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Columnists

The right to Rome?

Lucy Winkett

WinkettIt's certainly touched a nerve. The Pope has invited discontented Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism, and still retain some of their Anglican identity.

Some Roman Catholics have been embarrassed, seeing it as an act of aggression; some Anglicans have been angry, as the Archbishop of Canterbury seems not to have been properly consulted. Some Church of England priests, whose priority has been to pray and work for reunification with Rome, have greeted it as an invitation to 'go home' and others have worried that it is the most significant development in English relations with the papacy since the Reformation.

Since the 19th century Oxford movement there have been those who have gradually turned towards Rome again, hanging pictures of the Pope in their vestries, celebrating Communion not with the authorised liturgy of the Church of England but according to the Roman rite, longing for the moment when the fracturing of the English Catholic church  will be reversed.
Meanwhile, other Anglicans, developing their theology and practice from Luther and Calvin in the Reformed tradition, have stopped wearing robes, call Communion the Lord's Supper and rely on Scripture alone to be their guide. With so many variations and degrees in between, the question arises how can a denomination be so broad and still hold together?  

Whatever the Vatican says, the Pope's invitation was timed to coincide with the Church of England's consideration of the consecration of women bishops. The Revision Committee of General Synod has recently said that it will not consider what it was asked to consider - a code of practice to give pastoral care and what's called 'sacramental assurance' (that is, the comfort of knowing that you are in communion with only male bishops who do not ordain women). It's said that the Church of England should not develop a mere code of practice, but should make women bishops on a different legal basis from men in order to accommodate this small but vocal number. But now, thanks to the Pope, there is somewhere for opponents to go, unless and until such time as Rome ordains women.

The vast majority of catholic Anglicans who are supportive of women priests will remain, and the CofE will thus retain its reformed catholic identity. There is now no reason why legal arrangements are needed for opponents of women's ordination. I'm all for being counter cultural but I have never found the words to explain (as often I am asked to when people spot the dog collar) what the church is doing by complaining about women in leadership. It damages our mission, it's inexplicable to most people and it reduces the credibility of Christians to speak with any authority about justice.
This is not a counter reformation. We remain called to build church communities that act with justice, mercy and humility to one another yes, but much more importantly, to the society we serve.