How Women Bishops Affect Anglican-Catholic Dialogue

Interview With Secretary of Vatican’s Unity Council

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By Inma Álvarez
ROME, JULY 15, 2010 ( After a bitter vote, the Church of England decided Monday that women can be consecrated as bishops. But the secretary of the Vatican’s unity council says ecumenical dialogue will continue as before.
The synodal decision must be put to a referendum within a year by another similar synod; nevertheless it is a vote that marks an important point within the history of the Church of England.
The vote was noteworthy in another regard: a conciliatory amendment proposed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, was rejected.

Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told ZENIT that the Anglican decision does represent an «enormous obstacle.» Nevertheless, he said, the effects of this vote must be kept in a proper perspective.

ZENIT: The Anglican synod of York approved the ordination of women bishops, a decision that is being imposed gradually in the whole Anglican Communion, against the conviction of the so-called traditionalist communities. This decision can be considered firm, although the final vote will not take place until 2012. Can this decision still change, or can one expect that it will be definitive?
Bishop Farrell: The synod just held in York is the synod of the Church of England and it has no authority outside of England, not even in Wales or Scotland. The Anglican Communion is made up of 38 independent provinces, of which England is one. Several provinces already have women bishops. The synod introduced legislation that would allow this in the Church of England. Undoubtedly the process will continue, because the majority wants this.
ZENIT: One of the great «defeats» of this synod was the rejection of the compromise proposed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York. After the vote, many analysts considered the communion between Anglicans broken. Is this so?
Bishop Farrell: The situation is very complex and even paradoxical. If the compromise had been accepted, one would be faced with a situation in which, for example, a parish or a group could reject the authority of a woman diocesan bishop and place itself under the authority of another male bishop. Thus, that parish would not be in communion with the other parishes of its diocese. In a certain way it would be a structural schism, even if it isn’t called that.
Now at this moment, that way of proceeding isn’t possible, and the parish only has the option to stay in communion with its own bishop or leave the Church of England. Speaking specifically, that would occasion the loss of members, but not a schism within the Church of England.
ZENIT: In previous meetings, the Vatican warned that the decision to consecrate women bishops would compromise ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church. What is the present situation of this dialogue, in the wake of the synod’s decision?
Bishop Farrell: All the Churches of the first millennium, Catholic, Eastern and Orthodox, state that only men can be ordained. These Churches see the ordination of women as an illegitimate abandonment of authentic Tradition.
In regard to ecumenical dialogue, as was said earlier, some Anglican provinces have had women bishops for some time, and the dialogue has gone ahead.
Naturally, the dialogue must take account of this situation, and recognize that an enormous obstacle has been created for attaining the objective of the dialogue itself, which would be total and visible ecclesial communion. The Catholic-Anglican dialogue will continue within these parameters.
ZENIT: Several accounts point to the possibility that traditionalist groups will take recourse to «Anglicanorum Coetibus» and enter into communion with the Catholic Church. There has even been news about a group of Anglican priests who were in contact with a Catholic bishop. Is such a movement foreseeable?
Bishop Farrell: The concrete outcome of what is outlined in «Anglicanorum Coetibus» remains to be seen. Anyone who professes the Catholic faith and has no impediment can ask to enter into Catholic communion. Anglicans and former Anglicans can enter into this communion through a jurisdiction that allows the preservation of some elements of the Anglican tradition. As they can also ask, simply, to be received in the local Catholic parish.
A particular problem of discernment arises when it is a question of groups. Not all groups have the same «ecclesial consistency.» In the end, it is up to the episcopal conference of a country or region to study well what can and what must be done. I cannot tell if there will be many or few. What we should remember is that what some call «traditionalist Anglicans» usually are of the evangelical part of the Anglican Communion — hence, far from the Catholic Church in their ecclesiological convictions.
ZENIT: Finally, with what feelings does the Holy See, and in particular the dicastery for Christian unity, receive the decision of the synod of York?
Bishop Farrell: Everything should be seen in its proper perspective. It saddens us that on this point the Anglican Communion has left what we consider the essential Tradition of the Church since its beginning. But the process began a long time ago.

We will continue the ecumenical dialogue with a realism that accepts things as they are and is aware that the road ahead is long and arduous. Knowing, however, that dialogue is a task imposed by Christ himself and sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, soul of the Church of Christ.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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