I listen to the Religion Report on podcast, rather than live, so I often catch up with episodes about a month after they are broadcast. The episode for the 2nd April 2008 was, as far as I can gather, a garden party interview with tea and scones and cucumber sandwiches between the host, Stephen Crittenden, and the two Catholic bishops and one Anglican bishop involved in the Ecumenical Covenant signed on March 3rd between the Newcastle Anglican Diocese and the Broken Bay and Newcastle-Maitland Catholic Dioceses.
One topic often touched upon in the conversation was the issue of recognition of Anglican orders by the Catholic Church. Some snippets:
Stephen Crittenden: Right. But what does that exchange of stoles actually mean? Does it imply that you’re recognising each other’s priesthood, your separate orders, as valid?
David Walker [Catholic]: No, we can’t do that… We haven’t come to that conclusion. What I think it is doing is acknowledging the importance of the ministry of each, and we’re recognising that while we don’t have an agreement on orders, nevertheless we recognise and respect the ministries that are taking place.
Stephen Crittenden: Maybe I should get Bishop Malone to explain about where the actual situation with orders in relation to the two churches stands. There’s a very famous declaration by Pope Leo XIII in 1896 that declared Anglican orders null and void; and that still stands, doesn’t it?
Michael Malone [Catholic]: Yes it certainly does still stand… That has been quite a sticking point I think between our two churches, it needs to be said, ever since. And it still stands there as a fairly forceful obstacle to any unity.
Stephen Crittenden: And a source of great offence, Bishop Farran, to Anglicans?
Brian Farran [Anglican]: Well yes, I guess it’s offence – I mean one of the things that we’re trying to work through in all of this is to move beyond those hardline positions I think, and to see what are possibilities. Certainly the ARCIC conversations that have been held and the documents that have been produced, do signal I think, a willingness on both sides to work very strenuously and sensitively about this, so I think there’s great encouragement actually.
A great encouragement indeed! But what of the future? Bishop Farran again:
Stephen Crittenden: Do you foresee a day Brian Farran, when Anglicans and Catholics in Australia will indeed be in full communion?
Brian Farran [Anglican]: I’d love to see it. I deeply respect the positions of my two brother bishops here. I understand their positions, I obviously would long for the recognition of Anglican orders, I think there just so much that we share together in our understanding of church and sacraments and ministry, in our sense of social justice and in the Gospel and so on, it would be terrific. But you know, there are surprises, John XXIII was a great surprise so…
And so, given the fact that there is “so much that we share together in our understanding of church and sacraments and ministry”, was the decision of the Anglican Church of Australia to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate.
Surely I wasn’t the only one who, eavesdropping upon this delightful garden party conversation the bishops were having with Mr Crittenden, wondered why no-one was mentioning the “elephant in the shrubbery”? Why didn’t Crittenden mention it? From whence this sudden reticence to ask the awkward question?
The fact is that the ordination of women by the Anglican Churches has rendered the question of revisiting Leo XIII’s judgement on the validity of Anglican orders completely irrelevant. There is simply no future in the question.
Someone at the garden party in NSW needs to pay some attention to that little elephant before it starts ripping up the roses…