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Time to Choose, Vatican Tells Communion
BY EDWARD PENTIN
As the Anglican Communion
prepares for its decennial Lambeth Conference in July, the Vatican is viewing
the meeting as a crucial moment for Catholic-Anglican dialogue.
At issue is the ordination by Anglicans of women
and homosexuals as bishops, something that Rome has warned will permanently
injure the prospects for unity if approved by the Anglican Communion.
Anglicans from around the world will meet in
Canterbury, England, July 16 - Aug. 3 at a time when the communion threatens to
split apart over the ordination question.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Ivan Dias,
prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, have both
accepted invitations to attend the conference as observers.
On May 6, Cardinal Kasper said the Anglican Church
must choose between Protestantism and the ancient churches of Rome and
In an interview with The Catholic
Herald, the cardinal, who was in
Oxford, England, to give a lecture, said Anglicans needed to “clarify their
Ultimately, he said, “it is a question of the
identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong? Does it belong more to
the churches of the first millennium — Catholic and Orthodox — or does it
belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century?”
“At the moment it is somewhere in between,”
Cardinal Kasper continued, “but it must clarify its identity now and that will not
be possible without certain difficult decisions.”
Cardinal Kasper said he hoped “certain fundamental
questions” would be clarified at the Lambeth Conference so that dialogue will
“I think that it is not sustainable to keep
pushing decision-making back because it only extends the crisis,” the cardinal
A Vatican official who asked not to be named said
that although the first part of the Herald interview
had some “very strong words,” Cardinal Kasper has made the same points before,
most notably in an address to the Anglican House of Bishops in 2006.
“His words on this occasion sounded a little more
crisp because he had made them in a particular situation,” the official said.
“It was simply an appeal from a dialogue partner to say: ‘We need to know whom
we’re speaking with, so it would be very helpful if you made some clear
Responding to Cardinal Kasper’s comments May 13, a
spokeswoman for Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, would only say
that identity was “one of the two main themes” being covered at the conference,
which will be attended by more than 600 Anglican bishops.
In 2006, Cardinal Kasper said that a decision by
the Church of England to consecrate women bishops would lead to “a serious and
But his words appear to have gone unheeded: Last
month, the Church of England’s Legislative Drafting Group published a report
preparing the ground for women bishops, who are already ordained in several
Anglican provinces, including the Episcopalian Church in the United States.
Another major cause of tension centers on Gene
Robinson, the openly homosexual Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson,
whose election as bishop in 2003 provoked condemnation from Anglican leaders in
the developing world, is planning to come to the Lambeth Conference even though
he was not invited by Williams.
In other potentially inflammatory moves, Robinson
is planning a civil union with his male partner this
summer and is also scheduled to publish a book on the controversy surrounding
his ordination shortly before the conference starts.
Anglican bishops who adhere to an orthodox
Christian understanding of the immorality of homosexual behavior, headed by
Peter Akinola, archbishop of Nigeria, are unhappy about Williams’ apparent
reluctance to take a clear stand on the issue and have organized their own
conference on the Anglican Communion’s future.
The conference, called “Global Anglican Future:
Pilgrimage to Our Roots,” will take place in Jerusalem June 21-28.
Meanwhile, discussions at the
Vatican on devising a
possible structure for the Traditional Anglican Communion to come into
communion with Rome are understood to be nearing completion.
The communion is a breakaway group of 400,000
Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination.
Veteran observers of the Anglicans’ continuing
identity crisis are not optimistic that it can be resolved, given the wide gulf
that exists between liberal-minded Anglican hierarchies in Western countries
and more orthodox bishops in the developing world.
Viscount Christopher Monckton
of Brenchley, author of Anglican Orders: Null and Void?, believes that in the absence
of a magisterium and under the less-than-decisive leadership of the Archbishop
of Canterbury, there is “no chance whatsoever that the Lambeth Conference will
settle the question of what — if anything — the Anglican Communion believes.”
latest Lambeth Conference will merely continue to fail to address the question
of core doctrine, just as all of its predecessors have done,” said Viscount
Monckton. “To Anglicans, the only doctrine is the doctrine that there is no
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.