Monday, November 20, 2006

Academics and Bishops

There's been quite a strong reaction in both the media and the blogosphere to the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent remarks on women's ordination. The impression is given that he's had second thoughts on the issue, and that the Church of England might even need to rethink it.

A few things do need to be born in mind when considering this though. Firstly, the Archbishop made the comments to the Catholic Herald in the run up to his visit to the Pope in Rome next week. Secondly, the comments were made in the context of a wide ranging discussion about the prospects for future Anglican-Catholic dialogue. Thirdly, what he actually said was on reconsidering the matter was "I don’t see how there can be. I could just about envisage a situation in which over a very long period the Anglican Church thought again about it, but I would need to see what the theological reason for that would be and I don’t see it at the moment."

At no stage during the interview did Archbishop Williams suggest that it had been the wrong thing to do, though he did acknowledge that the divisions caused within the Anglican Communion had tested the decision. Further, in the wider of context of the discussion, the "just about" situation could appears to be the point at which the only outstanding issue between Rome and Canterbury was the existence of women priests - in other words, the much more significant issues dividing the two Churches concerning the Eucharist, the role of the Papacy, authority within the Church, etc had all been resolved to a mutually satisfactory level. In other words, in the context of a situation that is pretty unlikely.

Part of the problem here would appear to be that Archbishop Williams is an academic - he's regarded as a pretty good theologian (Archbishop Cramner on his blog remarks that "both the Archbishop and the Pope are (whether one agrees with them or not) highly accomplished academics and renowned theologians." While I disagree with him far more than I agree with him, its clear there's a pretty good mind behind that blog - and he's hinted on Conservative Home he himself is a theology lecturer).

But academics have a habit of making speeches or giving interviews where quotes are pulled slightly out of context and then made into the story. Indeed, Archbishop Williams will be meeting with a man next week who knows all about that - given the recent fuss over comments Pope Benedict made on his recent tour to Germany.

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