Kasper's Trastevere Address

One of the major themes for the past year in Catholic ecumenical relations has been the state of affairs between the Roman Church and the Anglican and Episcopalian communities. No doubt, the conversion of former prime minister, Tony Blair, had a huge impact on the media's perception of this subject. Moreover, the continual trend of the Anglicans toward 'liberality' seems to be throwing up more red flags, and warranting more censure from Roman authorities. Just recently, Cardinal Walter Kasper, in his address to the world-wide Anglican conference being held in Canturbury, indicated that the dialogue between the Roman Church and the Church of England "has receded further" from what was its original aim (i.e. the prospect of full ecclesial unity), and that the "dialogue will have less ultimate goals and therefore will be altered in its character." "While such a dialogue could still lead to good results," continued Kasper, "it would not be sustained by the dynamism which arises from the realistic possibility of the unity Christ asks of us, or the shared partaking of the one Lord’s table, for which we so earnestly long."

What the cardinal is speaking of centers on one two main points: ecclesiology and a theology of the priesthood (itself rooted in a proper notion of ecclesiology). Ecclesiology is the study of the Church; how is it ordered, how does it function properly, how is it rooted in Christ, etc. The fundamental ecclesiological difference between Anglicans and Catholics is a differing view on the role of bishops and, therefore, the Bishop of Rome. In his address, Kasper cited Cyprian of Carthage, an early Church Father, who noted that the the role of bishops is a role of "episcopatus unus et indivisus"—a single and undivided episcopacy. This singular and unity-centered mindset, as I have noted in previous posts, was a hallmark of patristic theology, and one of the basic reasons the Church flourished so much in the times just after Christ's earthly life. While the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church precisely because its bishops are "one and undivided" with the Roman Pontiff, the Christian groups not in union with Rome—Protestants, Orthodox churches, etc.—are out of communion for the simple fact that they openly refuse such unity. While the conditions of the Orthodox Church and Protestant communities differ in degree of separation, nevertheless the same fundamental principle is at play. The Anglicans, being one of the 'closer' Protestant groups, were a primary target for dialogue due to their theological and ecclesiological proximity with Rome.


What Kasper speaks of, though, regarding the recession of this dialogue in recent years, is none other than the consent of the Anglican communion to acknowledge, and even promote, homosexual "marriages" (and thereby to open the door for homosexual priests and bishops). According to Rome, this is bad theology. No need to expound upon that here; for a better understanding of the theology of the priesthood, I would recommend Pope Paul VI's letter, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, Pope John Paul II's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, or simply a glance to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the matter. The simple fact I intend to convey is that the Anglican communion is knowingly and consciously severing their ties with Rome by their blatant actions, and the Vatican is not willing to turn a blind eye. Moreover, the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy has "greatly complicated relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church." Perhaps summing up the situation best, Kasper remarked with the following:

As I stated when addressing the Church of England’s House of Bishops in 2006, for us this decision to ordain women implies a turning away from the common position of all churches of the first millennium, that is, not only the Catholic Church but also the Oriental Orthodox and the Orthodox churches. We would see the Anglican Communion as moving a considerable distance closer to the side of the Protestant churches of the 16th century, and to a position they adopted only during the second half of the 20th century.

Certainly, although the Catholic Church is compassionate to the plight faced by the Anglican communion, it nevertheless continues to urge her toward full union. The last thing Rome wants to see is for a community with such a venerable theological and cultural tradition move slowly but surely into the realm of complete dissociation. However, that is looking more and more inevitable. In the meantime, more and more Anglicans and Episcopalians will continue to contemplate the proverbial 'Tiber crossing,' making their way to the Church by breaking their own ties with Canterbury. The big one to watch now: the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texax, which has been in continually more intricate dialogues with the Catholic Diocese of Forth Worth.

I for one hope to see this 'conflict' resolved in a 'good' manner. Whatever that means. But perhaps the conversion of splinter groups of Anglicans to the Catholic faith is just what it will take for the whole communion to realize what sort of situation they've been breeding for these last 500 years.

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    # by Anonymous - August 24, 2008 at 12:21 PM

    I, too, believe that as Christian churches are more and more influenced and permeated by the secularism/paganism of our culture, Christ/God-seekers will swim the Tiber in greater numbers.

    I thank God for the promise that though infiltrated, the true Church established by Jesus will not be destroyed by the powers of evil.