Thursday 8 June 2006

Rome warns Canterbury against women bishops

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has warned the Church of England that a move to ordain women as bishops would destroy the possibility of full communion with the Catholic Church.

Kaspar makes several ominous remarks about the ecumenical effects of ordaining women as bishops. But his main argument is: “Where mutual recognition and communion between bishops does not exist or no longer exists, where one can therefore no longer concelebrate the Eucharist, then no church communion, at least no full church communion and thus no eucharistic communion, can exist.”

Walter Kasper is an admirable churchman and a very gifted theologian, and I can see where he’s coming from in all this. But let’s be frank: it’s a real shame when the question of women’s ordination is reduced merely to a matter of ecumenical politics.


Anonymous said...

We have always known that at Vatican III bishops will be able to bring their wives, but that it wiil take Vatican IV before they can bring their husbands. Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God!

guanilo said...

Indeed it is a shame, especially because Kasper is one of the more interesting and profound theological minds in the RCC right now, and no conservative by any means.

"Like a mighty tortoise..." - I like that, Kim.

Fred said...

The ordination of women is only the latest cleavage between Canterbury and Rome, the last nail in the coffin. Much as I love and respect Cardinal Casper, his assessment of union with the Church of England is optimistic. Why talk about the ordination of women, when the two sides have no common understanding of ordination, the Eucharist and other sacraments, the episcopacy, and other core issues?

While it's true that the RCC moves slowly, it is a movement toward and with Christ and not toward the sacred cows of rationalism: equality and democracy -- the reversal of every particularity of Israel and the Incarnation.

Looney said...

I agree that reducing this debate to its superficial elements rather than the substantive ones does far more harm than good. But that is no surprise from the RCC.

Anyone up for the real debate?

At my bilingual church, the Chinese speaking half has some seminary trained women preachers. Those who have been there regularly for a long time say, “the women preach much better than the men”. On the English speaking half, women almost never preach. In spite of the steady influx of Chinese speaking immigrants into our area, the Chinese congregation is declining and the English speaking side is growing.

Denominations or religions that don’t ordain women don’t seem to be experiencing long-term decline. (Islam and Mormonism being prime examples.) Should we extrapolate from here?

Anonymous said...

Deep Furrows is right about Kasper's assessment of Roman-Anglican relations being "optimistic" - though the word "disingenuous" also comes to mind - as it does with DF's reference to "union". Let's face it: Rome still works with an Archimedean or, if you like, a centrifugal understanding of unity, the elder brother waiting for the Anglican (and Orthodox) prodigal to come home - as long as the return is on his terms. (We non-episcopal folk are often made to feel that we come from a different family altogether.)

At least Kasper didn't raise the old canards about the maleness of Jesus or the biblical subordination of women, but stuck to a modest millennium of tradition. And as one of the better discussion documents to come out of the ecumenical eighties, God's Reign and Our Unity" (1984), puts it, "All those concerned for Christian unity will take this argument seriously . . . " But GROU continues: "so long as it is not simply a device to block all discussion and change [my italics]." And it is precisely here that one can be forgiven doubts about Rome's commitment to real dialogue rather than just polite convesation, i.e. to being open to a change of mind and practice. For as Milton said (echoing Cyprian), "Custom without truth is but agedness of error."

One other thing. I thought we were now past accusations that we "separated brethren" - and indeed non-traditionalists in every communion - represent "the sacred cows of rationalism [and liberalism?]". Quite apart the fact that God acts in the world not only apart from but (alas!) sometimes in spite of the church (also isn't it about time -I've been guilty of it myself - that we stopped caning the enlightenment?), it is simply ungracious (not to say ignorant) to suggest that proponets of the priesting of women (or, for that matter, the ecclesial inclusion of gays) are driven by a secular rather than theological agenda. All is lost if there is not mutual respect about the intentio fidei of opponents in Christ.

Fred said...


It's easy enough to wish away history (including the Enlightenment) and just wrestle with these issues in the thumbnail context of the present (but the past always remains with us in some form).

To cane the Enlightenment, however, is to cane myself, to mortify these tendencies in myself. After all, the Enlightnement and the Protestant Reformation both occured as a consequence of certain excesses and temptations of Catholicism. As such, they often highlight values neglected in the Catholica. As Balthasar has said (and you recently echoed) "Atheism can be like salt for religion. It is negative theology posited in the most absolute way..." (Grain of Wheat, 46).

I see no point in discussing the ordination of women unless there is first some sort of common metaphysical understanding of ordination, the sacraments, and anthropology. As it is, women already have taken on most of the roles that women play in a typical Protestant church: they can teach the faith as catechists, preach (but not usually in a sacramental context), and often serve in leadership roles in the chanceries.

