|"Where and on What Side Does the Anglican Communion Stand?"
VATICAN CITY, 16 JUNE 2006 (ZENIT)
Here is the address Cardinal
William Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity, gave to the Church of England bishops' meeting June 5,
on the question of ordaining women as bishops.
* * *
I wish to thank the archbishop of Canterbury for the invitation to
speak to you as the Church of England House of Bishops on a question
which concerns you and therefore also concerns the Catholic Church and
me personally as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
I have already had occasion to say to Archbishop Rowan Williams: Our
friends' problems are our problems too. In this spirit of ecumenical
solidarity I would like to offer you some reflections on the question of
the ordination of women to episcopal office. Naturally these reflections
are made from a Catholic perspective; I am of course convinced that the
decision which you are facing involves us together with you, insofar as
it will be of fundamental significance for relations between us in the
Today is not the first time we have discussed the subject of women's
ordination. Therefore I would like to begin with a brief overview of our
previous discussions. The introduction of the ordination of women to the
priesthood by some provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the
Church of England, was preceded by a lively correspondence between Rome
Pope Paul VI addressed a letter on this issue to Archbishop Donald
Coggan on Nov. 30, 1975, and again on March 23, 1976, and this was
followed by a letter from Pope John Paul II to Archbishop Robert Runcie
on Dec. 20, 1984. My predecessor in office, Cardinal Jan Willebrands,
responded to Archbishop Runcie's reply on Dec. 18, 1985.
On the question of the ordination of women to episcopal office, Pope
John Paul II wrote a very earnest letter to Archbishop Robert Runcie of
Dec. 8, 1988. The Pope spoke openly of "new obstacles in the way of
reconciliation between Catholics and Anglicans" and of the danger of "block[ing]
the path to the mutual recognition of ministries."
He made reference to the ecumenical and ecclesiological dimensions of
the question. In the joint declarations with Archbishop Robert Runcie
on Oct. 2, 1989, and with Archbishop George Carey on Dec. 5, 1996, he
addressed this question once more.
I should also mention the declarations by ARCIC, and the detailed
response to the Rochester Report, "Women Bishops in the Church of
England?" by the Department of Dialogue and Unity of the Catholic
Bishops' Conference of England and Wales on Oct. 3, 2005.
The official argumentation of the Catholic Church on the ordination of
women is found in the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith "On the Admission of Women to the Priesthood," "Inter
Insigniores" (1977), and in the apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II "Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis," "On reserving priestly ordination to men alone" (1994).
There the Pontiff stated that the Catholic Church was convinced that it
had no authority for such ordinations. It therefore considers such
ordinations invalid (CJC can 1024).
This position has often been misconstrued as misogyny and denial of the
equal dignity of women. But in the apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem"
on "The Dignity and Vocation of Women" (1988) and in his "Letter to
Women" (1995) Pope John Paul made it clear that the position of the
Catholic Church in no way arose from a denial of the equal dignity of
men and women or a lack of esteem for women, but is based solely on
fidelity to apostolic testimony as it has been handed down in the Church
throughout the centuries.
The Catholic Church distinguishes between the equal value and equal
dignity of men and women on the one hand and on the other hand the
differentiation of the two sexes, which have a complementary
relationship with one another.
Similar statements are found in the document of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith "On the collaboration of men and women in the
church and in the world" (2004). Benedict XVI reiterated and made
concrete this view in his address to the clergy of Rome on March 2,
I know that this question involves many complex hermeneutical,
anthropological and theological problems which I cannot enter into in
this context. The position of the Catholic Church can only be understood
and evaluated if one recognizes that the argumentation has a biblical
basis, but that the Church does not read the Bible as an isolated
Rather it understands the Bible in the light of the whole 2,000-year
tradition of all the ancient churches, the Catholic Church as well as
the ancient Eastern and Orthodox churches.
Doubtless, historically conditioned views at times had some influence on
this tradition. There are some arguments belonging to the past which we
do not reiterate today. We should of course be aware that our
contemporary views are also historically contingent in many respects,
and that presumably only future centuries will be able to measure just
how greatly we have been conditioned by our times; they will presumably
chuckle over many things which we take for granted today, just as we do
over many ideas of the ancient or medieval world.
On the other hand, it can be academically demonstrated that the
rejection of the ordination of women within the tradition was not
predicated on contemporary concepts alone but in essence on theological
arguments. Therefore it should not be assumed that the Catholic Church
will one day revise its current position. The Catholic Church is
convinced that she has no authority to do so.
Following this brief review of the discussion regarding the
ordination of women to priesthood, I would like to turn now to the
current question of the ordination of women to the episcopal office. At
first glance it seems to be a virtually unavoidable consequence of the
first step, the ordination of women to the priesthood.
The sacrament of ordination is one single sacrament, and access to one
step in principle also opens the way to the next step. The reverse
conclusion then must be that if women cannot be admitted to the
priesthood, then they obviously cannot be admitted to episcopal office
Nevertheless, in the ecumenical context the ordination of women to
episcopal office confronts us with a new situation relative to the
ordination to the priesthood, and represents a considerable further
escalation of the problem. Why?
