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Wednesday, June 07, 2006



Why are female bishops that much more of a barrier to unity than priestesses?

Teresa Polk

The ordination of women is also an issue, and Cardinal Kasper mentioned that in his statement. It was actually his starting point. His specific answer to your question was:

“Following this brief review of the discussion regarding the ordination of women to priesthood I would like to turn now to the current question of the ordination of women to the episcopal office. At first glance it seems to be a virtually unavoidable consequence of the first step, the ordination of women to the priesthood. The sacrament of ordination is one single sacrament, and access to one step in principle also opens the way to the next step. The reverse conclusion then must be that if women cannot be admitted to the priesthood, then they obviously cannot be admitted to episcopal office either. Nevertheless, in the ecumenical context the ordination of women to episcopal office confronts us with a new situation relative to the ordination to the priesthood, and represents a considerable further escalation of the problem. Why? The answer to this question derives from the nature of the episcopal office, which according to the early church as well as to the current understanding of the Catholic Church, is an office of unity. As such it is particularly relevant to ecumenical concerns and aims.”

Cardinal Kasper’s full speech, with Abp. Rowan Williams’ response, is posted on the Archbishop of Canterbury website:

It contains a substantial theological discussion of the role of a bishop in Scripture and in the writings of the Church Fathers, especially St. Cyprian of Carthage, and of how that view is expressed in the present day Church.

He also mentioned that past discussions over changing the Catholic position on the nullity of Anglican orders (which dates back to 1896) had cooled as a result of the increasing ordination of Anglican women.

The presence of female bishops (who will thus ordain both male and female priests) creates a situation in which it is increasingly difficult to judge the validity of Anglican orders, even if the Church decided to revise its previous reasoning about Anglican orders in general.

In addition to that, the movement toward more female priests and bishops shows that the Anglican Communion, as a whole, is moving in a direction away from unity with the Catholic Church on essential issues, and not toward it.


Also, so long as the episcopacy is all-male, reversing the position on female ordination is still a remote possibility (although in practice it would still be incredibly messy). However, once female bishops became a reality, can you see that portion of the COE episcopacy ever voting themselves out of a job? It would be a point of no return.


Okay, I see your points (and Kasper's). Thanks.


We passed the point of no return ages ago.

Terry S.

I remain a little confused here. In Canada there have been female bishops for a long time in the Anglican Church of Canada. The current bishop of Edmonton is the Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews, installed May 31, 1997. The story is the same throughout large parts of the Anglican Communion. By way of example, Episcopalians (ECUSA) are similarly situated with regard to this question. Is the Vatican only dealing with the COE? I can tell you with considerable assurance that that is not the impression of the Anglicans in the rest of the world. This horse is out of the stable and galloping toward the pasture gate. It is too late to talk about the merits of closing the stable door, unless ARCIC only engages the COE. So why are we still puzzling this thing out?


Cardinal Kasper also discussed your issue in his address (see the url above to find the entire address). He said, for example:

"For us, the Church of England is not simply one province among others; its decisions have a particular importance for our dialogue, and give a strong indication of the direction in which the Communion as a whole is heading."

Thus, the C of E moving toward women bishops raises concerns for the Catholic Church that are more serious than the same decision was when made in the U.S. and Canada.

Also, the situation in the Episcopal Church and Church of Canada, has not gone without notice. High level relations between Catholics and Anglicans cooled, for example, after ECUSA's approval of Gene Robinson.

Cardinal Kasper's address made clear that the objectives of ecumenical discussions will likely change if the C of E has female bishops:

"It would be a decision against the common goal we have until now pursued in our dialogue: full ecclesial communion, which cannot exist without full communion in the episcopal office."

The following may answer your question as to the future of ARCIC (This is cut much to avoid an even lengthier post -- please read it in context at the url cited above):

"One thing is certain: the Catholic Church will not break off the dialogue even in the case of such a decision. . . .
Following that action we could still come together for the sake of information and consultation . . . . Above all we could unite in joint prayer and pray for one another. All of that is, God knows, not negligible. But the loss of the common goal would necessarily have an effect on such encounters and rob them of most of their élan and their internal dynamic. . . .Instead of moving towards one another we would co-exist alongside one another."

Terry S.

Thanks for your patient correction. I do not mean to draw this out unreasonably but I suppose this goes to the nature of the dialogue which even at this point has take a number of severe hits. I can remember once in Rome, following the election of Gene Robinson to the Anglican episcopate, asking someone closely following the ARCIC discussions what would be the nature of the dialogue - to what would it be analogous. With an air of despair, this person said that it would be like that with the Buddhists. In the Catholic Church we do not despair however and the dialogue goes on regardless - it is one of the rules of Christian unity and Interreligious dialogue. The intensity and import of that dialogue will vary with the times and the circumstances. And, of course, the future shape of the Anglican Communion (and by extrapolation, ARCIC) remains to be settled.

tony brazendale

which branch of the Church of England were Kasper's - and ARCICs -negotiations addressed to? Clearly, the view of their Church held by Evangelicals, Anglocatholics and Liberals is conditioned by the tensions between a Protestant and a High Church identity which have marked the C of E since Laud, for example in the seventeenth century.Perhaps Kasper could indicate which model of Anglican churchmanship he is seeking to address and treat with.

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