by Martin Newland THE consecration of Rev Barbara Harris as the Anglican Communion's first woman bishop represents "a new obstacle to the reconciliation of ministries of Catholics and Anglicans" warned Bishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Catholic Co-Chairman of the second Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II) this week.
"Rev Harris' consecration last weekend is a severe blow to the work done by ARCIC 1 on the reconciliation of ministries," said Bishop Murphy O'Connor. "The fact of the matter is that one of the signs of the Church of Jesus Christ is unity. Anything that causes disunity has negative elements in it. Unity and truth are necessarily co-existent".
ARCIC 1 provided the basis for the mutual recognition of Catholics and Anglican orders, but the question of women being admitted to Holy Orders was not a consideration at the time said the bishop. "This means that ARCIC has taken a step backwards".
"Of course ARCIC I provided a new context in which we can look at Apostolicae curae (the 1896 papal Bull which declared Anglican orders 'absolutely null and utterly void')", said Dr Mary Tanner, Anglican member of ARCIC II and of a special Commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury to maintain unity in the Anglican
Communion over the issue of women bishops. "The context still remains, however, despite Rev Harris' consecration. The unity we are seeking is the unity of the Kingdom, in which both men and women share. The unity of the Anglican Communion itself is therefore restricted — one hopes temporarily — but not destroyed".
Speaking on BBC2 's Newsnight last week Cardinal Hume said that he was "very sad" at the disunity caused by Rev Harris' consecration. He also drew attention to a letter sent by the Pope to the Archbishop of Canterbury warning of the "significant obstacle" such an event would present to harmony between Anglicans and Catholics.
Observers say the Rev Harris' installation as Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts provides a precedent that will soon be turned to the advantage of the Canadian and New Zealand Provinces of the Anglican Communion who are ready to begin processing women candidates for the episcopate.