Anyone who has read paragraph seventeen of the Declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Dominus Iesus [see page 27 and An Honest Basis for Ecumenism, page 4] will be wondering what all the fuss was about. Letter from Australia [page 23], they will conclude, gets it about right. The CDF has merely restated what Catholic Anglicans have always believed: that the Apostolic ministry is of the esse (and not merely the bene esse) of the Church, and that churches which have rejected it are thus deficient and cannot be regarded as particular churches of the Church Universal.

Why then the near hysteria from the Anglican church press? (‘We are a proper Church, says Carey’ [The Church Times]; ‘Cardinal deals blow to ecumenism’ [The Church of England Newspaper])

The answer we think is not far to seek: ‘If the cap fits’, goes the old adage, ‘wear it’.

The proponents of women’s ordination in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion are fully aware of the ecumenical damage they have done. Despite Papal pleas (which in themselves went a long way to mitigating the absolute claims of Apostolicae Curae); pleas from a Pope who had referred to the Church of England as ‘our dear sister’, who would not loose her heritage in any reunion with the Roman Catholic Church, they ploughed on regardless.

The results have been an unmitigated ecclesiological disaster. In the Church of England, by the 1992 Measure and the 1993 Act of Synod, a novel and insupportable degree of private judgement has been introduced into the doctrine of orders. In the Anglican Communion, orders of ministry acceptable in some provinces are unacceptable in others. At the Lambeth Conference some attending bishops suppose that other bishops present are not bishops.

Small wonder that Dr Carey doth protest so much!

Like the rest of us Dr Carey knows that even though (as Catholic Anglicans are bound to maintain) Saepius Officio was a reasonable and sufficient response to the condemnation of Anglican orders in 1896, such a defence could not be mounted now.

And, like the rest of us, Dr Carey knows that he himself was influential in bringing about that tragic state of affairs. Orders which are not always and everywhere interchangeable and reciprocal are not the orders of the Catholic Church. Bishops who are content that they should not be, and who speak approvingly of ‘two integrities’ and of ‘a degree of provisionality’ in the orders of some, are not Catholic bishops.

It is to the eternal credit of Cardinal Ratzinger that his ecumenical sensitivity has preclude his pointing this out. But he knows that they know. And after this furore…so do we.

Some will have read and profited from the measured, diplomatic and intelligent response to Dominus Iesus of the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali.

General Synod members have come to expect from the Bishop of Rochester a balanced and magisterial treatment of current issues, which is seldom to be found elsewhere. In his response on this occasion he is careful to give credit to the document as a serious attempt to address the problems of religious pluralism which bedevil the churches of the West.

But Michael Nazir-Ali, too, expresses regret that the Declaration may be damaging to ecumenical relations. He concludes:

‘The document from the CDF is largely an internal matter for the Roman Catholic Church. It is to be hoped, however, that it will not undo years of patient ecumenical work.’

His response would have been the more measured, diplomatic and intelligent had he, at the same time, expressed regret for the damage done to years of patient ecumenical work – and to the internal unity of the Anglican Communion – by the ordination of women

In another article relating to ecumenism in this edition the Bishop of Richborough [ ‘A Way Forward in Faith?’, page 9] flies an interesting kite. Why cannot doctrinal and ecclesial innovation, which has heretofore served the liberal cause well, not sometimes come to the aid of traditionalists? He cites particular cases and actual local ecumenical projects. But the question needs also to be asked in the wider context.

Might not the doctrine of Provincial Autonomy, for example, which proved so effective in allowing women to be ordained in some provinces and not others, be useful in establishing the rights and ecclesial integrity of those who cannot accept the innovation (for example by establishment of a free province or provinces in which they could exercise precisely the same autonomy)? Might not ‘local option’, as upheld by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church on the issue of homosexual marriages, be a principle which could sustain dioceses who want to exercise precisely the same freedom in the matter of not ordaining women?

Bishop Barnes is bold to ask the question; but we think he already knows the answer. Which is that for at least a generation the entire intellectual ingenuity of Anglicanism has been devoted to the specious defence of novelty. A volte face at this stage is too much to hope for. The current heresy of Anglicanism is the opinion that only the new is prophetic.

He is nevertheless right to point to what is undoubtedly the case: that every ecclesiological novelty needed comfortably to accommodate traditionalists in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion has already been invented in order to facilitate the very developments which they oppose. If no satisfactory solution is reached, for example, over how to reconcile women bishops with those who will not and cannot accept them, it will be from lack of will and not from lack of means.

Fr Andrew Burnham the Vice-Principal of St Stephen’s House Oxford and the leader of the Catholic Group in the General Synod is to be the next Bishop of Ebbsfleet. In a characteristic demonstration of charm and resilience [Press Release: The Third Bishop of Ebbsfleet page 14] he has set the tone of what all in the constituency confidently expect to be a distinguished episcopate. Felicitously, Fr Andrew will be consecrated on St Andrew’s day, and we pray that the Lord will sustain him in the missionary zeal of his patron.

The Third Bishop of Ebbsfleet enters, thanks to the diligence of others, on a goodly heritage. But he does so at a difficult time. Fr Andrew is right to praise the Archbishop of Canterbury for his defence of the position of the minority in the years following the ordination of women. Without his even-handedness, and his obvious trust in and respect for two successive Archbishops of York, nothing which has been achieved could have been achieved.

That said, it would be foolish to deny that a rough road lies ahead. It is not easy to see how the twin principles which underlie the 1993 Act of Synod – that opposing positions on women’s ordination should be accorded equal respect and that the diocesan bishop remains the ordinary – can easily be reconciled when the diocesan bishop is a woman.

No one will blame Dr Carey if he cannot square the circle. Nor the Bishop of Ebbsfleet elect if his legendary charm and equanimity become a little frayed at the edges.