goes hand in hand with a more profound and radical fidelity to the Gospel (cf. Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, n. 15). . . .
Asking together already marks a step towards unity between those who ask. This certainly does not mean that God's answer is in some way determined by our request. We know well: the hoped-for fulfilment of unity depends in the first place on the will of God, whose plan and generosity surpass the understanding of man and his own requests and expectations. . . .
The road stretches before us! And yet, we must not lose trust; instead, with greater vigour we must once more continue our journey together. Christ walks before us and accompanies us. We count on his unfailing presence and humbly and tirelessly implore from him the precious gift of unity and peace.
How quickly the mood of the day can turn from the optimism of that
January 25 message, ending a week of prayer for Christian unity, to the
mood of this week, while reading the news stories of the Church of
England Synod and the changes that move the Church of England and some
others further away from the Catholic Church rather than closer to it.
Perhaps it is most important now, when the stretch of road we are on
looks difficult, to remember that we must not lose trust; that Christ
still walks before us. As Cardinal Murphy-O'Conner said, "we've
got to keep on this road in
every possible way," although the present difficulties give us no
pleasure. As Pope Benedict XVI said, we count on Christ's unfailing
presence and implore from him the gift of unity and peace. And Jesus
As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I
consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in
truth. "I pray not only for them, but also for those
who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent
me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be
one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even
as you loved me.
(John 18:17-23 NAB)