Cosying up to Kaspar

by Jean Mayland

from Signs of the Times, No. 32 - Jan 2009

The recent extracts from the biography of Rowan Williams printed in ‘The Times’ and the ‘Church Times’ give  a picture of  our current Archbishop of Canterbury as a dark bearded young man, who was obviously an object of fascination to young ladies and who himself was fascinated by Rome. Fortunately an earthed, scholarly but practical young lady attracted his attention and became his wife. He in turn decided to remain an Anglican- mainly we are told because he found the doctrine of papal infallibility unacceptable. Yet since he became Archbishop it has been clear that the fascination with Rome still holds him.

When I was at CTBI we noticed as staff that more and more the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were planning things together and ignoring the other churches. My colleague in the International Affairs Department would spend ages patiently trying to bring the Churches to say something together about some subject such as the Iraq war and at the last minute the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop would refuse to sign up, the effort would fail and then the two of them would issue a statement. In the end these two big churches withdrew much of their money from the CTBI which virtually died and only re emerged as a pale shadow of its former self.

The Archbishop went to visit the Pope and Rome and professed himself eager for greater unity. He never spoke out on behalf of his women priests and obviously regarded us as an embarrassment.

In public statements in England little was ever said by him about matters which deeply concerned ordinary people and on which many expected the Established Church to voice an opinion. Instead we got joint Anglican Roman Catholic statements about sexual ethics or adoption of children by gay couples. Both leaders showed a combined fear of secular liberalism which seems to many of us to be more Christ like than the views of the churches.

At the July Synod 0of 2008 the Archbishop wanted legal safeguards for the catholic opponents of women priests and abstained in the final vote which carried the motion for a Code of Practice. Since then ‘Forward in Faith’ has been lobbying him hard. Just before the last meeting of the Archbishops Council the Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops met once more and I am told that this through a shadow over the mood of the Council meeting.

For many of us however his relationship with Cardinal Kaspar was the last straw and particularly as demonstrated at the Lambeth Conference.

Just before the Lambeth Conference Kaspar first said that the Church of England had to choose between being a Church of the Reformation or a ‘catholic’ Church- sorry Cardinal we are both. We are proud of our Reformation heritage, which gives us the right to read and discuss the Scriptures and approach them critically. We are also proud of being a sacramental church with a threefold ministry. Our church is based on Tradition, Scripture and Reason.

He then condemned the Church of England as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease as it had forgotten the Tradition and ordained women and considered the rights of homosexual people. At the Conference he condemned Anglicanism again for ordaining women as priests and regarded discussion of women bishops as a ‘serious obstacle to unity’. In his speech to the Bishops at the Lambeth Conference Cardinal Kaspar said.

‘On the issues that have torn the worldwide Anglican communion, the Catholic Church continues to teach that "homosexuality activity is disordered" and that the all-male priesthood is "not only a disciplinary position but an expression of our " With pointed emphasis the cardinal added: "The Catholic Church finds herself bound by the will of Jesus Christ and does not feel free to establish a new tradition alien to the tradition of the Church of all ages.’

Sorry Cardinal I beg to differ and so do many people in your own church. In its attitude the Roman Catholic Church is completely dishonest as ‘the voices from the edge’ tell us that many women ( and men) within the Roman Catholic Church long for the ordination of women to the priesthood and we know that there are many gay  priests and lay people eating their hearts out in the Roman Catholic Church.  It is THEIR issue as well and the Roman hierarchy need to hear. 

In spite of this the Archbishop welcomed Kaspar as the chief guest at the Lambeth Nikaean Club dinner which was attended also by many Orthodox and Free Church dignitaries.  Soon after that he and Kaspar went to Lourdes together where the Cardinal celebrated and the Archbishop preached.

At the AGM of WATCH in November of this year, the Ven Dr Joy Tetley, former Archdeacon of Worcester gave a brilliant paper on the Epistle to the Hebrews and its lessons about change.

She had this to say near the end of her paper.

“Such change is, however, messy, painful and disturbing, demanding a radical shift in perspective and the courage to continue on a risky and exploratory path, leading outside the hitherto defined boundaries of the camp. This is new territory, and the only map is in the shape of a cross. But look what emerged from that confusion, darkness and mess –the explosion of Easter and Pentecost. Look to Jesus –and why he endured all that shame and pain. No less than for God’s sake, and the sake of God’s world.”

For me she summed up the difference between what Kaspar said and what I think the Church of England should stand for.

With GAFCON evangelicals threatening on one side and the Archbishop cosying up to Kaspar on the other, the liberal voice of MCU is to my mind more and more important.

Jean Mayland is a retired priest. Until recently she was Co-ordinating Secretary and Assistant General Secretary at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.