The National Catholic Review

Paul Elie’s superb Atlantic Monthly essay on the Archbishop of Canterbury includes an anecdote about Dr Williams joking that he should have worn a T-shirt with the words GRAVELY DEFICIENT on it to visit the then head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal Ratzinger.
 
Because I gave Paul the anecdote, I hope he won’t mind me slightly correcting it. Dr Williams said it not after visiting Cardinal Ratzinger under John Paul II, but after returning from a delegation of religious leaders who greeted Pope Benedict XVI the day after his inauguration Mass in 2005. Same man, different occasion.
 
Dr Williams and the Anglican delegation were staying at the English College in Rome, the guests of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor for whom I was then working. I waved off the posse of Anglican bishops and their advisors that morning and greeted them when they came back five hours later. They had left in a buoyant mood to greet the new Pope, but returned visibly furious.
 
That’s when Dr Williams joked  -- it was a sardonic joke, said through gritted teeth -- that he thought he should have worn a T-shirt bearing the words "GRAVELY DEFICIENT". The words had been used in Card. Ratzinger’s bombshell 2000 document Dominus Iesus  to describe non-Christian faiths. The Churches of the Reformation had been described in a note attached to the document as "ecclesial communities", because, unlike the Orthodox --  described as "true particular churches" --  they were not "churches in the proper sense".
 
In 2005, the delegation of Christian leaders to greet the new Pope had been split into two categories: the "Orthodox Churches" on the one hand, and the "ecclesial communities of the west" on the other, with whom the Anglicans had been lumped. This was consistent with Dominus Iesus, and for the Anglicans a serious snub: it meant that Rome’s official view of Anglicanism was that it did not have valid bishops or Eucharist. Over lunch I spoke to various members of the delegation, and each said the same: that it had been disappointing, insulting and hurtful to them to be lumped in with Protestant churches which lack sacraments and clergy.
 
That moment brought home to me just how much pain has been felt by Anglicans over the years at Rome’s dismissal of their claims to be Catholic. In Apostolicae Curae (1896) Pope Leo XIII had described Anglican orders as "absolutely null and utterly void"; over 100 years later, Pope Benedict appeared to repeating the same snub, made all the more hurtful now because of the strides towards unity made in the previous decades by Rome and Canterbury through the ARCIC process.
 
In his article Elie puts forward the suggestive idea that it was "theology like this" - Dominus Iesus, and presumably that of the CDF’s earlier characterisation of homosexual tendencies as "intrinsically disordered" -- "that led many Anglicans and Episcopalians to conclude that the ordination of openly gay people as bishops was not only permissible, but full of grace".
 
If this is true, it reinforces the impression I garnered from the Anglican delegation’s reaction in 2005: that Anglicans care very deeply about what Rome thinks, and can be led to adopt certain positions precisely because they are not Rome’s -- if what they hear from Rome is language of violence and rejection. The more extreme liberal positions adopted by the US Episcopalians, in this view, are not ignoring Rome so much as reacting against it. 
 
This deference is not just confined to more Catholic-minded Anglicans. Nicky Gumbel, founder of the hugely successful Alpha Course , and firmly in the evangelical wing of Anglicanism, once told me of a visit he had made to Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF. He said he was "incredibly nervous" beforehand, and his heart missed a few beats when the German inquisitor told him they had "a file this big" on the Alpha Course.
 
Cardinal Ratzinger then beamed: "And it is ALL positive!"
 
His thumbs-up made Gumbel as happy as the reception of the Anglican delegation by the same man as Pope had made Dr Williams furious.
 
What Rome says matters -- and sometimes it matters more to those not in communion with it than those who are.

Comments

Anonymous | 4/2/2009 - 2:10am
So was Cardinal Ratzinger being truthful or untruthful? If he was being truthful, how was this courteous and gentle man failing in charity? Is it charitable to lie so that everyone feels comfortable? How much sugar do you have to pile on the truth before it is palatable? I'm glad I jumped out of the Anglican boat and into the Barque of Peter.
Anonymous | 2/24/2009 - 4:38pm
My Lord of Canterbury should read Cardinal Newman's ANGLICAN DIFFICULTIES.
Anonymous | 2/23/2009 - 9:17pm
Thank you, interesting information. Sir Thomas More seems to have lost his head over this issue too. As long as these guys/gals declare the King of England to be Head of the Church, then they are in a different ballpark. They can call it a church, but must we? Is your beef over so-called lack of charity or too much truth? Why are they in a huff? Why are you in a huff?
Anonymous | 2/23/2009 - 8:21pm
Who cares if they were angry? The reason why their orders and Eucharists are invalid isthe extermination of the legitimate Catholic bishops of England during the English Reformation. Has Centaur++ ever offered an apology for that? Has he ever looked upon the misdeeds of the Anglicans of the 16th century the same way the Catholic Church has had to face the sins of Her members during the Holocaust? This reminds me of the Melendez twins who murdered their parents and then pleaded for clemency from the court because they were orphans.