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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rowan Williams / ordaining women

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a speech today at a symposium held at the Gregorian University in Rome, celebrating the centenary of the birth of Cardinal Willebrands, first president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. You can read the whole speech here, which details some differences between the Anglican and Catholic churches, but I just thought I'd post the bit about the ordaining of women, which I support .....

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[...] the local decision to ordain women as priests – and as bishops in some contexts – is presented by Roman Catholic theologians as one that in effect makes the Anglican Communion simply less recognisably a body 'doing the same Catholic thing'.

Harvesting records the substance of the early consensus in ARCIC on the nature of ordained ministry and also the acknowledgement that there had as yet been no consideration of who could be ordained (the 1973 Ministry and Ordination text, #17). Since then, this latter issue has been defined by the highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church as one in which the Church does not have the liberty or the competence to license change as regards the historic prohibition against women in holy orders. This is now presented as a clear obstacle to any further recognition of Anglican orders.

I don't want here to rehearse the arguments for and against the ordination of women, only to ask how recent determinations on the Roman Catholic side fit with the general pattern of theological convergence outlined. The claim of certain Anglican provinces is that the ordination of women explicitly looks to an agreed historic theology of ordained ministry as set out in the ARCIC report and other sources. Beyond that, many Anglicans have been wary of accepting a determination of who can be ordained that might appear to compromise the some [sum?] of the agreed principles about how ordination relates to the whole body of the baptised. This, by the way, would hold for at least some who believe that a decision within a divided Church about a matter affecting the universal ministry should not be taken by a single province or group of provinces. But for many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women, which in their view threatens to undermine the coherence of the ecclesiology in question.

And the challenge to recent Roman Catholic thinking on this would have to be: in what way does the prohibition against ordaining women so 'enhance the life of communion', reinforcing the essential character of filial and communal holiness as set out in Scripture and tradition and ecumenical agreement, that its breach would compromise the purposes of the Church as so defined? And do the arguments advanced about the "essence" of male and female vocations and capacities stand on the same level as a theology derived more directly from scripture and the common theological heritage such as we find in these ecumenical texts?

Let us take this a stage further. All ordained ministers are ordained into the shared richness of the apostolic ministerial order – or perhaps we could say ministerial 'communion' yet again. None ministers as a solitary individual. Thus if the ministerial collective is understood strictly in terms of the ecclesiology we have been considering, as serving the goal of filial and communal holiness as the character of restored humanity, how much is that undermined if individuals within the ministerial communion are of different genders? Even if there remains uncertainty in the minds of some about the rightness of ordaining women, is there a way of recognising that somehow the corporate exercise of a Catholic and evangelical ministry remains intact even when there is dispute about the standing of female individuals? In terms of the relation of local to universal, what we are saying here is that a degree of recognizability of 'the same Catholic thing' has survived: Anglican provinces ordaining women to some or all of the three orders have not become so obviously diverse in their understanding of filial holiness and sacramental transformation that they cannot act together, serve one another and allow some real collaboration.

It is this sort of thinking that has allowed Anglicans until recently to maintain a degree of undoubtedly impaired communion among themselves, despite the sharpness of the division over this matter. It is part of the rationale of supplementary episcopal oversight as practised in the English provinces, and it may yet be of help in securing the place of those who will not be able to accept the episcopal ministry of women. There can be no doubt, though, that the situation of damaged communion will become more acute with the inability of bishops within the same college to recognise one another's ministry in the full sense. Yet, in what is still formally acknowledged to be a time of discernment and reception, is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life and mutual acknowledgement of integrity might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene? At least, by means of some of the carefully crafted institutional ways of continuing to work together, there remains an embodied trust in the possibility of discovering a shared ministry of the gospel; and who knows what more, ultimately, in terms of restored communion?

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