When Compromise Trumps Apostolic Tradition

Dr Robert RuncieBy George Weigel, First Things

Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral visit to Great Britain next month will unfold along a pilgrim’s path metaphorically strewn with landmines. Headline-grabbing new atheists like Richard Dawkins, along with their allies in the international plaintiff’s bar, may try to have the pontiff arrested as an enabler of child abuse. More subtly, but just as falsely, homosexual activists and their allies will portray John Henry Newman, whom the Pope will beatify, as the patron saint of gay liberation. No challenge facing Benedict in Britain, however, will be greater than the challenge of re-framing the Anglican-Catholic ecumenical dialogue, which is on the verge of de facto extinction.

The death of that once-promising dialogue would have been unimaginable 40 years ago. Then, in the aftermath of Vatican II, it seemed possible that Canterbury and Rome might be reconciled, with full ecclesiastical communion restored. That great hope began to run aground in the mid-1980s, when the Church of England faced the question of whether it could call women to holy orders (a practice already under way in other member communities of the worldwide Anglican Communion). As I discovered when researching the biography of Pope John Paul II, a theological Rubicon seems to have been crossed in a 1984-86 exchange of letters among Dr. Robert Runcie, the Anglican primate, Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Pope.

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