John Shepley heard the words of Cardinal Walter Kaspar and can only weep that the warning should go unheede.

Ecumenism has always been, for Anglicans, more introvert than extrovert, less about relations with other churches than about the search for Anglican identity. This is what Cardinal Walter Kasper pointed out at a recent colloquium in Durham. He was, naturally, speaking of the ordination of women to the episcopate.

‘I can see no solution at this moment, because the Catholic Church will not go this way and the Orthodox and Oriental Churches neither, and therefore there is a decision for the Anglican Communion, whether it will be more on the side of the traditional Churches of the first millennium or on the side to the Protestant Churches coming out of the sixteenth century.’

Such has not been the perception of our foremost ecumenists. Bishops Mark Santer and Stephen Sykes gave the Synod no inkling, in its 1992 debate, that women’s ordination would effectively sink all hopes of reunion with both the Vatican and the Phanar.

Losing the prize

It is true that the Council for Christian Unity offered (as a meagre consolation prize?) a doubtful liaison with the Reformation Churches of Scandinavia. Now women bishops have been openly declared to be the price of reunion with a doctrinally indifferent Methodist Church. It is time to ask why. Why has this innovation been allowed to derail progress towards reconciliation with the greatest and most ancient Churches?

The answer lies with the deeper battle which has been raging in Anglicanism for the last hundred and fifty years, about the relationship of Christianity to the ambient secular culture. In this the Episcopal Church of the United States is way ahead. Its wholesale adoption of practically every aspect of contemporary post-enlightenment – divorce, abortion, feminism, homosexualism, doctrinal indifferentism and even atheism – has set it apart not only from the great Churches of the first millennium, but from the historic inheritance of the Reformation.

Most English Anglicans (as the House of Bishops’ dithering response to Civil Partnerships showed) are a little startled to find themselves caught up in these culture wars between zeitgeist and heiligergeist. But there is little doubt about the direction which they will ultimately take. The CofE is firmly in the revisionist camp.

Long-term hope

Walter Kasper has epitomized the tragedy of the Anglican Communion in our time. It seemed tantalizingly close to what had for over a hundred years been its express aim: reconciliation with Rome before all other ecumenical projects. The ordination of women as bishops has closed that possibility for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, as any intelligent observer can see (and despite its increasing weakness in its European heartland), the Catholic Church remains the only hope for the survival of Christianity in Western society, and the only bulwark against a resurgent and militant Islam.

In the short term, I suspect, it is a neurosis about numbers which fuels this rejection of traditional Christianity. Every innovation in the last half century has been sold as a means of stemming decline (especially among the young). The process is self-defeating. Who (especially the young) will want a Church which (to use biblical terminology) is indistinguishable from the World?

Ecumenical rapprochement with the Churches of the first millennium was not, for Anglicans, an optional extra, like the so-called Porvoo Communion or Methodist reunion. It was an affirmation of essential identity which alone could ensure revival and survival. Kasper speaks, diplomatically, as though there were still a choice. In reality, the General Synod of the Church of England will approve the ordination of women to the episcopate. Almost as certainly it will fall into line with ECUSA on the homosexual agenda.

All that remains to be seen is whether provisions for opponents of these two innovations will be sufficiently generous as to permit them to negotiate structural reintegration into the Catholic Church. That must be the aim; all else is darkness.