Kasper’s line in the sand?

 — June 10, 200610 juin 2006

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has given “a clear and helpful contribution” to the Church of England‘s debate over the consecration of women bishops, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. The gracious response offered by Williams was to be expected between two close friends and theological colleagues. Nevertheless, Kasper’s frank address to the House of Bishops was a sign of the significance that the Vatican places on the English church’s decision. As an exercise in ecumenical brinkmanship it may be unparallelled in recent times.

On Monday, June 5, 2006, Kasper addressed the Church of England’s House of Bishops on a topic that has continued to provide difficulties within the Anglican Communion, as well as ecumenically with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Despite the decision of some Anglican provinces to consecrate women as bishops, and the presence of these bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the issue is still of major consequence in the remaining provinces. Kasper addressed the ecumenical concerns of the Roman Catholic Church, and attempted to explain the Roman Catholic reluctance to ordain women.

As Kasper recognised, the decision to ordain women to the episcopate is intimately connected to the decision to ordain women to the diaconate and priesthood. This is a decision taken by some provinces of the Anglican Communion as far ago as 1976. In 1992, the first women were ordained in the Church of England. However, the three orders of ministry are intimately connected, as there is only one sacrament of ordination. Thus, admission to the diaconate and priesthood implies the possibility of admission to the episcopate. However, Kasper insisted, the episcopate has a special character as a ministry of unity. Drawing upon the reflections of Vatican II on the college of bishops, Kasper explained:

Collegiality was not understood simply in terms of an ultimately non-binding collegial frame of mind; collegiality is rather a reality ontologically grounded in the sacrament of episcopal consecration, the shared participation in the one episcopal office, which finds concrete expression in the collegialitas affectiva and in the collegialitas effectiva. This collegiality is of course not limited to the horizontal and synchronic relationship with contemporary episcopal colleagues; since the Church is one and the same in all centuries, the present-day church must also maintain diachronic consensus with the episcopate of the centuries before us, and above all with the testimony of the apostles. This is the more profound significance of the apostolic succession in episcopal office.

Even while laying out the ecumenical situation with disarming clarity, Kasper is careful to frame the notion of collegiality in ecumenically-fruitful terms. The oft-mentioned dispute between Cardinals Kasper and Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) over the priority of the local or universal church is resolved in Kasper’s address to the Anglican bishops. Setting collegiality within the synchronic and diachronic consensus of the apostolic witness gives significance to the particular expressions of church without diminishing the universal church. In the ecumenical context, to discuss the Anglican decision over women’s episcopal consecration as a breach of this consensus suggests that Kasper was prepared to recognise Anglican bishops within the historic episcopate. Is Kasper holding out an olive branch to Anglicans?

Kasper explained that one of the more hopeful discoveries of ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics has been the extent to which a common understanding of episcopacy and episcopal ministry are shared between the two churches. Indeed, he said, the understanding of the church as koinonia is found in the ARCIC dialogue from the beginning. It is central to Bishops in Communion: Collegiality in the Service of the Koinonia of the Church, a document prepared by the Church of England’s House of Bishops, and in the Windsor Report, prepared for the Anglican Communion by the Lambeth Commission on Unity.

The clarity of Kasper’s explanation was obviously intended to ensure that there was no misunderstanding between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Kasper insists that if the Church of England takes the step of ordaining women that the dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church will continue. However, he cautions, the quality of the dialogue would change. The Roman Catholic and Anglican churches share the conviction that full ecclesial communion, cannot exist without full communion in the episcopal office.

Ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the restoration of full church communion. That has been the presupposition of our dialogue until now. That presupposition would realistically no longer exist following the introduction of the ordination of women to Episcopal office.

Furthermore, a decision to ordain women to the episcopate would, in Kasper’s view “call into question what was recognised by the Second Vatican Council (UR, 13), that the Anglican Communion occupied ‘a special place’ among churches and ecclesial communities of the West.” This “special place” has been responsible for ensuring that the ARCIC dialogue and similar national Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogues receive particular attention from ecumenists and church leaders in either church. It has also lead numerous Roman Catholics, including Pope John Paul II to refer to the Anglican Communion as “sister church,” a designation that Vatican II conferred only on the Eastern Orthodox. A withdrawal from this special status would dramatically shift the dynamics of the ecumenical movement in unpredictable ways.

