National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  April 2, 2004

Anglican ordination of women hastened by Vatican document


Momentum within the Church of England toward the ordination of women might have been slowed by desire to maintain ecumenical ties with the Catholic church, a former archbishop of Canterbury said, had it not been for a negative 1991 Vatican analysis of Anglican-Catholic dialogue.

George Carey, who resigned as head of the 70-million-strong Anglican Communion in 2002, made the comments in Rome at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita March 23.

Carey’s argument has obvious relevance today, when the Anglican communion once again is gripped by an internal crisis threatening relations with Rome -- this time over the consecration of an openly gay bishop.

The document to which Carey referred came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was an analysis of the 1981 Final Report of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, the formal vehicle for dialogue between the two denominations. Though the Vatican response was co-issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, experts say the doctrinal congregation had the last word.

The international commission’s final report had found “substantial agreement” between Anglicans and Catholics on issues such as the Eucharist and ordained ministry, fueling hopes for swift ecumenical progress. The doctrinal congregation, however, asserted that “differences or ambiguities remain which seriously hinder the restoration of full communion in faith and in the sacramental life.”

Carey told the Caravita gathering, “That rather negative view took the steam out of ecumenism in the Church of England.”

The Church of England is the oldest and most prominent province of the worldwide Anglican communion.

“Had we gotten a strong thumbs-up, a lot of people might have said on the ordination of women, we’ll go slow to do it as two churches together,” Carey said. “But in light of the Vatican response, a lot of people decided that nothing’s going to happen, we might as well get the ordination of women out of the way.”

By the time of the 1991 Vatican response, several Anglican provinces, including the Episcopal church in the United States, had already decided to ordain women. Nevertheless, Carey insisted the document had an impact inside the Church of England.

“I personally was very, very disappointed,” Carey said.

In the end, the Church of England voted in 1992 for women priests.

Carey, who is presently in Rome as a guest lecturer at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University, said that he felt the congregation’s response “missed the point.”

“The aim was to find what we share,” he said. “We were looking to express old truths in a fresh way, so that both churches could say, yes, that’s what we mean on the Eucharist, ministry and so on.”

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, April 2, 2004

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: