Page 4, 26th February 1999

26th February 1999
Page 4
Page 4, 26th February 1999 — The strange case of an ecumenism that would not die

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The strange case of an ecumenism that would not die

William Oddie talked to

Archbishop Carey about the current state of theAnglican dialogue with Rome

THE LAST TIME I had spoken to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey; was to lob an awkward question in his direction at the Press conference which took place — in an atmosphere of confusion, and in some quarters panic — immediately following the historic decision in November 1991 to ordain women to the Anglican priesthood. The same evening, the Pope issued a strong condemnation of the decision and said that it would place a "grave obstacle" in the way of convergence between Rome and Canterbury. One wit commented that that meant the process would continue over the Pope's dead body.

But last week, Dr Carey returned from Rome with news that seemed to suggest that the obstacle might have been, if not removed, at least set aside for the time being: there is to be a major conference, to take place in Canada, of the Primates of all the Anglican national Churches together with the Chairmen of the relevant Catholic Bishops' conferences. I began by asking Dr Carey about where the relationship between the two Churches now finds itself.

ODDIE: I wonder if we could begin with the plans for the conference next year. This might be thought a surprising development given the fact that nearly everybody had written off the whole ARCIC process after women's ordination. Do you agree with Bishop Mark Santer's somewhat startling remark that women's ordination has actually brought the two churches closer together rather than further apart?

DR CAREY: William, there is a number of things there. First of all, when we decided to ordain women to the priesthood, one of the things that Cardinal Hume and I were very concerned about was that, even though that was damaging to ecumenism, we

felt both Churches were so committed to each other and to the ultimate goal of visible unity that we had to minimise the damage, and so we set up a pastoral committee to talk about the tensions that arise when people are moving from one Church to another. So, in a remarkable way it did draw us closely together at a point of potentially enormous conflict. Also, when I went to Rome to see the Pope, in December '96, there was no doubt on his part that Ut Unum Sint declared where he stood, regrettable though what had happened might be in his eyes. Both he and I are unwavering in how we see the ultimate goal. So that is still there as a throbbing commitment.

Then, at the Malines Conference in August 1996, I met up with Cardinal Cassidy and we talked about what more we could do. The question was, as ARCIC II was coming to an end, whether or not we should close down the whole theological dialogue, and both he and I felt, no, we can't do that. We had reached substantial agreement on Eucharist and ministry, convergence on salvation and the Church, we had dealt with the Reforma tion issue of justification by faith, and the final report on the Gift of Authority is coming out very shortly. All this indicates that the theological dialogue is important_ But I put it to him and he fully agreed, that we have left the Bishops behind. The theologians have been at work on this, and the rest of the Church has been left behind, so we have got to catch up. And so he and I said, well, why don't we have an international gathering

when we can gather key bishops and say, right, this is not just for theologians, it is for the shepherds of the Church. We have got to own it, review the process, maybe appoint a new ARCIC III. and see where we go from here. So I

see the Toronto meeting as an opportunity over a period of about a week, to have an unstructured agenda, to get the Bishops owning this. We may go back over the four or five documents to ask where we have got to, and to what degree we agree with all this. Where are we now? And where do we go from there?

ODDIE: What do you see as the issues that are going to emerge in Canada? Although, at the level of personal relationships this may well have brought about an increased determination not to be pulled apart, there are really hard issues now. The whole question of the validity of orders will become even more problematical now after women's ordination. The Pope has made it quite clear that he has gone as far as he can to making an infallible statement without actually doing it, that an all male priesthood is part of a kind of central core of Catholic belief about holy orders, so the notion that some people had, that we'll wait until the next Pope comes along and this problem will disappear, does seem to be pretty well excluded.

There is also the associated issue of intercommunion, which is a kind of running exacerbation of the problem, and I wonder if I could ask you to say something about that. Whenever an Anglican bishop says he feels it is wrong that Anglicans can't receive communion at a Catholic altar, I get a strong reaction from many readers, who say "don't they understand us? Don't they understand that this is offensive?" There is clearly a real difference of perspective here, isn't there?

