Posted: December 18, 2003
NCR's John L. Allen Jr. speaks with Anglican ecumenist Mary Tanner.
Mary Tanner, an Anglican, was recently named the first lecturer for the "Jean-Marie Tillard Chair in Ecumenical Studies" at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas - Angelicum, Rome. From 1982-1991, she was a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and is currently on the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission.
Tanner spoke to NCR's John L. Allen Jr., about current trends in the Anglican/Catholic relationship. They spoke in Rome on Dec. 12. The full text of the interview follows:
JOHN ALLEN: You have said that the present crisis reveals an underlying health to the Anglican/Catholic relationship, in that both sides feel they can speak frankly to the other. Do you think that's the spirit in which most Anglicans have taken comments from the Catholic side?
TANNER: It's very difficult for me to say how most Anglicans would see it. I think that many Anglicans understand that the relationship between Anglicans and Catholics has been developing over 75 years. They would see it in the context of a long-standing, close relationship in which popes have written to archbishops of Canterbury, and archbishops of Canterbury have written to popes and to cardinals for the last twenty years. I mean, there was correspondence between Archbishop Runcie and the pope, Cardinal Willebrands, and so on. I think that many Anglicans would see the pope's warning when Archbishop Rowan came in that context, in the context of a closeness of relationship and the warmness of relationship.
You don't sense that there was much resentment about Catholic "interference"?
I have not come across it, no. That isn't to say that there aren't Anglicans who would feel that way. I suppose it depends partly on where you live. If you live in England, the relationship between Anglicans and Catholics is strong at the parochial level, things are very close.
So people filter these comments through their own personal experience?
I think they do. One would like to see Anglican/Roman Catholic relations all over the world as close as they are in some places.
In the last plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke of "two-speed ecumenism." The idea would be to maintain dialogues with the official representatives of other Christian bodies, but at the same time to open conversations with dissident groups "who come knocking at our door." One such group might be the American Anglican Council, which has led the opposition to the consecration of an openly gay bishop in the Episcopalian Church of the United States. In your view, would that be a helpful move?
I didn't hear that as the response of the Roman Catholic Church at all. It seems to me that the setting up of a new subgroup of IARCCUM (International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission) in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's invitation is a way of accompanying the Anglican Communion, not a part of it, in this discussion. I think the question you raise is an important one for the setting up of dialogue teams anyway. It's very important in any theological dialogue that you have the breadth of the church represented on both sides around the table. That's always been the intent in Anglican teams. It would be foolish to have all Catholic Anglicans, as it were, or Evangelical Anglicans. It's important that we have both represented, that we have all kinds of Anglicans represented in the conversation.
Some voices within Anglicanism were disappointed when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prior to the meeting of the opposition groups in Plano, Texas, wrote to express his support.
I can understand that. On the other hand, speaking honestly is very important. There are official channels, of course - the dialogue team itself, the informal talks each year, events such as the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury. These are arenas for conversation. It is of course very important that we are honest with each other, I think that's clear.
But as far as people who are invested with official responsibility for the church, you would see it as more constructive for them to remain within the official channels, as opposed to opening parallel conversations with splinter groups?
My own personal view is that we have set up channels of communication, and these are the channels of communication we ought to work through.
Is there potential for defection by Anglicans to Rome on a large scale in this crisis?
I honestly don't know, and I'm not prepared to answer that question because we have a lot of thinking to do about the situation we're in, both as Anglicans and together with our Roman Catholic partners. I think it's too early to talk about what might or might not happen. I was a member of the commission set up to monitor what happened in the Anglican Communion after the consecrations [of women bishops] after the Lambeth Conference in 1988. I know how long it took to us to really understand the situation before we could produce any guidelines for what might happen. I think precipitous action is not helpful. That's precisely what the primates said in their statement [following a mid-October meeting in Canterbury].
Looking back at that experience, are there any lessons learned that could be helpful in the present crisis?
