Here’s a quotation from a comment by an Anglican vicar who visits this blog. This is how he perceives the Catholic position: it is as if we are saying to the Anglicans…
You can’t be real Christians like us because you believe that women can serve God in the ordained ministry.
The vicar says this honestly. He is expressing his frustration with the Catholic Church’s apparent obstinacy on the issue of women’s ordination. I understand this and don’t mind his frank expression. However, let’s look at the statement and try to understand the underlying Anglican attitude.
First of all he thinks Catholics are saying that Anglicans are not ‘real Christians.’ This is probably the vicar’s subjective and emotional response to certain Catholic statements rather than a thought out position based on the whole of Catholic teaching. Do we believe that Anglicans are ‘real Christians’? Of course we do. The Catechism states clearly that those who are baptized and have faith in Christ are our brothers and sisters in the faith.
Nevertheless, it is a widespread gut feeling amongst non Catholic Christians that Catholics believe they are second class citizens. This conclusion might be drawn from Ratzinger’s document Dominus Jesus in which certain non Catholic ecclesial structures were deemed not to be ‘proper’ churches. It might also be the continued resentment on the unchanging Vatican position that Anglican orders are ‘null and utterly void.’ This is understandable, but it should be clear that the Catholic Church is not saying that Anglicans are not Christians. They are. We are re-affirming, however, something which Anglicans themselves would fight for–the simple truth that they are not Catholics. That we understand their not being Catholics to be a deficit for them is natural. We also hold that we are poorer without them, and that all of us are wounded by the brokenness of the Body of Christ.
The second point is more revealing. It is suggested that we consider Anglicans to be second rate Christians (or not real Christians at all) because they have admitted women to the ordained ministry and that this is not of the same order as disbelieving the resurrection. The basic attitude is, ‘women’s ordination is a side issue. It doesn’t really matter that much.’
What is revealed by this attitude is the whole shooting match concerning, not just ‘women’s ministry’ but the nature of the priestly ministry, the sacrifice of the Mass, apostolic succession, the validity of the sacraments, and the nature of authority in the church, the nature of human sexuality and therefore the sacrament of marriage. For the Anglicans these things too must be ‘of a second order’ because women’s ordination touches all these matters, and I’m afraid the vicar has expressed the Anglican view all too well, for the typical Anglican doesn’t see how all these things are connected, and more troubling, if he does see how they are connected he doesn’t really think these other matters are crucial either.
He does not because, as I have outlined in a recent post, the typical Anglican considers all theological expressions to be provisional. They are metaphorical, not real. If a fellow wishes to consider himself a sacrificing priest that is fine for Anglicans, but no one (not even most Anglo Catholics) would argue that such a view is mandatory. That is why the Anglo Catholic is quite happy to be ordained by the same bishop on the same day in the same rite as an Evangelical Anglican whose theology is virtually Presbyterian. Likewise, if a fellow wants to think that his Eucharist is a ‘sacrifice’, the Anglican attitude is, ‘Well if it works for you, that’s jolly nice,” The same applies for apostolic succession, and the validity of the sacraments and the question of where authority lies in the church. The typical Anglican attitude is that these are arcane questions which can never really be answered, so you go ahead and take whatever position seems best to you. That’s why the mainstream Anglican is so angry with the Anglo Catholics who will not budge and insist that these are important issues.
As Catholics we believe the question of women’s ordination is vitally important, not for the utilitarian, sentimental and political reasons which are often brought up by its proponents, but for the theological, historical and organic reasons. In other words, it matters because Truth is unified, and every aspect of truth is connected. Weaken one part and the rest are weakened.
Anglo Catholics who believe the same should become Catholics as soon as possible–either through the Ordinariate when it is set up or by joining the Catholic Church now. The reason they should do so is not because they will be able to maintain their lovely liturgy and not have women priests. It is because they share an underlying philosophical and theological agreement with Catholicism which they do not with Anglicanism. If they do not share this underlying agreement with the Catholic worldview, then they should remain in the Anglican Church and make the suitable compromises (for it is the nature of Anglicanism to compromise) and stop grumbling.