Peter Hebblethwaite examines the reasons behind Dr George Carey's attack against Humanae Vitae and reflects on whether the criticisms mark the dawn of a new era in Catholic-Anglican relations
HOW can one explain the Archbishop'of Canterbury's antiHumanae Vitae blast just before his visit to Pope John Paul II? At first blush it seemed tactless and inept. But there is a background that helps make some sense of it.
It does not mean, first of all, that Dr Carey has despaired of better Catholic-Anglican relations. They are still on the agenda. The proof is that on May 6 he launched a $1.5 million appeal on behalf of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Its purpose is to make Rome better known to the Anglicans, and the Anglicans better known to Rome.
The visit to Pope John Paul 11 was private and unofficial: the Archbishop of Canterbury could hardly go to Italy without meeting the Primate of Italy (one of the Pope's many titles.) The "Official Response to the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC)" last December was a great blow to Dr Carey at it was to many ecumenically-minded Catholics as well. What was really hurtful was the failure to comprehend the method of ARCIC.
ARCIC tried to get behind the sterile Maginot Line of 16th century controversies in order to state what faith means for Catholics and Anglicans today. It was a matter of comparing our living faith today, not comparing yet again the Council of Trent and the Thirty-nine Articles.
Yet that is what the "Official Response" did. Instead of asking whether the ARCIC agreements on Eucharist, Ministry and Authority were consonant with Catholic faith, it asked whether they were in complete agreement with the way it was traditionally expressed.
The statement about Humanae Vitae was another stab at Anglican independence. Again, recall the context. The reason Dr Carey was jet-lagged when he launched the appeal for the Anglican Centre was that he had just returned from the United Nations in New York.
There he learned that what he saw as a "cabal" of Catholic countries, mostly in Latin America, marshalled by the Vatican, had succeeded in removing "population policy " (that is birth control) from the agenda of the Rio conference on June 3-14. It was to be concerned with the global environment and nothing else.
Dr Carey was right about the Catholic pressure on the conference. The head of the Vatican delegation, Archbishop Renato Raffaele Martino, openly boasted about it. Thanks to the existence of Vatican City as a miniscule though sovereign state, the Holy See has the right to attend the UN conferences. No other Church has such privileged access. That is enough to make them feel excluded and indignant.
So Dr Carey says he "doesn't understand Humanae Vitae". Though a perfectly true statement, what he really means is he doesn't agree with it. Archbishop Martino has made it perfectly clear that Humanae Vitae does not mean that Catholics should have as many children as possible or that every act of intercourse should lead to conception. Nor does it mean that love does not have the primacy.
It says that "openness to procreation" should not be artificially cut off. The encyclical establishes an objective moral order in which human persons fulfil themselves or fail to do so.
The charitable explanation for Dr Carey's misunderstanding of Humanae Vitae is that he has been misled about how Catholics arrive at moral judgements. he thinks that the evidence of Catholic dissent from Humanae Vitae means that it should be scrapped.
But even conscientious dissenters do not dispute the right of the Church to pronounce on sexual matters. It is not true that anything goes in human sexuality provided there is love. There is an objective moral order in which humdn persons fulfil themselves or fail to do so. The Church does not make an act wrong by condemning it. It "condemns" what is wrong.
The value of the "unofficial" meeting With the Pope was to demonstrate that the next meeting will have to be prepared with the help of ARCIC theologians who understand what is at stake.
Megaphone or headline ecumenism made up on the spur of the moment can only lead to a dead end. That would be a pity, because it does not reflect the situation on the ground.
There is another way. Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. the Catholic co-president of ARCIC II, said after the disappointment of the "Official Response" referring to the three reports on Eucharist, Ministry and Authority: "These documents are, as it were, a reservoir or bank which the Church will use in time to come as the basis for doctrinal agreements that can be faithfully adhered to and accepted by Catholics and Anglicans as expressing a common faith and thus, eventually, acommon eucharistic fellowship." (Priests and People, January 1992, p 3).
The whole package is an investment for the future. The metaphor only works if the water in the reservoir is pure and the investments in the bank solid.
But then a new possibility emerges. 1996 marks the centenary of the bull Apostolicae Curae which declared Anglican orders "absolutely null and utterly void". If nothing else, the Eucharist means that the question of the validity of Anglican orders must now be approached in a new light. Dr Carey's outburst does not help this re-examination. It is best seen, not as an Anglican statement but as part of a personal learning experience.