The answer to this question derives from the nature of the episcopal
office, which according to the early church as well as to the current
understanding of the Catholic Church, is an office of unity. As such it
is particularly relevant to ecumenical concerns and aims.
I can here only touch on the foundations of this thesis. My starting
point is that unity and unanimity are fundamental words in the New
Testament: "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us
all" (Ephesians 4:5).
According to the testimony of the Acts of the Apostles, unanimity was
one of the signs of the first church (1:14; 2:46; 4:24, et al.). The
significance of unity in the Church and under the apostles emerges from
the way the Church dealt with the conflict regarding the continued
validity of Jewish law, which touched on the foundations of
After extensive discussions the controversy was settled at that time
with a handshake as a sign of communion ("koinonia") (Acts 15; Galatians
2). So "koinonia"/"communio" is a foundational term which gained
fundamental significance for the early church, and which in the eyes of
many once more occupies a preeminent place in defining the essence of
the Church today. The Church is shared participation in the life of God,
therefore "koinonia" with God and with one another (1 John 1:3).
So from the beginning the episcopal office was "koinonially," or
collegially, embedded in the communion of all bishops; it was never
perceived as an office to be understood or practiced individually.
In his history of the Church, Eusebius describes in detail the endeavors
to maintain peace, unity, love and communion during the violent
conflicts of the second century regarding the correct fasting practices
and the dating of Easter (Hist. eccl. V, 23f; cf. VII,5).
The collegial nature of the episcopal office achieves its most
impressive expression in the consecration of bishops. As early as the
Council of Nicaea (325) it was stipulated that, if possible, a bishop
should be consecrated by all the bishops of a province, or at least by a
minimum of three bishops with the consent of the others (can. 4). A
synod at Antiochia (341) demanded the presence of at least the majority
of the bishops of the province.
The "apostolic constitutions" are even more demanding in their
judgments. Anyone who has been consecrated by only one bishop should be
deposed (can. 27). In the early church collegial induction into the
episcopal office corresponded to the collegial exercise of the office
through the exchange of letters, reciprocal visits and above all the
joint consultation and formulation of resolutions at the synods or
We are indebted above all to the martyr bishop Cyprian of Carthage for a
thorough theology of the episcopal office. His sentence "episcopatus
unus et indivisus" is well known. This sentence stands in the context of
an urgent admonition by Cyprian to his fellow bishops: "Quam unitatem
tenere firmiter et vindicare debemus maxime episcopi, qui in ecclesia
praesidimus, ut episcopatum quoque ipsum unum atque indivisum probemus"
(And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of
us that are bishops who preside in the church, that we may also prove
the episcopate one and undivided).
This urgent exhortation is followed by a precise interpretation of the
statement "episcopatus unus et indivisus" : "Episcopatus unus est cuius
a singulis in solidum pars tenetur" (The episcopate is one, each part of
which is held by each one for the whole) ("De ecclesiae catholicae
unitate" I, 5).
Such statements and admonitions recur again and again in Cyprian's
letters (Ephesians 55:21; 59:14, et al.). Most familiar is the statement
that the Church is the people united with the bishop and the flock
devoted to its shepherd: "The bishop is in the Church and the Church is
in the bishop, and if anyone is not with the bishop he is not with the
But Cyprian goes even one step further: He not only emphasizes the unity
of the people of God with its own individual bishop, but also adds that
no one should imagine that he can be in communion with just a few, for
"the Catholic Church is not split or divided" but "united and held
together by the glue of the mutual cohesion of the bishops" (Ephesians
Cyprian's concept has become the norm. The First Vatican Council took up
Cyprian's formula of "episcopatus unus et indivisus" and gave it a
prominent position (DS 3951); this was later reiterated by the Second
Vatican Council ("Lumen Gentium," No. 18), which added depth to the
theology of the episcopal office in the early church tradition with the
concept of episcopal collegiality (particularly "Lumen Gentium," No.
Collegiality was not understood simply in terms of an ultimately
non-binding collegial frame of mind; collegiality is rather a reality
ontologically grounded in the sacrament of episcopal consecration, the
shared participation in the one episcopal office which finds concrete
expression in the "collegialitas affectiva" and in the "collegialitas
This collegiality is of course not limited to the horizontal and
synchronic relationship with contemporary episcopal colleagues; since
the Church is one and the same in all centuries, the present-day church
must also maintain diachronic consensus with the episcopate of the
centuries before us, and above all with the testimony of the apostles.
This is the more profound significance of the apostolic succession in
The episcopal office is thus an office of unity in a twofold sense.
Bishops are the sign and the instrument of unity within the individual
local church, just as they are between both the contemporary local
churches and those of all times within the universal Church.
It is one of the heartening experiences of ecumenical dialogue that we
have been able to establish that this understanding of the Church as
koinonia, and with it the " koinonial" understanding of the episcopal
office, is not just a particular Catholic tradition, but an
understanding we share with the Anglican Communion. It can be found in
the ARCIC conversations from the very beginning.
It can also be found in the Paper of the House of Bishops "Bishops in
Communion: Collegiality in the Service of the Koinonia of the Church"
(2000), and it has entered into and become fundamental in the Windsor
Report (2004). We can thus recognize with gratitude that we share a
broad common theological and ecclesiological basis on this issue.
