Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, faces an almost impossible challenge. Last week in Tanzania, a gathering of three dozen Anglican bishops rebuked their American branch, the Episcopal Church, for supporting gay clergy; consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living with a partner; and blessing same-sex unions. Conservative American bishops joined with several African bishops to affirm a traditional Scripture-based understanding of homosexuality, an issue that now threatens to rend the fabric of the Anglican Communion. After announcing the formation of a council of bishops to provide oversight to the Episcopal Church, Archbishop Williams said the stopgap “falls short of resolving all the disputes.” The threat of schism has not yet been averted.
Friends of the Episcopal Church are watching this drama closely, as the influential American denomination, which numbers 2.3 million, struggles to balance competing needs: respect for its gay and lesbian members, continuity in its moral tradition, the need to listen to the voice of their brothers and sisters in other cultures and the desire for unity with a worldwide church.
Rome is watching, too. The Vatican desires unity with the Anglican Communion, as evidenced by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Dialogue, as well as formal statements like Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995). But the Vatican’s views on homosexuality are just as strong as its views on unity. In 2003 Pope John Paul II told Archbishop Williams that the advancement of gay clergy would present “new and serious difficulties” for eventual union. It appears that both churches will have to grapple with the interrelated issues of unity and sexual morality for some time to come.Having to Say You’re Sorry
American society today seems fixated on the public admission of guilt or failure. Perhaps that’s because it is so infrequently given. Presidents, celebrities and churchmen have made an art of signaling remorse without offering a straightforward apology or, obversely, apologizing without showing any sign of remorse. “If anyone was offended by what I did, let me apologize.” Huh? Worse still is the case of the current administration, which refuses to admit any mistakes whatsoever, going even to the Orwellian extreme of radically recasting past comments so as to argue that there is in fact nothing to apologize for.
In recent weeks journalists and politicians have been debating whether Senator Hillary Clinton should apologize for her 2002 vote authorizing the president to go to war. Given everything else going on these days, it is hard to call it a very important story. Really, who could have imagined that in so authorizing the president, he would wield that authority like a teenager with a credit card? Who would have guessed four years ago that the “incontrovertible” evidence by which he made his case to Congress and the country would prove less fact than fantasy?
Ultimately what Senator Clinton (and everyone else) should be held responsible for are the positions they have taken since then, in light of what they have learned. It took John Edwards a second run at the presidency to announce he had made a mistake; and while Senator Clinton’s record has many merits, her sometime hawkishness over the last four years begs for explanation as well.Did You Know?
According to the Official Catholic Directory for 2006, there are now more than 69 million American Catholics. In so vast a congregation, some small but valuable enterprises may go relatively unnoticed. One of these is CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which was founded in 1964 as a response to the Second Vatican Council’s recommendation that pastoral care make use not only of theological principles but also of the investigations of secular sciences, especially psychology and sociology.
The center is affiliated with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and its six full-time staff members have university faculty appointments. It is supported, however, by the research projects it undertakes for a diverse clientele—dioceses, parishes and other church agencies. It also publishes four times a year The CARA Report, which briefly summarizes data gathered from various studies.
The latest report, for instance, for Winter 2007, includes the following items among others. In the new U.S. Congress, Roman Catholics (at 154) remain the largest single faith group. A survey conducted by the Catholic Network of Volunteer Services found two years ago that more than 10,000 lay missionaries were serving in the United States and overseas. A Duke University researcher has concluded that young, white, non-Hispanic U.S. Catholics have been very mobile in moving up the wealth distribution ladder in recent decades. It is also noted that from 1990 to 2005 the number of diocesan priests living alone increased from 29 percent to 49 percent. Not all these findings are encouraging, but they are all instructive.