I have recently been watching items on the internet which chart the apparently inevitable break-up of the Anglican Communion over the issue of same-sex relationships. It seems clear that not only are several provinces of the Communion, ones with considerable numbers of faithful, about to sever their relationship with Canterbury, but that a number of parishes in England are about to set up a rival organisation to that of their ‘official’ diocese.
I find it a matter of real concern that we have reached a stage where schism appears inevitable; if, indeed, it has not already happened. It seems that the ecclesial structure in which we have hitherto operated is on the brink of collapsing around us.
It appears that the provinces and parishes taking these steps are evangelical, and thus perhaps not of our constituency, (although some of them may well share our view regarding the ordination of women). Nevertheless, as was clear from Tom Middleton’s Director’s Cut in the February ND, there are issues here which we cannot ignore. I suspect I am not alone in wondering where Catholics in the C of E go from here. Is there any guidance on this from the Society? What is the view of the RC and Orthodox Churches (whose views are surely relevant to any consideration of this issue)?
Perhaps consideration of this, including, if possible, some practical advice, could be a topic for inclusion in a future issue of ND.
In his obituary for the Late Pope Benedict XVI (February 2023), Michael Langrish stated that the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus was issued ‘without prior consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury and others who had been engaged in dialogue’. In fact, as Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J. pointed out in a paper now published in the collection A Treasure to be Shared (Catholic University of America Press, 2022), this is not so.
Ghirlanda, who served as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s chief canonist for the preparation of the apostolic constitution, recounts that Archbishop Nichols of Westminster ‘participated in the meetings of the Special Commission … for at least a year,’ and that Dr Williams was ‘appraised of the situation at the very start of the process.’
These facts demonstrate the seriousness with which the Apostolic See approached the question of Anglican reunion: a seriousness that produced not a ‘flat-footed generosity,’ but an ecclesial answer to an ecclesial problem. That, at least then, was the goal of Forward in Faith.
Rev. James Bradley, J.C.D.
[St Stephen’s House, Oxford: 2007-10; ordained Anglican deacon, 2010]
Bishop Langrish responds:
I knew at the time, and as Rupert Shortt, biographer of both Rowan Williams and Benedict XVI concurs, the Archbishop of Canterbury was ‘caught off-guard and privately mortified’. I can confirm the announcement was indeed sudden and not advised; there is a difference between being informed and being consulted. Peter Stanford’s obituary published in The Guardian on 31 December 2022 went beyond my own ‘flat-footed’ point with the following assessment:
‘And, even as a generally conciliatory pope, he [Benedict] could still on occasion be very high-handed with other religious traditions. A good example was his haste and lack of tact, in October 2009, in offering to those Anglicans who could not bear to be governed by female bishops special terms for conversion to Catholicism. It was left to a clearly uncomfortable Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and his equally uneasy Catholic counterpart in England and Wales, Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, to attempt to smooth ecumenical waters when they appeared at a press conference in the wake of Benedict’s out-of-the-blue announcement. Their demeanour made plain that neither had been properly consulted on the pope’s offer to dissident Anglicans, and that neither welcomed it.’