Walter Kasper to the Lambeth Conference: What the Catholic Church thinks of the Anglican Communion (Or: Calling for a "New Oxford Movement")

Cardinal Kasper doesn’t mince words in his July 30 address to the Lambeth Conference. You can find all sorts of comment all over the internet (eg. this on the America Magazine blog and here on CNS), but you would be well advised to read the original here.

The question he was set was what we all want to know: “What Catholics think about the Anglican Communion” especially “in its present circumstances”. His answer is predictable enough – there are real (really, REALLY real) problems for any hope of full communion in the future between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church due to the Anglican’s ordination of women as bishops and priests and they way they have dealt with the issue of sexual morality – but the conclusions are important.

Here are the main parts of his paper:

I know that many of you are troubled, some deeply so, by the threat of fragmentation within the Anglican Communion. We feel profound solidarity with you, for we too are troubled and saddened when we ask: In such a scenario, what shape might the Anglican Communion of tomorrow take, and who will our dialogue partner be? [This is a VERY pertinent question: who represents the “Anglican” Church? Lambeth? GAFCON? TAC?]Should we, and how can we, appropriately and honestly engage in conversations also with those who share Catholic perspectives on the points currently in dispute, and who disagree with some developments within the Anglican Communion or particular Anglican provinces? [In terms of the ordination question, this means the TAC. In terms of sexual morality, it probably more strongly would fit the GAFCON stance – no aspersions being cast at the TAC, you understand] What do you expect in this situation from the Church of Rome, which in the words of Ignatius of Antioch is to preside over the Church in love? [Note that there were more official representatives of the Catholic Church present at and consulted by this Lambeth Conference than ever before – Kasper is right to ask “What is going on? What do you expect from us?”] How might ARCIC’s work on the episcopate, the unity of the Church, and the need for an exercise of primacy at the universal level be able to serve the Anglican Communion at the present time?

Rather than answer these questions, let me remind you of what we stated at the Informal Talks in 2003, and have reiterated on several occasions since then: “It is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree.” [This is the Catholic desire, but that doesn’t mean that Kasper isn’t realistic enough to realise it probably won’t happen. It means that Rome doesn’t want to do something that could be construed as adding to the split up (eg. the reception of TAC into full communion) if somehow the Anglican communion as a whole can be brought back into unity on the basis of the Catholic faith and mores (see the reference to a “new Oxford Movement” below)] Therefore we are following the discussions of this Lambeth Conference with great interest and heartfelt concern, accompanying them with our fervent prayers…

Since it is currently the situation that 28 Anglican provinces ordain women to the priesthood, and while only 4 provinces have ordained women to the episcopate, an additional 13 provinces have passed legislation authorising women bishops, the Catholic Church must now take account of the reality that the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is not only a matter of isolated provinces, but that this is increasingly the stance of the Communion [This is Romes realism showing through]. It will continue to have bishops, as set forth in the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888); but as with bishops within some Protestant churches, the older churches of East and West will recognise therein much less of what they understand to be the character and ministry of the bishop in the sense understood by the early church and continuing through the ages [ie. you may call them “bishops” and they may have a “ministry of oversight” (horrible term) but Apostolicae Curae was right: they ain’t really REAL bishops after all].

I have already addressed the ecclesiological problem when bishops do not recognize other’s episcopal ordination within the one and same church, now I must be clear about the new situation which has been created in our ecumenical relations. 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. [There you have it folks. A magisterial confirmation that, without the complete abandonment of the current practice of ordaining women, the decision of Apostolicae Curae can never, NEVER be overturned.]

It is our hope that a theological dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church will continue, but this development effects directly the goal and alters the level of what we pursue in dialogue [This is very signficant. All ecumenical dialogue in the past has at least been carried out with the thought: how will this further the hope of full visible unity of all Christians? The definitive and categorical exclusion of this hope colours the whole Anglican/Catholic relationship from here on in]. The 1966 Common Declaration signed by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey called for a dialogue that would “lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed”, and spoke of “a restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life”. It now seems that full visible communion as the aim of our dialogue has receded further, and that our dialogue will have less ultimate goals and therefore will be altered in its character. While such a dialogue could still lead to good results, it would not be sustained by the dynamism which arises from the realistic possibility of the unity Christ asks of us, or the shared partaking of the one Lord’s table, for which we so earnestly long [and that’s the crux of the matter: Eucharistic fellowship between Catholics and Anglicans is excluded by the practice of ordaining women to the episcopate and presbytery.]

In that vein, I would like to return to the Archbishop’s puzzling question what kind of Anglicanism I want. [Get ready for it: here comes his most audacious and brazen statement in the whole speech:] It occurs to me that at critical moments in the history of the Church of England and subsequently of the Anglican Communion, you have been able to retrieve the strength of the Church of the Fathers when that tradition was in jeopardy. The Caroline divines are an instance of that [even if not a very successful one in their own times…], and above all, I think of the Oxford Movement [also, eventually, a failure in many senses as some attempted to walk a “via media” – yet it breathed life into a stale, beurocratic state institution at the time, and continues to bear fruit in strange and surprising ways today]. Perhaps in our own day it would be possible too, to think of a new Oxford Movement, a retrieval of riches which lay within your own household. This would be a re-reception, a fresh recourse to the Apostolic Tradition in a new situation. It would not mean a renouncing of your deep attentiveness to human challenges and struggles, your desire for human dignity and justice, your concern with the active role of all women and men in the Church. Rather,
it would bring these concerns and the questions that arise from them more directly within the framework shaped by the Gospel and ancient common tradition in which our dialogue is grounded. [In other words, it is never, NEVER “too late”. A conversion is always possible. Anglicans are baptised Christians after all – they have the scriptures and the Church fathers. Above all they have the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus. Where these are present, new life is always possible. But Cardinal Kasper’s point is: it will only come with a radical change, a rejection of the current trajectory and an embrace of the true Catholic faith of which Anglicans claim to be a part.]

Update: Check out these two columns from Sandro Magister on the topic:

Women Bishops in the Catholic Church, Too? Some Are Trying
At Lambeth, Cardinal Kasper Calls for Another Newman

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