If trying to have it both ways is your definition of Anglicanism, then the recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the Denver Consecrations will have been music to your ears.

At a time when a major row is brewing in the Roman Church about where ultimate authority lies – in the Church Universal, and so the Papacy and the Curia (Ratzinger); or in the local or particular Church, and so with individual diocesans (Kasper) (see Way we Live Now, July) – Dr Carey has taken both sides in one letter.

He tells the Archbishop of South East Asia that ‘I gave no authority to the Province of South East Asia in 1996, to consecrate bishops for service elsewhere in the world’. He also says: ‘I cannot recognise John Rodgers and Chuck Murphy as bishops in communion with me unless they are fully reconciled to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.’

In the first statement Dr Carey is claiming an authority and primacy which he does not have. The first two provinces of the ‘Anglican Communion’ – Scotland and the USA – were not inaugurated by an Archbishop of Canterbury, nor even, in the first instance, owed allegiance to one. So begins the problem.

In the second statement he asserts a doctrine of episcopal territoriality which, in a fellowship of Churches where orders are no longer equivalent and interchangeable and where jurisdictions with differing ecclesiologies overlap one another (as for example in continental Europe), is self-evidently untenable.

At one level Ratzinger and Carey see eye to eye: they both, apparently, believe in a universal primacy which guards the essential values and doctrines of the Church. Where these two great minds differ is on what those values are. Ratzinger believes the primacy exists to uphold and guarantee the Apostolic deposit of faith. Dr Carey (more in tune here with Kasper than Ratzinger) believes that its role is to uphold and defend the rights of local Churches in their own distinctive heterodoxies. To be ‘reconciled’ with the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA is, on important matters, to be at variance with most of the rest of the Communion, including Dr Carey.