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Do the Anglicans need a Pope?

Do the Anglicans need a Pope?

By Geoffrey Kirk

The question of what, if anything holds together the Anglican Communion
has recently become a painfully immediate one,' writes Rowan Williams,
Archbishop of Canterbury in a new book 'Anglican Identities', a excerpt
from which recently appeared in The Times. Dr Williams is joining a
brave and distinguished company, from Garbett through Neil to Sykes, who
have tried to make sense of a protean phenomenon.

The Times, unaccountably, gave the Williams excerpts the title 'Do the
Anglicans need a Pope?' - a question the archbishop, understandably,
does not ask. Dr Williams's own chosen title gives more of a clue to the
contents. He is in search, not of an Anglican identity, but of 'Anglican
Identities'. They are by no means the same thing.

An Anglican identity, if it could be tracked down, would describe the
characteristics of a world-wide church with clear doctrinal parameters.
Having described a core of what were, indisputably, 'Anglican
Activities', it would then be possible to determine what were, in
consequence 'Un-Anglican Activities'.

That is not the Williams way. His prose style (one of elegant and
scholarly opacity), and his personality (one of studied ambiguity and
charming contradiction) make him the quintessential Anglican. He does
not see the need for an Anglican identity. Like Anglicanism itself, he
is a living contradiction. He incarnates what our ecumenical partners
find difficult to get on with

Though he has probably come to regret it, his statement announcing the
withdrawal of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading claimed that to appoint
as a bishop one whose ministry many people both in the diocese and the
wider church would be unable to receive, contradicted the role of the
bishop as a focus of unity. And yet he remains as committed as ever to
the consecration of women as bishops -with arguably far wider
consequences for Anglican unity and ecumenical progress. It is
presumably on the strength of both opinions that he recently kissed
hands at the Vatican.

But in his somewhat post-modern attitude to catholic ecclesiology Rowan
is a mere novice. The recently resigned Co-chairman of ARCIC, Frank
Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States,
on the other hand, carries the principle to extremes.

Committed, no doubt, as an ARCIC member, to the notion of eucharistic
fellowship as the final expression of full visible unity, he was
nevertheless (until they caught him at it), given to donning jeans and a
cowboy shirt and receiving communion at a Catholic Church not far from
his office in New York. In the recent crisis over the consecration of an
actively gay bishop, he signed a statement by all the Primates of the
Communion deploring such action, and then returned to the United States
in order to act as chief consecrator himself.

Small wonder, then, that Cardinal Kasper has put the International
Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) on
hold and that the Oriental Orthodox Churches have decided the 'the
on-going dialogue would be better served by waiting, at present, for the
Anglican Communion to take proper account of and reflect on the
consecration which has taken place.'

It is clearer now than ever that dialogue with Anglicans is time wasted:
for they can deliver neither consistently and nor internationally on
agreements made. With Anglican Provinces busily excommunicating each
other, and two provinces having already consecrated bishops to operate
as 'missionaries' in the America province, it looks as though the
'waiting' will extend to the Greek Kalends.

Truth to tell it is hardly possible to overstate the acrimony and
confusion which presently reigns in the Anglican Communion. Dr Williams
has bought time by the usual ruse of setting up a Commission to assess
the situation, with Robin Eames, the genial Archbishop of Armagh as its
chairman. But we have been here before. Eames also chaired the
Commission on Communion and Women in the Episcopate. It made
recommendations which were almost universally ignored, and not
implemented even in Eames's own province.

So how, you will ask, did things get like this?

The saga of the manufacture of modern Anglicanism is a fascinating one.
Until relatively recently Anglicans relied for stability on what was
called 'Hooker's three legged stool' - scripture, tradition, and reason.
(There was a degree of chicanery in attributing the notion to Richard
Hooker, who would never have agreed that its three elements ought to
have equal emphasis; but no matter.) Provincial autonomy, in those days,
was not a doctrine; it was an accusation.

In the seventies of the last century this idea was radically altered by
giving the stool a fourth leg: 'experience'. Contemporary experience
(the Zeitgeist) soon displaced reason, replaced tradition and became the
criterion by which scripture was judged and found wanting. It was a wind
that blew all hedges down.

For liberal Anglicans, who have effectively gained control of the first
world provinces, the three-legged stool has subsequently given way to
another trinity: the remarriage of divorcees, the ordination of women,
and the blessing of same sex unions. These are taken to be
self-evidently desirable 'developments'. That the three are inextricably
linked and that they are a deliberate challenge to the authority of
scripture and tradition is clear from the reasoning of even their most
moderate proponents.

The now-famous Canon Jeffrey John, in his paper 'Permanent, Faithful,
Stable' argues for the blessing of homosexual relationships on the
grounds that they are no more contrary to scripture than other practices
of the modern Church. "A faithful homosexual relationship is not
'incompatible with scripture', (certainly no more so than the remarriage
of the divorced, or the leadership of women ...)."

It is an argument which shamelessly appeals to all those who have
committed or condoned a scriptural infidelity to rally round and support
further transgression. It leads, one need hardly say, to an horrendous
but inevitable conclusion.

Nothing could be further from the scripturally based, systematically
developed, traditionally grounded, rationally presented ethics of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, rooted as they always are in the core
doctrines of the faith. The ethics of modern liberal Anglicanism are
clever, brittle, adventitious and based upon special pleading. That the
special pleading presents itself in the guise of self-evident truth
merely adds insult to injury.

'Do the Anglicans need a Pope?' asks the headline writer, after an all
too cursory glance at Archbishop Rowan's polished in-conclusions. The
question bears no relation to the book the man wrote: but it is a
perfectly good question.

And the answer? The answer surely is that if Anglicans wanted a Pope
they would have invented one already. The genius of Anglicanism (a
curious word I agree under the circumstances) has, on the contrary, been
to shun and disparage any sort of regulative authority. The more, in
recent times, Anglicans have spawned what are curiously called
'Instruments of Unity' - the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the Anglican
Consultative Council, the Primates' Meeting - the more they have
wilfully asserted the autonomy of provinces, and even dioceses, against

The self-effacing fidelity to the Ordinary Magisterium, which compelled
the present Holy Father to pronounce the ordination of women to the
priesthood to be beyond the competence of the Church, would be simply
incomprehensible to the majority of Anglicans. If Anglicans had a
Papacy, ten to one they would use it finally to relativise scripture,
debunk the tradition and so complete the systematic agenda on which they
are presently engaged.

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen's, Lewisham and National Secretary
of Forward in Faith.

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