While Father David’s response is a direct statement of the teaching of the Catholic Church, we might learn something from reading John Allen’s piece in the National Catholic Reporter, October 10, 2003:
Relationships are tested in moments of crisis. Thus the new Archbishop of
Canterbury, Rowan Williams, came to Rome in early October in an ideal
moment to probe the strength of the bonds between Catholics and Anglicans,
since the Anglican Communion is in the middle of an ecclesiastical “perfect
The first visit of an Archbishop of Canterbury to a pope in modern times came
on Dec. 2, 1960, when Geoffrey Fisher paid his respects to Pope John XXIII.
(Prior to that, the last Archbishop of Canterbury to come to Rome had been
Arundel in 1397). In all, there have been 12 such visits, a sign of a budding
ecumenical friendship. Observers consider it significant that Williams is the first
Archbishop of Canterbury to come to Rome at the beginning of his mandate,
almost as if to acknowledge that his ministry and that of the successor of Peter
are somehow connected.
These are troubled times in the Anglican world.
On Aug. 5, the American branch of the 77 million-member Anglican
Communion approved the election of Bishop Gene Robinson, who
acknowledges a same-sex partnership, triggering threats of schism from more
conservative factions, especially in Africa and Asia. Meanwhile, the Canadian
diocese of New Westminster has approved a rite for same-sex blessings. The
leaders of Anglicanism’s 38 provinces will hold an emergency summit in
Canterbury Oct. 15-16 to try to defuse the crisis.
If there is no clear rejection of the decisions of the American province and the
Canadian diocese, this could put the Anglican/Catholic dialogue in serious
jeopardy, since it would mark a major difference between the two traditions on
a matter of moral doctrine.
One hint of Catholic/Anglican fallout came in early October in Florida, where
Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine withdrew an invitation to allow an
Episcopalian bishop to be consecrated in a Catholic church in Jacksonville, Fla.
Galeone acted after the Episcopalian bishop who was to preside at the
ceremony defended Robinson’s appointment and denied that the Bible
Yet both the symbolism and the content of William’s visit seemed calculated to
say: This too will pass. The dialogue will survive, just as it did a previous crisis
generated when the Anglican Communion decided to ordain women.
On Oct. 4, for example, Williams and English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-
O’Connor jointly delivered the final blessing at an Anglican service, tracing the
sign of the cross together. The same day, John Paul II presented Williams and
his fellow Anglican prelates with a pectoral cross commemorating the pope’s
25th anniversary, the same gift Catholic bishops will receive for the occasion.
During his Rome visit, Williams wore the episcopal ring that Paul VI gave to
his predecessor Michael Ramsey in March 1966 (see accompanying story).
All these gestures seemed to underline a determination to keep talking, even
when what the two sides have to talk about is not always pleasant.
One of the stumbling blocks in the Anglican/Catholic relationship has long
been the 1896 bull of Pope Leo XIII, Apostolicae Curae, which declared the
ordinations of Anglican clergy invalid. In 1998, a commentary from the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the 1998 Vatican document Ad
Tuendam Fidem listed the invalidity of Anglican ordinations as a de facto
Yet the various gifts given by modern popes to the Archbishops of Canterbury,
from Paul VI’s episcopal ring to the pectoral crosses given by John Paul, seem
to suggest a different understanding. These are the insignia of the bishop’s
office, and popes do not simply give them away to laymen dressed up in
clerical dress. In some sense, they seem to imply recognition of fellow members
of the episcopal fraternity.
I approached Murphy-O’Connor about this after the Oct. 4 press conference at
the Venerable English College in Rome, asking him what he thought the
theological significance of these gifts might be.
“It’s more than nothing,” he said, smiling.
I completed his thought for him: “Even if it’s hard to say exactly what that
‘more than nothing’ is?”
“Exactly,” he replied.
Murphy-O’Connor said that however one interprets the meaning of these
gestures, they clearly imply that in some sense the Catholic church is already
beyond the position expressed in Apostolicae Curae.
During the news conference, Cardinal Walter Kasper fielded a question about
Apostolicae Curae. He made the argument that to the extent Catholics and
Anglicans grow together in faith, the question of ordinations can be examined
in a fresh light.