I think there are. It was very different on the question of women in the episcopate. If you remember what happened in 1985, the United States believed that for the mission of the church in their particular cultural context an episcopate was required which was inclusive of women. At that stage in 1985, the Episcopalians wrote to the central structures of the Anglican Communion explaining their position, that they felt that couldn't withhold the consecration of women. The archbishop immediately set up a working party under the Archbishop of Brisbane, John Grindrod, called the Grindrod Commission. It looked at what the theological and ecclesiological issues were surrounding women in the episcopate. That commission worked for three years before Lambeth in 1988. The Grindrod Commission report presented the bishops with the unpacking of the theological and ecclesiological issues involved, and with two alternatives. Either you could, as the bishops together in college, call for them to refrain. Or you could take the view that if a province went ahead, we would remain in the highest degree of communion possible without determining the issue itself. The issue itself would then be in an open process of reception, and in the meantime we would live together in the highest degree of communion possible. Of course the bishops passed a resolution following that. It was very carefully prepared and thought through. The communion of course has never had a communion-wide mind on the matter of the ordination of women. It believes in an open process of reception within the Anglican Communion, within individual provinces, and it was very important that the bishops in Lambeth in 1988 said that it was in an open process of reception also with our ecumenical partners - the Orthodox, with Rome, with the Reformed churches. There is a model there.
Some would see that as a model simply to duck the question, as if the Anglican Communion doesn't know what it stands for.
Indeed. "Fudge," as one journalist put it.
How do you respond to that?
I believed at the time, and I still believe, that it's a credible model of discernment. Of course a process of reception needs continuing monitoring. You can't just say that Lambeth '88 dealt with this, and that's the end of it. If you enter a process of reception, you have to monitor it.
Yes, but some would argue that either scripture and tradition support the ordination of women or they don't. If so, it should be universal. If not, provinces shouldn't be allowed to do things that take them outside tradition, should they?
I think about it in terms of the early church. If you look at Acts 15, they were facing what I suppose was the first major issue, the question of gentile converts. I don't imagine that council, even though they said "it seems good to us and the Holy Spirit," settled matters all at once. There was a long process of reception before the whole church accepted it. That would be true of other councils in the church. Not that I'm judging the Lambeth Conference as the equivalent of an ecumenical council, but I'm just saying that in the process of discerning the mind of Christ for the church, the whole process of reception is critically important. You have to accept that it's an open process of reception, because it could go either way. That's what I think the bishops accepted at Lambeth in 1988.
But obviously this has its limits. You couldn't have an open process of reception to decide whether you still believed in the Trinity, could you?
Of course, I'm not saying there are no limits to what could be tested and what couldn't be tested. But I don't think the ordination of women falls into that category, because the Anglicans were in fact clear that this wasn't a change of the tradition but a development in the ordering of the ministry. That's an important difference.
Let's suppose for the sake of argument an Anglican province wanted to do something we would all agree is a change of tradition. What would prevent them from doing that?
Ah, now we're back to the question of authority. I think that is the major question before us in this issue. It's not the issue of human sexuality, but of authority in communion, which Anglicans have been working on and are still working on.
In other words, the answer is that there is no clear inhibitor.
I believe there is. I believe that if you have all the college of bishops gathered together, there is an authority inherent in the Lambeth Conference by virtue of the authority of the persons who are gathered together.
That's more a moral authority than a juridical one?
Yes, and it depends therefore what weight you put on moral authority. I put a high value on moral authority. Obviously the discussion now that must take place in the Anglican Communion is whether we need something more than moral authority.
How much do you think it matters to the average Anglican what position the Catholic Church takes on your internal debates?
Again, it's very difficult to speak about all Anglicans. At the official level, it counts a great deal. I would have thought you saw that in the statement of the primates themselves, who mentioned in their statement our ecumenical relations and our relations with other faith communities. They made that quite clear. There was a press statement yesterday, a group called the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations. That's an interesting body, because after Lambeth 1998 there was a communion-wide group set up to look at the consistency and coherence of our bilateral dialogues and our relationships with other churches, so we didn't say one thing to one partner and another thing to another. That was an interesting development at Lambeth '98. There was a meeting last week in the States, and they published a press statement. There were very clear in that statement. It read: "The Commission reflected with concern on the impact of recent developments in the life of the Anglican Communion for ecumenical relations between Anglican and other Christian churches. It received with regret the news that the meeting of the Anglican - Oriental Orthodox International Commission had been postponed, and that the plenary meeting of the International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) had been put on hold." So when you say, what do we think about our ecumenical partners, well there's a communion-wide statement.
