by Jean Mayland
from Signs of the Times No. 32 - Jan 2009

The recent extracts from the biography of Rowan Williams printed in The Times and the Church Times  give  a picture of  our current Archbishop of Canterbury as a  dark bearded young man, who was obviously an object of fascination to young  ladies and who himself was fascinated by Rome.

Fortunately an earthed, scholarly but practical young lady attracted his attention and became his wife.  He in turn decided to remain an Anglican - mainly we are told because he found the doctrine of papal infallibility unacceptable. Yet since he became Archbishop it has been clear that the fascination with Rome still holds him.

When I was at CTBI we noticed  as staff that more and more the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church  were planning things together and ignoring the other churches. My colleague in  the International Affairs Department would spend ages patiently trying to bring  the Churches to say something together about some subject such as the Iraq war and at the last minute the Cardinal  Archbishop of Westminster  and the Archbishop would refuse to sign up, the effort would fail and then the  two of them would issue a statement. In the end these two big churches withdrew  much of their money from the CTBI which virtually died and only re emerged as a  pale shadow of its former self.

The Archbishop went to visit  the Pope and Rome  and professed himself eager for greater unity. He never spoke out on behalf of  his women priests and obviously regarded us as an embarrassment.

In public statements in England little  was ever said by him about matters which deeply concerned ordinary people and  on which many expected the Established Church to voice an opinion. Instead we  got joint Anglican Roman Catholic statements about sexual ethics or adoption of  children by gay couples. Both leaders showed a combined fear of secular  liberalism which seems to many of us to be more Christ like than the views of  the churches.     

At the July Synod 0of 2008  the Archbishop wanted legal safeguards for the catholic opponents of women  priests and abstained in the final vote which carried the motion for a Code of  Practice. Since then ‘Forward in Faith’ has been lobbying him hard. Just before  the last meeting of the Archbishops Council the Anglican and Roman Catholic  Bishops met once more and I am told that this through a shadow over the mood of  the Council meeting.     

For many of us however his  relationship with Cardinal Kaspar was the last straw and particularly as  demonstrated at the Lambeth Conference.     

Just before the Lambeth  Conference Kaspar first said that the Church of England had to choose between  being a Church of the Reformation or a ‘catholic’ Church- sorry Cardinal we are  both. We are proud of our Reformation heritage, which gives us the right to  read and discuss the Scriptures and approach them critically. We are also proud  of being a sacramental church with a threefold ministry. Our church is based on  Tradition, Scripture and Reason.     

He then condemned the Church  of England as suffering from Alzheimer’s disease as it had forgotten the  Tradition and ordained women and considered the rights of homosexual people. At  the Conference he condemned Anglicanism again for ordaining women as priests  and regarded discussion of women bishops as a ‘serious obstacle to unity’. In  his speech to the Bishops at the Lambeth Conference Cardinal Kaspar said.

‘On the issues that have torn the worldwide  Anglican communion, the Catholic Church continues to teach that  "homosexuality activity is disordered" and that the all-male  priesthood is "not only a disciplinary position but an expression of our  " With pointed emphasis the cardinal added: "The Catholic Church  finds herself bound by the will of Jesus Christ and does not feel free to  establish a new tradition alien to the tradition of the Church of all ages.’

Sorry Cardinal I beg to  differ and so do many people in your own church. In its attitude the Roman  Catholic Church is completely dishonest as ‘the voices from the edge’ tell us  that many women ( and men) within the Roman Catholic Church long for the  ordination of women to the priesthood and we know that there are many gay  priests and lay people eating their hearts  out in the Roman Catholic Church.  It is  THEIR issue as well and the Roman hierarchy need to hear. 

In spite of this the  Archbishop welcomed Kaspar as the chief guest at the Lambeth Nikaean Club  dinner which was attended also by many Orthodox and Free Church  dignitaries.  Soon after that he and  Kaspar went to Lourdes  together where the Cardinal celebrated and the Archbishop preached.     

At the AGM of WATCH in November of this year, the Ven Dr Joy  Tetley, former Archdeacon of Worcester gave a brilliant paper on the Epistle to  the Hebrews and its lessons about change.     

She had this to say near the  end of her paper.

“Such change is, however,  messy, painful and disturbing, demanding a radical shift in perspective and the  courage to continue on a risky and exploratory path, leading outside the  hitherto defined boundaries of the camp. This is new territory, and the only  map is in the shape of a cross. But look what emerged from that confusion,  darkness and mess –the explosion of Easter and Pentecost. Look to Jesus –and  why he endured all that shame and pain. No less than for God’s sake, and the  sake of God’s world.”

For me she summed up the difference between what Kaspar said and what I think the Church of England  should stand for.

With GAFCON evangelicals threatening on one side and the Archbishop cosying up to Kaspar on the other, the liberal voice of MCU  is to my mind more and more important.


Jean Mayland is a retired priest and former Co-ordinating Secretary and  Assistant General Secretary at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.