Williams faces historic choice, says Vatican cardinal


A Vatican cardinal has said that the time has come for the Anglican Church to choose between Protestantism and the ancient churches of Rome and Orthodoxy.

Speaking on the day that the Archbishop of Canterbury met Benedict XVI in Rome, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity, said it was time for Anglicanism to “clarify its identity”.

He told the Catholic Herald: “Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong?

“Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium -Catholic and Orthodox - or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions.”

He said he hoped that the Lambeth conference, an event which brings the worldwide Anglican Communion together every 10 years, would be the deciding moment for Anglicanism.

Cardinal Kasper, who has been asked to speak at the Lambeth Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “We hope that certain fundamental questions will be clarified at the conference so that dialogue will be possible.

“We shall work and pray that it is possible, but I think that it is not sustainable to keep pushing decision-making back because it only extends the crisis.”

His comments will be interpreted as an attempt by Rome to put pressure on the Church of England not to proceed with the ordination women bishops or to sanction gay partnerships, both serious obstacles to unity.

They have come at an extremely sensitive time for the Anglican Communion, as cracks between different factions in the church are beginning to show ahead of the conference in July.

Dr Rowan Williams faces rebellion from conservative and liberal Anglicans over homosexuality and women bishops.

The Rt Rev Gene Robinson, the Anglican bishop of New Hampshire, whose attempts to enter into a civil union with his gay partner have angered conservative Anglicans, plans to attend the public events of the conference despite the fact that he has not been invited by Dr Williams.

On the other side of the spectrum, rebel conservative bishops, headed by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, dismayed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s refusal to condemn homosexuality outright, plan a rival conference in the Holy Land in June.

Ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Anglican Communion ground to a halt in 2006. Cardinal Kasper said at the time that a decision by the Church of England to consecrate women bishops would lead to “a serious and long lasting chill”.

But last month the Church of England’s Legislative Drafting Group published a report preparing the ground for women bishops, who are already ordained in several Anglican provinces.

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