DR CAREY: Right. Let's examine that. I mean, there may or may not be. Those who are theologically trained know that both Churches have a high regard for the Sacrament, and the Eucharist is central to our understanding of what a Church is. When I gave the speech in Luxembourg in which I referred to this and made those statements it was very carefully couched, recognising where the Catholic Bishops are. One Bread, One Body is a marvellous exposition of the theology which to a large degree I can share... the way in which one's understanding of the Eucharist also shapes one's

understanding of the Church itself. So, I can understand that.

Part of the problem is recognising the Grace of God in one another, and this is why I have been emphasising generosity of spirit. We have to recognise where Churches are on these issues, but also recognise we are on a journey. The Second Vatican Council's idea of a pilgrim Church growing, learning, is something that resonates with all Christians. So we are on a journey together. but we must challenge exclusivism in one another, and find ways in which we recognise God's Grace in each other. Part of the problem of intercommunion (I believe, William, that the problem is not going to go away, in fact if anything it is going to become more and more of a problem as we grow closer together), is that ordinary Christians are going to ask the question, "but why can't we share?" You see, our Canons say we welcome to our altar Trinitarian Christians, and that is where we stand, so we can't really back away from where we are, any more than the Roman Catholic Church can back away from where she is.

But we have to recognise the integrity of another Church. I have never taken communion in a Roman Catholic Church even when I was a young priest studying in Rome, as a student at the Anglican Centre. It is very tempting, you know. But I would always say to people, maintain this discipline. I don't know if I have answered the question?

ODDIE: To some extent. I think, however, that the feeling is that we are being pushed a little too hard on this. I think many Catholics would say that if all Anglicans believed what AngloCatholics believe about the Eucharist, there might not be so much difficulty. But if a Church believes, in the full sense that Catholics believe it, that bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ, it cannot give the sacrament to a member of another church with less defined views, say, to a conservative evangelical who simply believes the sacrament to be symbolic and who, when he finishes his own Eucharist, will throw out the left-over bread to the birds, which for us would be a blasphemy.

DR CAREY: Yes, it would be for me too. I mean, I have no time for that. And I don't know, I would imagine there are very, very few parishes like that.

ODDIE: I think there are more than that.

DR CAREY: Well, there may be, but let me challenge the central matter there. You see, I actually don't think the issue is about what individual Christians believe, it is what the Church believes that is

the important thing. You will find Roman Catholics who may have an idolatrous view of the Sacraments, and Anglicans too. So, it is what the Church believes that matters.

ODDIE: What would be idolatrous, do you think?

DR CAREY: Well, someone might say that this is the only way that God can reveal himself to us. That Grace only comes in this kind of way. We would say, this extreme — like all extremes — is wrong and incomplete. Because there is a symbolism that is true but inadequate, and there is a real presence which if it is just exclusive, is in itself inadequate because God's sacramental moments are manifestly varied. I think that the final ARCIC report Eucharistic Doctrine has brought us very close together. I would say that if we can agree with that theology, then there is a common understanding which offers a rich way forward.

ODDIE: That is a very Catholic perspective: that what counts is what the Church says rather than what individuals believe.

DR CAREY: Yes, and actually it is a very "39 Articles position". Do you remember that it says, reminding you of your non-Catholic days, that "my" understanding of the Sacrament doesn't affect the efficacy of the Sacrament. The validity and efficacy is what God has declared about the Sacrament, not what I believe. That is good Catholic theology, yes.

ODDIE: How much do you think this is going to be an issue next year in Canada?

DR CAREY: Well, I don't know, because the agenda has not yet been agreed. Cardinal Cassidy and I are very clear. We don't want too tight an agenda. We want the Bishops on both sides to be able to reflect, to come up with the unusual; to see where we go from here. So, intercommunion may be on the agenda. It may not be on the agenda. I don't intend to press it. I think, actually, the Roman Catholic Bishops' Statement in a sense closes the matter as far as the United Kingdom is concerned.

