Monday, June 19, 2006

Well that’s gone and done it—a woman primate for the Episcopal Church in the USA…

Yes, within weeks of the “pull-no-punches” address of Cardinal Kasper to the House of Bishops of the Church of England warning of the ecumenical fallout should the C of E decide to ordain women as bishops, the Episcopal Church in the USA (the US province of the Anglican Communion) has gone and elected a female bishop as their next “presiding bishop” (ie. “primate”). The next meeting at Lambeth Palace will be interesting!

If you haven’t read Kasper’s address, now is the time to do it. If you are one of those “hopefuls” who thinks the Catholic Church will ever admit women to the sacrament of Holy Orders, this speech is a bucket of cold water in the face. It’s not that the Cardinal is being uncharitable to our Anglican brothers and sisters—far from it. He doesn’t point to the pontifications of the Catholic Church on the matter of the ministry bishops, but to the agreed statements that already exist between the Catholic and Anglican Churches and to the Anglican’s own documents, such as the Windsor Report. He insists that Rome will never pull the plug on dialogue. It’s just that if the Church of England goes ahead with the plan to ordain women bishops, any future hope of “full, visible unity” (which continues to be the rather quaint approach to ecumenism that we Romanists take) is simply shot out of the water.

Now is perhaps the time to say to any ecclesial communion out there who has only just come to the point of thinking that the ordination of women might be a pretty nifty idea to take a deep breath and ask “Is the sinking of the Ecumenical Movement worth an ordination?” (Lutherans in Australia: Are you paying attention?). Non-episcopal churches which have not yet gone down the road of ordaining women to the presbytery have not irrevocably cut themselves off from future rapprochement with Rome for the clear reason that the orders of male ministers are always open to validation. The orders of female ministers and bishops are not.

Remember too that Rome ain't going there, and neither is the Orthodox Church (not in a blue fit—you have to have rocks in your head to think otherwise). In fact, although the Church of England may have "favoured dialogue partner" status in the West, this doesn't even begin to compare with the favoured position that the Orthodox have in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

So it seems as if it has come down to a clear decision. On the one hand, you can ordain women to holy orders and proclaim yourself to be 100% the heirs of the Protestant Reformation. On the other hand, you can say: I'm with the oikumene! I'm for the unity of the Church! And proceed accordingly...

It is interesting to note the Tablet editorial on Cardinal Kasper’s address, which draws connections between female bishops and actively/openly homosexual bishops. The interesting point is that although the latter is a divisive moral scandal, the ordination of an homosexual bishop would not per se annul the apostolic succession. Presuming that the bishop in question was validly ordained as a bishop, any priests he ordained or bishops he co-ordained would be validly ordained on the ancient principle (worked out during the Donatist controversy) that the personal wickedness of the priest does not invalidate the sacrament. The ordination of a female bishop, on the other hand, would represent a decisive break in the succession (presuming those who ordained her were themselves validly ordained), since she is not a valid recipient of the sacrament. She could not, therefore, validly confer orders on anyone else.

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