Charterhouse Chronicle by Gerard Noel
OY is reportedly unbounded in some Vatican circles over the Church of England Synod's decision to pave the way for the ordination of women. It is, in such circles, a perfect excuse to discontinue an ecumenical dialogue which had, for them, long been a virtual charade.
It is ironical, however, that the former Catholic charge that Anglican orders were, in any event, "absolutely null and utterly void" has not, for many years, been given prominence in Catholic pronouncements. Has the charge been tacitly dropped? Or have the repeated assertions by Popes and others about the meaningfulness of AnglicanCatholic ecumenical discussion been, indeed, a complete charade after all?
We can't have it both ways; but of course we want to. People always do. Has the Synod vote, then, conjured up a supreme moment of truth not only for English Anglicans but also, perhaps even more intensively. for Catholics as well?
Let us pause to remember what happened in England just a hundred years ago when English Catholics were being led to believe that members of the Church of England would shortly be queueing up to seek admission into the Roman and "one true Church". It was in 1892 that Herbert, a formidable member of the old Cath.olic family of Vaughan, became Archbishop of Westminster, being made a Cardinal the following year. Discussions were going on in that very year about the question of Anglican orders and Catholic views thereon.
The leading English AngloCatholic of the day was Lord Halifax, later to collaborate with Cardinal Mecirer in the famous Malines Conversations. His close friend, Fernand Portal, championed the Anglican claims and enlisted the sympathetic interest of some eminent Catholic ecclesiastics.
Unfortunately, however, Cardinal Vaughan, less sensitive to Anglican feelings than was Cardinal Hume last week, became convinced that attack would be a better strategy than conciliation. If, he reasoned, the Catholicminded wing of the Church of England received a sufficient shock (as some suppose the recent Synod vote to have been) disaffected Anglicans would pour into the Catholic fold.
He accordingly involved himself actively in subsequent plans (some might say plots) being hatched in Rome. The anglophile Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Merry del Val, after much prompting from Vaughan's emissaries, drafted a mighty document which later became famous as the Papal Bull Apostolicae Curae.
The bull, declaring Anglican orders to be null and void, was signed by Pope Len XIII in 1896. But the expected mass exodus from the Church of England never occurred. Cardinal Vaughan died in 1903, a disappointed man.
IN such grave matters, the Vatican normally moves slowly. Not so last week. Within an hour of the announcement of the Synod vote, Rome, without waiting for reactions or comments from leading Anglicans (or, for that matter, Catholics) issued the Olympian pronouncement that the decision had set up "a new and grave obstacle to reconciliation
between Anglican and Catholics".
This pronouncement, indeed, had been carefully prepared in advance and was ready for instant release when, and if, news of a pro-women vote was announced. Any question of reasoned and reflective comment by English Anglicans and their Catholic friends was thus neatly preempted by Rome.
The fact that Anglican women priests already exist in this country (that is, in the United Kingdom) has meanwhile, been conveniently forgotten. For women have already been ordained priest in the Church of Ireland, whose jurisdiction extends to Northern Ireland. What, moreover, of the women priests in the (Roman) Catholic Church? There is still much mystery about this. The story, involving Czechoslovakia, is rather complicated.
When communist persecution in that country was at its worst, all communication was lost between the local Church and Rome. The Church on the spot thus decided, in order to meet the challenge of virtually no clergy for its parishes, to ordain a number of married men and two women. This was not an act of defiance against Rome. Rather was the ordination of such married men (and the two women) a necessary device to persuade the authorities that such priests were ordinary citizens going about their normal life.
The full story has yet to come out. But the initial reactions from Rome were "Vaticanesque" in the extreme. The "solution" which immediately commended itself to the Congregation for the clergy was ("safely") to transfer the married priest to the Eastern (Uniate) Catholic Rite which permits married clergy.
But what about the women priests? The solution to this problem was even more ruthlessly simple. It was declared that women cannot be validly ordained. Therefore no women priests in fact existed.
They were, in other words, abolished by a stroke of the pen.
It will. of course, take more than a stroke of the pen to "abolish" the impasse that has ROW apparently arisen ecumenically over the Synod's decision to advance toward the priesting of women. Rome. of course, under a new Pope, could change its mind. But it might, as in the case of Galileo, take a century or two.
By the time, in fact, if ever, Rome officially allows women to celebrate Mass, it may have to revert to the medievally inspired custom of positioning the priest to face away from the congregation. Time will show.