ODDIE: Can we talk about another ecumenical issue: the Millennium? Cardinal Hume seems to have a campaign to get the Millennium to start off with a prayer by you. Does this reflect something that you yourself feel, that the birthday of our Lord has really been hijacked by the post-Christians and that it is time we got ourselves back into it?

DR CAREY: Can I preface my remarks by saying that I have the highest regard for Cardinal Hume? We get on extremely well. You may remember a couple of weeks

ago, there was a bit of a nonsense, but in fact I want to say we have always got on well...

ODDIE: He was very annoyed about it.

DR CAREY' Yes, he was. It was a very unworthy saying to attribute to him. Because he would never think ill of another person. So, we get on extremely well, and we are both completely convinced that the Millennium has no value if it is not anchored in incarnation, and it will be

just a wonder ful, glorious, but essentially factless ceremony and anniversary unless it is connected with the birth of Jesus Christ. We have appointed officers who have done a wonderful job in making sure that in the Spirit Zone, there will be a strong Christian content, so in fact we haven't lost the war on this at all.

It is true that Cardinal Hume has been making a bit of a campaign about this. I am grateful to him. In one sense, it doesn't matter who leads prayers for the nation as long as someone does, and I want to say very clearly that unless there is some Christian component in that celebration I won't be there in the celebration, and certainly he won't be there. We have yet to find out from NMEC [the National Millennium Experience Company] what it intends to do. Now, if we are invited and if there is going to be a significant moment of silence, saying the Lord's prayer together, perhaps one or two prayers, it will be worthwhile doing that. If we cannot be guaranteed that, we will be in our Churches.

ODDIE: The Dome isn't the Millennium...

DR CAREY: The Dome is not the Millennium. It is just one nation's expression of celebration. And...

ODDIE: For some people.

DR CAREY: For some people. Well, they are saying that something like one eighth of the population will go at some point during the year. But where we are putting our

energies is in what happens in our parish churches in the regions, in our communities, and the "New Start", a new start with God, new start at home, new start with the world's poor. All that is going to be very significant. 1 know the Catholic Church is majoring on renewal for parish life, and other Churches will be doing similar things.

ODDIE: One of the Pope's great concerns is to make the Millennium a Jubilee in the

Old Testament sense of the remission of debt. Do you see the remission of Third World debt as something that is simply not being addressed seriously?

DR CAREY: I do, and indeed both Cardinal Hume and I have spent a lot of time on this issue. And you will remember, out of the Lambeth Conference came a great statement about the issue of unpayable debt. We believe it is a moral issue. We identify with the Pope in that. Of course there are economic issues around that which are very difficult. But what we have to be aware of is that the burden of unpayable debt is not theoretical. It bears down on the very poor, and when 1.3 billion people are living on under $1 a day, there is a moral scandal that affects all of us. So I feel we must get behind the Jubilee.

ODDIE: Isn't the remission of unpayable debt good economics? Germany's enormous war debt in 1945 was so huge that it was realised that they would never make a success of their economy with that around their necks, so over half of it was forgiven.

DR CAREY: You are absolutely right about that. And the relief of Germany's unpayable debt — 1953 was the date — led to its economic recovery, to the German economic miracle. The same thing could happen in other countries. What are we going to do in Cologne in May when the G8 leaders meet? We had a very successful campaign last May in Birmingham, and it will be wonderful if we could actually remind Christians to pray for that, and if German Christians co-operate.

ODDIE: I wonder if you would say something about tensions in the world particularly in certain countries — between Islam and Christianity. You yourself are well acquainted with the situation in the Sudan.

DR CAREY: This takes us into the second great initiative that I think is exciting, and I hope your readers will find it exciting. It has really come out of all the conversations I've had

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