Is the Pope an Anglican? It rather looks as though the answer is yes. When we consider, as many are doing, what exactly makes up the Anglican patrimony referred to in the Apostolic Constitution, we are led to the inescapable conclusion that the Holy Father may well have a better grasp of what this means than many who claim the title for themselves.
But Pope Benedict does not merely know about this patrimony – he is after all a formidable scholar and arguably the finest living theologian – he also embodies, in his teaching and practice, the values that make up what we would know and believe to be characteristic of the Anglican heritage.
It is an irony that has overlaid most of the initial reactions to the surprise announcement on 20 October, that the Pope is being more generous, more inclusive, more comprehensive to orthodox Anglicans than many in the Anglican Communion.
Is the General Synod Anglican? The outline of an answer must begin to be sketched out in Westminster next month. Is the Church of England to continue its self-designation as a church of comprehensiveness, tolerance, breadth, even fuzzy contradiction, or will it draw its own boundaries along narrower, sectarian lines?
In July 2008, we wrote, before the York session, ‘Within the Church of England we are in the minority – what happens to us, as individuals and as parishes, is not the most important issue. What matters more is the Church of England itself, and its future. Not for its own sake, of course, but for the mission of Christ’s Church.’
In altered but still similar circumstances, the same point can be repeated unchanged. The biggest question posed by the Apostolic Constitution is asked not of us, but of the Church of England as a whole, in the persons of its Bishops and its Synod. What sort of church do you wish it to be, not now but in the decades to come?
It is hard question to answer, we realize that. Of course, it is hard. Tolerance has to be offered to those who are on the face of it intolerable. Comprehensiveness means being inclusive of those one may heartily dislike. Provision has to be made for those whom one is convinced are wrong. But thisis the context of those Anglican virtues we all once thought were the bedrock of our shared patrimony.
Decisions have consequences and, while there is a great deal to commend the simplest possible Measure to bring in the popular innovation of women bishops, it would alter the whole character and patrimony of the Church of England. There is enormous pressure on the Synod to be mean and ungenerous in the matter of provision, not least because it offers simplicity and clarity; but there would be grave consequences.
In the terms of these virtues we prize, it is clear that the Pope is an Anglican. Whether the Synod is remains to be seen.
The proposed draconian legislation in Uganda against homosexual practice and association will be abhorrent to every reader of this paper. But also abhorrent will be attacks on the Archbishop of Canterbury for an alleged failure to speak out against the proposals (and the unfounded assumption that Archbishop Orombi condones them). There are many reasons (not least local sensibilities about perceived intervention by ‘colonialist powers’) why the Archbishop might think it prudent to be cautious in his phraseology. But there can be no reason for anyone (least of all among the homosexual community) to doubt the humanity of this most humane of men.
NEW DIRECTIONS upholds, in matters of human sexuality as well as in other areas, the immemorial teaching of the universal Church. But we are thereby obliged, as are all Christian people, to a relationship of respect and godly conversation with those with whom we disagree. That respectful conversation is with the Archbishop, as much as with others.
Rowan Williams has shown himself to be both a thoughtful defender of homosexual rights and one who genuinely seeks a dialogue with the Tradition. To seek to blackguard him in present circumstances shows, we believe, the uglier side of the victim culture which many gays have espoused. It can do nothing to help the open conversation to which the Archbishop is publicly committed.