March 19, 2012

From the Thames to the Tiber


Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams celebrate the Vespers 
at San Gregorio al Celio in Rome (Photo: Reuters)
Last Friday Archbishop Rowan Williams, who has led the Anglican Communion since 2002, announced that he will be stepping down from the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of December 2012. He said it was time to move on after a decade as archbishop and his new post as master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University would give him the time “which I have longed for” to think and write about the Church. After presiding over one of the most turbulent periods in the Church of England's history, the archbishop told friends he would like to give his successor adequate time to prepare for the next Lambeth Conference–the summit of Anglican bishops held once every decade. All in all, he seems to be quite happy about his decision, and perhaps it was not by chance that he gave the announcement in Rome, where he was invited to take part in the celebrations of the 1,000th anniversary of the Camaldolese (Benedictine) monastic family. “I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros,” he also said.

As a matter of fact the Archbishop of Canterbury is even said to have considered quitting following the last conference in 2008, which was mired by boycotts, rows over homosexual clergy and challenges to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s authority. As Italian author and journalist Vittorio Messori wrote in yesterday’s Corriere della Sera newspaper (in Italian), “The continued mediation between opposed groups is part of the history of this heterogeneous community, but now, as we are made to understand by the prelate, they’re going too far. […] With a half-smile beneath his neat, white beard, he makes us to understand that he retires after nine years as archbishop ‘on grounds of patience.’”

After all, the Anglican Communion has been “unable to resist the hegemonic ideology of political correctness, even though it goes against the Bible,” as Messori himself told Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore back in October 2009, when the Vatican announced a new structure which would make it easier for Anglicans, including married priests, uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female priests and openly gay bishops, to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their traditions. By the way, what did Rowan Williams have to say about that? Well, he did not disapprove of the Vatican’s decision, and while admitting he only learnt of it a couple of weeks before the decision was announced, he insisted the move was not meant as “an act of proselytism or aggression.”

Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams,
and Archbishop of York, John Sentamu 
Photo courtesy: Christianity Today
Of course, now the question is, Who will be the new leader of the Anglican Communion? The odds-on favorite, according to numerous observers, is Uganda-born John Sentamu, the current archbishop of York and the No. 2 official in the Church of England. Sentamu is one of four English bishops who in 1999 refused to sign the Cambridge Accord (an attempt to find agreement on affirming certain human rights of homosexuals, notwithstanding differences within the church on the morality of homosexual behavior). What is more, in an January 27, 2012 interview with The Daily Telegraph, he told ministers they should not overrule the Bible and tradition by allowing same-sex marriage. “Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” he said. “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.”

Sentamu’s standpoint is a conservative one. “A program which is not unlike that of Benedict XVI’s ‘re-evangelization,’” Messori says. “All in all,” he concludes, “it’s not apologetics, it’s a given: five centuries after Henry VIII, the Thames seems to be willing to run towards the Tiber.” Perhaps he is right. At least I hope so.



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