Cardinal Kasper: Anglicans must choose between Protestantism and Catholicism
While one is tempted to wonder if Cardinal Kasper is locked in a time-warp (what about a church of relevance to the 21st century?), one certainly has to ask what kind of pastor whose heart genuinely seeks Christian unity issues such an offensive ultimatum? This is exemplary diplomacy from the Vatican, displaying an alarming ignorance of Anglicanism, and manifestly timed perfectly to coincide with the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to His Holiness.
But it is an affront to Anglicans worldwide. It ranks with the declaration of Cardinal Ratzinger that the Church of England is ‘not a church in the proper sense’, and qualifies merely as an ‘ecclesial community’.
Who does Cardinal Kasper think he is to issue such a demand? He cannot possibly be speaking with the approval of His Holiness, who is too eminent a theologian and knowledgeable a historian to pontificate in such absolutes. Certainly, the Anglican Communion is in a state of paralysis between the Rt Rev Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, but the conservative / liberal factions have coexisted in the via media for centuries, and this is the essence of the Elizabethan settlement which has suited England since its inception. The Cardinal ought to heed the wise observations of many Roman Catholics in the House of Commons last night, who were unanimous in their support for the Church of England and marvelled at a via media which permits the coronation ceremony of a Protestant monarch to be organised and presided over by the Earl Marshal the Duke of Norfolk who is a Roman Catholic and the Premier Duke in the peerage of England. It is ambiguous; it is a compromise, but it works in practice if not in theory.
Cardinal Kasper might also like to consider that it is the contention of the Church of England that it is both Catholic and Reformed, and his dissent from this assertion does not make it not so. It is not necessary to conform to Rome’s narrow capacity for definition, for there is little latitude in its dogma. And even the Church of Rome is divided between its conservatives and liberals - there are few who would assert that The Tablet articulates the same adherence to doctrine as The Catholic Herald - but no ultimatum has been issued demanding unity of voice, for that would require a meeting of minds between His Holiness and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. And Cranmer cannot quite envisage that. Indeed, most of the Roman Catholic bishops in England appear to be pathologically antipathetic to all that Pope Benedict XVI stands for, so Cardinal Kasper may care to lecture his own house before presuming to instruct the Anglicans.
Roman Catholicism is literally a broad church, and the gulf between its disparate factions are tolerated because they can coexist in tension, in the imperfect communion that is exemplified in the suffering of the cross. And so it is with the Church of England.
Of course there are immense concerns over the ordination of homosexuals and women priests and bishops, and it may even be time to lay the worldwide Anglican Communion to rest, but it is not for any Cardinal to dictate to the Church of England what it must and must not do, for that is contrary to the Constitution of the United Kingdom, and is hardly conducive to ecumenical progress.
The Church of England need not ‘clarify its identity’ for any foreign prince, prelate or potentate, because its Anglo-Catholic wing and its Evangelical Protestant wing constitute a whole, and without each other the body would be wounded, possibly mortally so.
But perhaps that is the Cardinal’s real agenda.