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In Spe Contra Spem (Update)

Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and one of the Catholic Church's leading theologians, yesterday addressed the Anglican bishops gathered at the Lambeth Conference.His talk gave a helpful overview of the history of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations since Vatican II, but also raised forthrightly the difficulties which have arisen, and gave a rather somber prognosis for the future of the dialogue.Yet he concluded with this expression of hope:

Anyone who has ever seen the great and wonderful Anglican cathedrals and churches the world over, who has visited the old and famous Colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, who has attended marvellous Evensongs and heard the beauty and eloquence of Anglican prayers, who has read the fine scholarship of Anglican historians and theologians, who is attentive to the significant and long-standing contributions of Anglicans to the ecumenical movement, knows well that the Anglican tradition holds many treasures. These are, in the words of Lumen Gentium, among those gifts which, belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity ( 8).Our keen awareness of the greatness and remarkable depth of Christian culture of your tradition heightens our concern for you amidst current problems and crises, but also gives us confidence that with God's help, you will find a way out of these difficulties, and that in a new and fresh manner we will be strengthened in our common pilgrimage toward the unity Jesus Christ wills for us and prayed for. I would reiterate what I wrote in my letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury in December, 2004: In a spirit of ecumenical partnership and friendship, we are ready to support you in whatever ways are appropriate and requested.In that vein, I would like to return to the Archbishops puzzling question what kind of Anglicanism I want. It occurs to me that at critical moments in the history of the Church of England and subsequently of the Anglican Communion, you have been able to retrieve the strength of the Church of the Fathers when that tradition was in jeopardy. The Caroline divines are an instance of that, and above all, I think of the Oxford Movement. Perhaps in our own day it would be possible too, to think of a new Oxford Movement, a retrieval of riches which lay within your own household. This would be a re-reception, a fresh recourse to the Apostolic Tradition in a new situation. It would not mean a renouncing of your deep attentiveness to human challenges and struggles, your desire for human dignity and justice, your concern with the active role of all women and men in the Church. Rather, it would bring these concerns and the questions that arise from them more directly within the framework shaped by the Gospel and ancient common tradition in which our dialogue is grounded.We hope and pray that as you seek to walk as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies may bestow upon you the abundant riches of His grace, and guide you with the Holy Spirits abiding presence.

Update:In today's London Times there is a strong critique of the Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry Luke Orombi, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda. He also explains why many bishops from the Global South have chosen not to attend the Lambeth Conference which concludes on Sunday:

It is important that our decision not to attend this Lambeth Conference is not misunderstood as withdrawing from the Anglican Communion. On the contrary, our decision reflects the depth of our concern and the sober realisation that the present structures are not capable of addressing the crisis.

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I found this passage particularly sobering:While the Windsor process continues, and the ecclesiology set forth in the Windsor Report has been welcomed in principle by the majority of Anglican provinces, it is difficult from our perspective to see how that has translated into the desired internal strengthening of the Anglican Communion and its instruments of unity. It also seems to us that the Anglican commitment to being episcopally led and synodically governed has not always functioned in such a way as to maintain the apostolicity of the faith, and that synodical government misunderstood as a kind of parliamentary process has at times blocked the sort of episcopal leadership envisaged by Cyprian and articulated in ARCIC.

Let's provide some other background to make this situation a little more human. Link to revealing biographical story about Rowan Williams: Shortcut to: http://www.religionnews.com/index.php?/rnstext/rowan_williams_a_quiet_ma... Reminds me of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird - "you have to walk in another's shoes before you can really understand!"A couple of other toughts that highlight his efforts:a) religious and theological meaning of 'truth'. Starting from an analysis of the encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) by the late Pope John Paul II, counters the concentration on strong and clear conceptual truths over against the diversity of human opinions with three observations. If the Christian truth is to have any impact, it has to take account of the diversity of opinions in which people live and search for truth. Secondly, new insights are discovered in discussions which should be considered and not simply be opposed by stressing the authority of tradition. Besides relevance and openness to new insights, a third theological reason is found in the concept of kenosis as implying that God has made God's truth vulnerable to diverse understandings. Thus, holding on to 'strong' truths over against the 'diversity' of human opinions does not take seriously the history of kenosis, the emptying of God in the weak, suffering, killed but resurrected human being Jesus as God's Anointed One. Calls for a 'sacramental', i.e., non-possessive, understanding of truth in line with the sacramental understanding of the Church in Vatican II. God's liberating truth should time and again be found by openly discussing and confronting the diversity of truth-claims that mark human reality, which is, as is theology's role to show, awaiting the coming Reign of God.My point being - understand the African position but not participating in a dialogue helps no one. What is needed is humility and a willingness to surrender to "kenosis"

Perhaps this thread needs to be continued in August, to discuss both the angry reaction in many gay quarters to the Cardinal's remark, but also the apparent surfacing of letters by Rowan Williams showing he firmly beleives committed gay relationships are on a par with committed marital relationships.

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.