Thursday, July 10, 2008

An Archbishop of Canterbury in retreat

Thursday, July 10, 2008, 06:39 PM GMT [General]

The immense damage done to the Archbishop of Canterbury during Monday night's debate on women priests is still sinking in. Dr Rowan Williams had not intended to speak, but he was so alarmed by the lack of provision for traditionalists in the code of practice that he appealed to Synod members to reject it. They ignored him.

It was as if a Prime Minister, having quietly supported a piece of legislation in the Commons, suddenly lost his nerve, appealed to the House to change its mind, and was then rebuffed. Even Gordon Brown has yet to chalk up that sort of disaster.

Rowan being Rowan, the meaning of his intervention was not immediately clear. But, as Ruth Gledhill noted, a cold chill swept across the chamber as it dawned on people that the Archbishop "now wants the whole thing blown out of the water". Which was not, of course, what happened.

And so Cantuar's leadership is further diminished, just before the start of the Lambeth Conference. Andrew Carey, son of Archbishop Carey, has produced a pretty devastating analysis of Monday night's "train wreck" on the American Anglican website Stand Firm:

"While Dr Williams has often given traditionalists hope that he would back a structural solution to their problems of conscience, he seems to have completely ruled out strong leadership on theological and ecclesial issues. Wearing permanently now, it seems, the persona of the mediator, Dr Williams was seen by Synod trying to have it both ways. 'I am deeply unhappy with any scheme... which ends up structurally humiliating women.' But he was equally unhappy about marginalising traditionalists. He therefore came 'not very comfortably to the conclusion', we needed a 'more rather than less robust form of structural provision'.

"The Archbishop by his thoughtfulness, gravity and seriousness carries great weight and affection in General Synod but he failed to use this credit on Monday night. And as for the House of Bishops in general, the one word you will never hear them using these days is 'collegiality'. The Bishops are pulling in all directions at once. It is no surprise then to see that the Church of England is now synodically led and governed."

If I was a member of the C of E, I'd be sick to death now of the Archbishop's haunted hand-wringing. The word that comes to mind is Amletico - "Hamlet-like", as Pope John XXIII described his tortured successor, Paul VI.

I don't think Rowan Williams wants to be Archbishop of Canterbury any more; indeed, I'm not even sure he wants to be in the Church of England.

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