In terms of official policy that's clear. I'm wondering more at a tactical level, whether it's counter-productive for the pope or other Catholic officials to make public statements about what Anglicans ought to do.
There's always a diversity of responses to that. I think many Anglicans, certainly in England, who live closely with Catholics on a daily basis as members of the congregation down the road, you expect to be honest with one another. I think the most productive thing now is to work within the context of the sub-commission that's been set up.
You spoke in your lecture about the Mississauga meeting in Canada in May 2000 among 26 Anglican and Catholic bishops. That meeting came up with a statement, in which there was a pledge that neither side should do anything to distance itself from the other on matters of faith and morals. Some Catholics are now wondering what the point of such agreements is if individual provinces in the Anglican Communion are not bound by them.
I think you have to look back at the context in which that was said in Mississauga. It was said in the context of setting up joint episcopal meetings around the world, and an on-going developing close relationship. The idea is that at every stage in the discernment process, we would be discerning together at every level. But you're right, the bishops were quite clear that one church should not take a step without consultation that would distance itself from the other. In terms of how much it represents the Anglican Communion, that's the reception process, isn't it? The report of ARCIC I [the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission] went through a very lengthy and thoughtful process of reception in both of our churches, and there were official responses to it. That's a very important part of the whole ecumenical process. It's not just what the theologians say, but it's how the whole church then receives it. There was very lengthy 10-year process in the Roman Catholic church. Of course Mississauga was a very strong statement, and I'm not trying to downplay it, but a report from a meeting still must be received by the church. On the question of consultation between the two churches, one would hope that in the future processes and structures are put in place for such consultation to be an automatic part of our growing life together.
You've described the goal of the ecumenical movement as full and visible unity. Many people, however, would say that after the Anglican Communion opted in favor of women's ordination, full and visible unity became more of an "eschatological" objective, and that the present crisis has compounded this reality.
I don't see that at all. I see no indication, certainly in the work of ARCIC, that it has changed its goal. The statement on authority, for example, came out after the ordination of women. The same vision of full communion is there that was expressed in the final report of ARCIC I in the first chapter. I just want to say what Cardinal Kasper has said: "We may rub our eyes one day and be surprised at what God has done among us." I'm not prepared to give up on the ARCIC vision of full and visible unity. I think that's what is required of us, and it's a matter of our fidelity to the gospel.
There are people on both sides who might question whether full and visible unity is even desirable.
Yes, that's true of the whole of the ecumenical movement. But I don't see that. I believe in moving beyond Anglicanism. It's the title of a book by an Anglican theologian called Anthony Hanson. I don't believe in a federal model of the church. I believe in a communion of faith, life and witness. I think you also have to ask how the world feels, what's the credible model in a world broken by division, and what do our separations look like seen from outside?
Let me end with a sociological question. The women's ordination issue caused something of a realignment, with a number of frustrated conservative Anglicans coming to Rome and a number of frustrated liberal Catholics moving into the Anglican Communion. If the crisis over homosexuality produces a similar phenomenon, won't we end up with the two sides much further apart?
The answer to that depends a bit on your thinking about community, doesn't it? If you believe that unity entails diversity, you then have to consider this very carefully. I think it's a much more complex question than the way in which you pose it. As an Anglican, we're used to living in tension, and a proper tension, a proper diversity, is creative.
Are you saying that you cannot envision the "conservative" wing of Anglicanism moving in significant numbers to Rome?
I think it's too early to say. Let's wait until we see what the Eames Commission response to this is. It needs a huge amount of careful response and thinking before we move to making statements like that. I think it's dangerous to apply secular political models like that. What we're talking about are differences among those who are in a communion already. At least the basic bond of baptism is still there.
Fascinating, interesting, challenging times. It's a moment of problem, but of possibility as well, for all of us. As Anglicans reflect on their structures of authority and how authority works, the whole of the ecumenical community is influenced by what one partner is thinking.
National Catholic Reporter, December 18, 2003