Sunday night wrapup at Lambeth

Canterbury: Sunday, 19 July 1998

This report was filed by Simon Sarmiento in the UK. He finds that little worth reporting has yet occurred at the Lambeth conference, but that some of the writing in the UK press is well worth sharing worldwide. Herein his first report:

Lambeth perspective

As the Lambeth Conference opens this weekend, The Tablet, the international Roman Catholic weekly published in London, carries several articles of interest to Anglicans Online readers. Unfortunately none of these made it to the Tablet's own website this week. Here is a digest for those out of range of a British newsagent's shop.

Edward Yarnold SJ, the Jesuit ecumenist and former member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, has written an imaginary speech to be delivered to the Lambeth Conference if he were an observer. As one of the most knowledgeable persons about Anglicanism outside our own communion, this is of considerable interest.

He notes first some gifts that Anglicans can and should offer to RCs as part of the ecumenical process of 'reciprocal fraternal assistance': visible expression of the doctrine of the priesthood of all the baptised as against what he calls the 'hierocracy' of the RCs; freedom of speech and constitutional government, as against the autocracy and repression sometimes found in the Vatican; and the avoidance of any central authority to stifle local creativity. He points out that each of these gifts carries risks as well as benefits. He further mentions the ordination of women to the priesthood as a gift that many Anglicans believe that they can share ecumenically but which the RC church cannot accept.

He then goes on to make some suggestions for Anglicans to consider. First, he urges us to adopt a clearer and firmer system of authority, saying that Anglicans sometimes seem to lack a doctrinal spine. "I am not asking for the establishment of an Anglican Inquisition, but nor is comprehensiveness an ultimate value".

Second he suggests this should apply to moral teaching as well as to doctrine, citing in particular Anglican attitudes to divorce. He says "you may feel that we sometimes concede nullity so lightly that the system amounts to divorce by stealth; but at least it does take seriously the Lord's teaching that marriage is permanent.... There is a danger that you will end up standing for nothing except compassion."

Third, and perhaps more interestingly, he asks whether we are not guilty of ecumenical inconsistency. He notes the recent Lutheran/Anglican agreements, such as Meissen and Porvoo, which in the interim recognise orders as they stand, even though there was an acknowledged breach in episcopal succession. Yet, he goes on, when Anglicans are talking to Roman Catholics, the formal documents assert that unbroken episcopal succession is necessary. Lambeth 88 gave a large endorsement to the ARCIC documents, and even though the Vatican has subsequently failed to do likewise, the principles that Lambeth regarded as true do not thereby become false. Does our ecumenical right hand not contradict what is done by the left?

Finally he questions the priority that both his church and Anglicans really place on ecumenism, noting that in England the secular state still presumes that only the Church of England can speak on behalf of Christians. He lays much of the blame for this on English RCs for failing to accept the need for all English Christians to speak to the nation with one voice.

In an analysis of Ad Tuendam Fidem, Nicholas Lash, a Divinity professor at Cambridge University, comments in particular on the reference in section 11 of Cardinal Ratzinger's commentary which references Apostolicae Curae on the alleged invalidity of Anglican ordinations. He suggests that if Anglicanism has lost 'most favoured nation' status at the Vatican, it is more because Roman Catholics are beginning to realise that apostolic succession is not the sole defining characteristic of the church, rather than any specific reversal of Anglican-Catholic rapprochement. He notes that the present Pope John Paul II, like Paul VI before him, has given priestly stoles to visiting Anglican clergy, and has thereby clearly exhibited that dissent from the truth which according to Ratzinger (section 6 of his commentary) means that he (the Pope) is 'no longer in communion with the Catholic Church'.

Lash continues by drawing attention to the fact that Ratzinger does not persecute those 'whose actions clearly indicate that they do not suppose Anglican bishops to be doubtfully baptised lay people', but does continue to threaten those who question whether the ordination of women to the priesthood is a closed issue. Since Ratzinger insists in section 11 on treating these two issues on a par, Lash thinks Ratzinger has left himself open to the charge of inconsistency.

Donald Reeves, the former rector of St James Piccadilly, is writing a weekly column during the Lambeth Conference for The Tablet. I will report anything interesting that he says in future weeks.

Finally, in an editorial which follows up on Fr Yarnold's article, with references to the perceived Porvoo/ARCIC inconsistencies, and to the 1988 decision to leave individual provinces free to appoint women bishops or not, The Tablet suggests that the enlargement of the Lambeth Conference to include all bishops, not merely diocesans, 'may allow the Anglican Communion to take it more seriously, as part of a journey towards a more rigorous and coherent Anglican doctrine of the Church'. The editorial continues: 'For a Church which claims to place Reason alongside Tradition and Scripture as the fundamental arbiters of the Anglican faith, this habit of logical inconsistency is surprising. ... If the Lambeth Conference needs one overriding priority in 1998, it has to be the injection of greater coherence into the affairs of the Anglican Communion. Otherwise it will become nothing more than a loose federation of Christians with a similar history.'

The Tablet also reports this week that William Oddie, a well-known former Church of England priest and controversial journalist, who crossed the Tiber some years ago over the issue of women's ordination, has been appointed editor of the Catholic Herald, another RC weekly newspaper. Clifford Longley, one of the most senior British religious journalists, writes him an open letter, expressing the hope that he will grasp the differences between the two church bodies better in the future than he has in the past.

Outside the religious press, the amount of coverage the Conference receives is likely to be limited. Although it was widely reported that the BBC was going to televise the opening service, in fact they carried only the first hour of that event, cutting away just as the Intercessions were about to begin. A major pre-conference analysis appeared last week in The Sunday Telegraph, written by Andrew Brown, award-winning former religious affairs correspondent for The Independent. Should you wish to read the original, it is in the Electronic Telegraph at this ghastly URL:

Should you have difficulty reaching that URL, you can go to The Electronic Telegraph at and click on "Search" and search for the string "Andrew Brown", capitalized thus.

Brown made a major issue of the claim that the Anglican Communion has 70 million members. 26 million of these are supposed to be in England, but it would come as a surprise to 90% of this number to learn that they had been so counted. He also broke the story that the Conference press liaison responsibility had been taken out of the hands of Anglican Communion Office staff and placed in the charge of the Church of England. 'In what looks like a last minute attempt to avert a PR disaster, the press relations for the Conference were last week taken over by two of Dr Carey's hand-picked spin doctors, Lesley Perry, who does his personal press work at Lambeth, and Bill Beaver, who is in charge of the General Synod's press relations.' Certainly the secular press reports so far have focused heavily on Bishop Spong and on sexuality issues, which is just what the conference organisers seek to avoid.

Another aspect of Lambeth discussed by Brown was the speculation that will occur about who will be Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth 2008. Last time, this centered largely around Robin Eames who is still Archbishop of Armagh despite the efforts of his then press secretary. This time, he says, it will likely focus on Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, whom Brown describes as 'an idiosyncratic conservative, as far out of tune with the predominant temper of modern Anglicanism as can be imagined, but clever and commanding.'

But, as Brown concludes, despite all the problems that the press will delight in reporting it is wrong to suppose that the conference will be a failure, at least from the perspective of the 735 bishops and 630 spouses attending. (These figures are from the latest official press release, although Archbishop Carey when interviewed by the BBC on Saturday said that 800 bishops and 600 spouses were attending). Three intensive weeks living in close community with all those other bishops (and spouses!) has got to be an interesting experience for them.

Copyright © 98 Society of Archbishop Justus.
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