Vatican takeover or lifeline to Anglicans?

The Church of Ireland has always been comfortable with its Protestant identity and has played down the fact of Anglicanism as a whole’s far more complex nature as both “high” and “low” church, Anglo Catholic and evangelical, and several stages in between. The world wide Communion led by the Archbishop of Canterbury had seemed to be holding together, just about, despite the chasm that opened up over gays and women as priests and bishops. But now and with minimum notice the Vatican has thrown a grenade at Archbishop Williams’ tortuous efforts to hold the factions together by suddenly announcing an easier route to Rome for “ traditional” ( now where else have we heard that word recently?) Anglicans, not by yielding to long standing Anglican pleas for their Holy Orders to be recognised, but by suggesting that Anglican traditionalists might retain some of the Cof E liturgical forms in the Book of Common Prayer. Archbishop Williams’s efforts to spin this favourably hasn’t worked with the serious press. Ruth Gledhill of the Times.

“Anglicans privately accused Rome of poaching and attacked Dr Williams for capitulating to the Vatican. Some called for his resignation. Although there was little he could have done to forestall the move, many were dismayed at his joint statement with the Archbishop of Westminster in which they spoke of Anglicans “willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church”.
In a letter to bishops and clergy, Dr Williams made clear his own discomfiture. He wrote: “I am sorry that there has been no opportunity to alert you earlier to this. I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage.”

A scathing verdict in the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

“One of the things that this development means is that the Roman Catholic church is no longer even pretending to take seriously the existence of the Anglican Communion as a coherent body.”

A Daily Telegraph editorial takes a measured view :

“..it would indeed be intolerable if Anglo-Catholics felt they could no longer be members of the Church of England, because the Pope had annexed that tradition. On the other hand, he might well have thrown Dr Williams a lifeline, since contentious issues were never going to be resolved other than through the most convoluted mechanisms, such as so-called flying bishops and “third provinces”.

So the initial verdict is split. on whether it will now become easier or more difficult to hold the Communion together, for there is at least logic in “traditional “ Anglicans going over to Rome and the Cof E giving up its attempts to contain them. The shock felt by the Vatican announcement may or may not have been intentional – PR is the least of its concerns – but the comparative crispness over the “Apostolic Constitution” as its called, contrasts starkly with its floundering and evasion over the child abuse scandals. Where an institutional advantage is to be gained, the old supremacist reflex is as strong as ever.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London