The Archbishop of Canterbury is in Rome and will meet the Pope today for a private meeting. The impression given in some media is that this visit is a response to the Pope’s establishment of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans who want to join the Roman Catholic Church. But two things need to be said about this: (a) the visit was scheduled many, many months ago, so has been coloured by recent events, but not determined by them; (b) according to a RC bishop with whom I spoke recently, they do not want ‘disaffected’ Anglicans who would prefer to remain Anglican really, but only those who positively want to join the RC Church – in other words, those with positive and not negative motivation.
Now, that will be an interesting one for the RC authorities to work out when they engage in the discernment process in each individual case.
However, I was asked to do an interview with John Humphreys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning and the thrust of the question put to me was about ‘leadership’. Has Rowan Williams’ authority been undermined by the Pope’s offer and is his leadership (particularly in comparison with that of Pope Benedict) too equivocal to be effective?
My response was simple: leadership is not about shouting loudly what people want to hear… now. yet that is what many people think it is. If they don’t hear Rowan saying what they want to hear him saying, then he isn’t leading. What Rowan is doing is taking the long-term view. Well, what about the lack of ‘robustness’ in his leadership? I wasn’t being facetious when I noted that Jesus wasn’t being exactly ‘robust’ when he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross.
Isn’t it more ‘robust’ (and doesn’t it take more nerve) to resist the clamour for statements, simple clarity (where it may not exist) or irrevocable decisions before the time is right to give them? It could be argued that to stick to your course in the face of competing demands for statements shows not leadership but weak (and short-term) populism.
So, you may not agree with Rowan, but you have to give him some credit for not being pushed into a corner by the strident voices of competing factions or the comment-hungry media. His conversation with Benedict should be just that: a conversation with Benedict. Why can’t we learn to respect context, relationship and confidence and then see where the two leaders go from here?
The contrast with Benedict is an interesting one, however. It is illuminating to listen to Roman Catholics who are alarmed at the way the Pope has pushed this Apostolic Constitution through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by-passed the appropriate body, the Pontifical Council for Ecumenical Dialogue. If this ‘leadership’ undermined the Archbishop of Canterbury, then what does it say about the leadership of the Archbishop of Westminster who was given the same notice of the Constitution as was Rowan? And does it undermine both Vatican process and the authority of the Roman Catholic bishops of England, given that they also had no notice of what was proposed than their Anglican counterparts?
It is often said that Rowan could sometimes be clearer in what he does say – given that even academic lectures will still get reported in popular media – but intellectual laziness should not excuse us from working at what he does say in order to get to the heart of how this holy man sees God, the world and us.
This morning the Times asks Rowan to by-pass the tanks parked on the lawn at Lambeth Palace and speak truth to the heart of Rome. The challenges he posed to Rome in his lecture yesterday are serious (and not simple) ones – as recognised by Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Brian Farrell. It will be interesting to see if and how Rome responds.