Kasper also referred to the famous “via media” articulated throughout Anglican history. The decision to ordain women to the episcopate would draw Anglicans a considerable distance closer to the churches of the 16th century, and thus away from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The decison facing the Church of England is a historic one. In Kasper’s view, such a decision “would mean turning away from the common position of all churches of the first millennium.” Alluding to the so-called “ecumenical winter,” Kasper cautioned that the decision could “lead not only to a short-lived cold, but to a serious and long-lasting chill.” It should be remembered that only a few years ago a similar caution was offered by Kasper regarding the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. The chill from that occasion has not worn off, though the work of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) has resumed and ARCIC II has published its agreed statement on Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ.

The unusual frankness of Kasper’s address had the character of drawing a line in the sand. The commitment of ecumenical partners to a common life together makes it essential that each speak the truth in love. However, it is interesting that Kasper does not acknowledge that for some Anglicans the decision to ordain women is rooted in biblical understandings of ministry, the human person, and justice. Kasper refers to the Vatican’s official teaching documents on women’s ordination: the letter Inter Insigniores written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1976 in response to the priestly ordination of women in Canada and the U.S.; and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, written by Pope John Paul II in 1994 in response to the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the diaconate and priesthood. Acknowledging that many historically conditioned views of the church are no longer taught, Kasper suggests that the position on women’s ordination is “not predicated on contemporary concepts alone but in essence on theological arguments.” Thus he suggests that Anglicans should not presume that the Roman Catholic Church will one day revise its position. “The Catholic Church is convinced that she has no right to do so.” The astute will note that Kasper does not commit himself wholeheartedly to the notion that this teaching is an infallible or irreformable teaching.

It should be noted that recent official Roman Catholic teaching on the ordination of women has been articulated primarily in response to the 1976 and 1992 developments within the Anglican Communion. While Kasper does not appear to be introducing any new teaching, the clarity of his presentation has laid bare the options before the Anglican Communion on this issue. One particularly intriguing question was addressed by Kasper however. When the Church of England decided to ordain women, the response from the Vatican was far more serious than fifteen years earlier when the Canadian and American provinces had made the same decision. Why was the Church of England’s decision so significant? Kasper explains that the Roman Catholic Church recognises the unique role that the Church of England plays in the Anglican Communion:

it is the church from which Anglicanism derives its historical continuity, and with whom the divisions of the 16th century are most specifically addressed; it is the church led by the Archbishop of Canterbury who, in the words of the Windsor Report, is ‘the pivotal instrument and focus of unity’ within the Anglican Communion; other provinces have understood being in communion with him as a ‘touchstone of what it was to be Anglican’ (99); finally, it is the church which we in continental Europe directly associate with Anglicanism, in part because of your many Church of England chaplaincies spread throughout the continent. For us, the Church of England is not simply one province among others; its decisions have a particular importance for our dialogue, and give a strong indication of the direction in which the Communion as a whole is heading.

In a certain sense, Kasper’s clarity can be helpful, as Archbishop Williams has said. Kasper’s line in the sand does not leave a great deal of wiggle room in the event that the Church of England does decide to ordain women as bishops. However, there can be no doubt that if the English church decides to withhold episcopal ordination from women, its advocates will ensure that Kasper and the Vatican carry some of the responsibility for the decision. On the other hand, Kasper appears to be offering a great deal of enticement to Anglicans. If difficulties over the consecration of women and homosexuals can be resolved, would recognition of Anglican orders be on the table? That’s surely not a prize worth schism.

Cardinal Walter Kasper’s June 5, 2006 address to the Church of England’s House of Bishops is entitled Mission of Bishops in the Mystery of the Church: reflections on the question of ordaining women to episcopal office in the Church of England.

Posted: June 10, 2006 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=238
Categories: NewsIn this article: Anglican, bishops, Catholic, Church of England, ordination, Walter Kasper, women
Transmis : 10 juin 2006 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=238
Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Anglican, bishops, Catholic, Church of England, ordination, Walter Kasper, women

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