Another objection to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is that it presents a major, even fatal, obstacle to hopes of reunion with Rome. Uhh, no. Well, I’m sure that the ordination of women presents an obstacle in the eyes of the papacy. But that’s not our problem. Let’s talk about obstacles to the reunion of Christendom:
1. The doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope. Granted, nobody is quite sure exactly what this means (although Cardinal Ratzinger seemed sure enough a few years ago), and some liberal Roman Catholic theologians have tried to find ways to weasel around it or explain it away, but that simply won’t do. The doctrine is arrogant and false, and if the Roman Catholic Church really wants to implement Christ’s prayerful wish “ut unum sint,” then they have to renounce it. Not just reinterpret it, renounce it.
2. Even more of an obstacle in my mind than the Pope’s infallibility (which is, after all, a silly claim anyway) is the Pope’s universal ordinary jurisdiction. In other words, the Bishop of Rome can (and sometimes does) intervene directly in the affairs of local dioceses. The bottom line is that Roman bishops, even cardinal archbishops, are only suffragans of the Bishop of Rome. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen. If Rome is serious about the reunion of Christendom, this is number one on the repudiation list.
3. Another obstacle is the issue of inventing new doctrines, or at least raising somewhat old but hardly primitive doctrines to dogmatic status. Specifically, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the doctrine of her Corporal Assumption into Heaven. Frankly, I don’t have a huge objection if someone wants to believe that those pious opinions are true. I don’t believe they are, but if others find them coherent or meaningful, that’s okay, and I’m willing to listen to their explanations. Personally, I find the Immaculate Conception (of Mary) meaningless; I think it involves a category mistake about the nature of original sin. The Assumption bothers me a little more, since it is a specifically historical claim that is without any evidence whatsoever, and I think we need to be very careful about the historical claims we make. The most obvious problematic claim is the Resurrection of Jesus; whether it should be regarded as historical depends on how one defines “historical,” but there is certainly solid historical evidence that the first generation of Christians were absolutely convinced that Jesus had really been raised from the dead and had appeared to many of his followers. There is absolutely no similar evidence concerning the circumstances of the death, or purported non-death, of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus. Nor is it clear what the meaning of this alleged event might be. It would be a very strange way to honor our Lord’s Mother by making a false historical claim about her. More to the point, to claim that Mary’s Assumption was in some sense a reflection of her Son’s Resurrection seems to me to miss the point of the Resurrection of Jesus (which is not that “we too will go to heaven when we die”). Bishop N. T. Wright has some excellent reflections on the significance of the Resurrection; as far as I am aware he does not discuss the alleged Assumption, nor, I suppose, would he. But in any case, if someone wants to “believe in” the Immaculate Conception of Mary and in her Assumption, go ahead. But for Rome to claim that these pious opinions are de fide dogmata is utterly beyond the pale, and raises grave suspicions about whether they fully understand what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really about.
I suppose an ecumenical negotiator might say, well, Rome will give up the universal authority of the Pope and the Marian dogmas, if the Anglicans will give up the ordination of women. Nice try. I for one am absolutely unwilling to throw my sisters under the bus in exchange for renunciations of falsehoods that Rome needs to give up in any case.
Reunion with Rome is something which simply is not going to happen in our time, sadly, certainly not on their terms. Mind you, I am very much in favor of the closest possible relationships and cooperation in mission and service between Roman Catholics and Anglicans at the local level, the diocesan level, and even at the national level. I rejoice that +Rowan and +Benedict seem to have a good personal relationship. But they both need to understand that we are not going to give up anything to Rome. Au contraire….