The status of women in the RCC (as in society) has fallen short of the Christian ideal. The role of women in the RCC will no doubt continue to expand, but according to reasons that are consistent with the Gospel as we have received it.

To be clear, I reject the dualism of secular vs. theological. Indeed, I have no reason to think that anybody (Protestant, atheist, liberal, neocon, etc) is less than sincere in their following of the truth (a truth that is necessarily and ultimately theological).

I would merely ask those who advocate certain novelties in the RCC: what is your understanding of anthropology, ordination, and the sacraments.

Anonymous said...

True enough. Ordination shouldn't be reduced to ecumenical politics.

On the other hand, maybe ecumenical theology should be given more consideration before introducing novelties, even well intentioned ones.

Jason said...

I am an Anglican, and I deeply respect the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, and Walter Kasper. Cardinal Kasper and the pope are theological giants, and Rome ought to be suitably proud of them.

That said, I must say that Kasper's suggestion is nothing short of risible. The true hindrance present here is, in fact, Leo XIII's papal bull Apostolicae Curae, which declared all Anglican Holy Orders null and void. Despite the Anglican response to Apostolicae Curae, and the ongoing work of ARCIC, in 1998 the bull was described as irreversible, definitive teaching. The author of this description? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

No, since the ecumenical optimism of the 1960's -- anyone remember ABC Michael Ramsey's meeting with Pope Paul VI? -- the tendency has always been to reinforce Apostolicae Curae. And to say that women bishops in the C of E would somehow irreversibly damage the possibility of reversing an already irreversible teaching seems like the worst sort of canard.

Besides, is saying that consecration of women as bishops is somehow the insurmountable obstacle (interpreting a bit), implying that women ordained as priests and deacons, and married people ordained as priests and consecrated as bishops would prove to be a comparatively small obstacles?

Anonymous said...

Why should the C of E consecrating women Bishops prove such an obstacle? Hasn't the horse already bolted - the Anglican Churches in USA (Episcopalians as they call themselves), Canada and New Zealand already have women Bishops, and Australia is moving in the same direction, not just England. Surely the Anglican Communion is now much more than the Mother Church.
Peter McKeague

michael jensen said...

Who said australia is moving in the same direction?!

::aaron g:: said...

Michael, Some evidence that The Anglican Church of Australia (minus Sydney) is moving in this direction is Primate Aspinall's recent removal of a priest (Wickham Terrace Parish - right next to Saint John's Cathedral) who was ordained Bishop by a more conservative Anglican church (no women in ministry) in Texas, USA.

Surely there were more reasons for this than women-in-ministry, but there are definitely segments of the Anglican population that would be quite keen to have female bishops.

One of Freedom said...

If the real goal of ecuminism is to have a single communion then we are always going to play these political games. But if ecuminism can somehow be shifted to a desire to see unity in the face of diversity then maybe we'd have a chance and the whole thing wouldn't be reduced to a debate worse than endless geneologies. I find comments like Kasper's frustrating, but then again it isn't going to prevent me from doing what I know to be right and I hope the Anglicans will feel likewise. Maybe the problem is the goal (full communion) and we should set a different trajectory and work from there.

Anonymous said...

"Rome still works with an Archimedean or, if you like, a centrifugal understanding of unity, the elder brother waiting for the Anglican (and Orthodox) prodigal to come home - as long as the return is on his terms. (We non-episcopal folk are often made to feel that we come from a different family altogether.)"

Kim, what precisely has the Anglican communion done in terms of ecumenism? If there is any thought of disingenuity, it rests first with the relative indifference to ecumenical commitment that marks Anglicanism and its remainders today. Aside from a few clerics and concerned faithful, Anglicanism and its remainders have proven themselves to be:
1. Incapable of internal conversation and unity--even in the most superficial of forms.
2. Trapped between an historical reverence for liturgy and a sell-out to contemporary trends in social and cultural discourses.
Please don't air out your dirty laundary in the backyard of Catholicism.

"Indeed it is a shame, especially because Kasper is one of the more interesting and profound theological minds in the RCC right now, and no conservative by any means."

Gaunilo, what did you expect? Kasper is speaking as the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, so his comments will come to bear precisely on the ecumenical issues at stake and not on the overall theological implications. There is no question that the "ordination" of women to the episcopate will dash the fragile ships of ecumenism on the rocks of false anthropologies of gender so rampent in Christian quarters today. The Anglican "communion" would also kiss good-bye any potential dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy. Doesn't seem like its worth the risk, especially for a rotting ecclesial identity.

Anonymous said...

I think the complementarian/egalitarian debate is just a chasm of this era. We always find doctrinal arguments to hide our deep sinful desire for dissention. Ugh.

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