Should we not therefore also be in a position to say together: The
decision for the ordination of women to the episcopal office can only be
made with an overwhelming consensus, and must not in any way involve a
conflict between the majority and the minority.
It would be desirable that this decision would be made with the
consensus of the ancient churches of the East and West. If on the
contrary the consecration of a bishop becomes the cause of a schism or
blocks the way to full unity, then what occurs is something
intrinsically contradictory. It should then not take place, or should be
postponed until a broader consensus can be reached.
In formulating this last conclusion I have already moved from a
presentation of the theological foundations toward the practical
questions and conclusions which I would like to address in the following
discussion. I do so with inner hesitation and at the same time with pain
and sadness. But I believe I can best serve the cause of ecumenism with
open and honest statements.
If I see it correctly, the principles I have set out lead to two
practical consequences, one for the sphere of the Anglican Communion and
the Church of England itself, and one for the interecclesial, ecumenical
sphere, and in concrete terms, for the future relationship of the Church
of England to the Catholic Church.
If what I have said about the unity of the episcopate and the shared
collegial participation in the one episcopate is true, then the mutual
recognition of bishops, and in particular the recognition of the
validity and legality of their ordination, is constitutive for the unity
of the Church.
At issue here is not a purely canonical or disciplinary question which
could be solved or bridged by more or less organizational arrangements
such as flying bishops, or the creation of a third ecclesial province or
such like. Where mutual recognition and communion between bishops does
not exist or no longer exists, where one can therefore no longer
concelebrate the Eucharist, then no church communion, at least no full
church communion and thus no Eucharistic communion can exist.
Arrangements like those I have referred to can only cover over the
breach superficially; they can paper over the cracks, but they cannot
heal the division; one can even go one step further and say that from
the Catholic perspective they are the unspoken institutionalization,
manifestation and virtual legitimization of an existing schism.
When such a situation becomes a reality, it is not a purely
inner-Anglican matter, but also has consequences for the ecumenical
relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. We
had invested great hopes and expectations in the Catholic-Anglican
Following the historic encounter of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop M.
Ramsey on March 24, 1966 
40 years ago now
ARCIC was, together with the Lutheran-Catholic and the
Methodist-Catholic dialogues, among the first dialogues we initiated
after the Second Vatican Council.
Since that time it has in many respects brought great progress, for
which we thank God and all those who have taken part. Thus the meeting
of Catholic and Anglican bishops in Toronto-Mississauga (2000) was
filled with great hopes.
The progress made relates not least to the question of a shared
understanding of ministries. Even in the first phase of dialogue
positive results were achieved in this fundamental question, and later
we were able to expand upon these gains.
Besides the official dialogue there was a thorough historical and
theological discussion of the Bull of Pope Leo XIII, "Apostolicae Curae"
(1896) (DS 3315-3319). All of these discussions have not led to a
conclusive resolution or to a full consensus, but they achieved a
pleasing rapprochement which justifiably aroused promising
But then the growing practice of the ordination of women to priesthood
led to an appreciable cooling-off. A resolution in favor of the
ordination of women to the episcopate within the Church of England would
most certainly lower the temperature once more; in terms of the possible
recognition of Anglican orders, it would lead not only to a short-lived
cold, but to a serious and long-lasting chill.
Three provinces within the Anglican Communion have already ordained
women to the episcopate; several other provinces have authorized such
ordinations, though none have taken place in the latter to this point.
These developments already stand as a major obstacle in
But the Catholic Church has always perceived the Church of England as
playing a unique role in the Anglican Communion: It is the church from
which Anglicanism derives its historical continuity, and with whom the
divisions of the 16th century are most specifically addressed; it is the
church led by the archbishop of Canterbury who, in the words of the
Windsor Report, is " the pivotal instrument and focus of unity" within
the Anglican Communion; other provinces have understood being in
communion with him as a " touchstone of what it was to be Anglican"
(99); finally, it is the church which we in continental Europe directly
associate with Anglicanism, in part because of your many Church of
England chaplaincies spread throughout the continent.
For us, the Church of England is not simply one province among others;
its decisions have a particular importance for our dialogue, and give a
strong indication of the direction in which the Communion as a whole is
Because the episcopal office is a ministry of unity, the decision you
face would immediately impact on the question of the unity of the Church
and with it the goal of ecumenical dialogue. It would be a decision
against the common goal we have until now pursued in our dialogue: full
ecclesial communion, which cannot exist without full communion in the
Such a decision broadly taken within the Anglican Communion would mean
turning away from the common position of all churches of the first
millennium, that is, not only the Catholic Church but also the ancient
Eastern and the Orthodox churches.
It would, in our view, further call into question what was recognized by
the Second Vatican Council (Unitatis Redintegratio, 13), that the
Anglican Communion occupied " a special place" among churches and
ecclesial communities of the West. We would see the Anglican Communion
as moving a considerable distance closer to the side of the Protestant
churches of the 16th century. It would indeed continue to have bishops,
according to the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888); but as with bishops
within some Protestant churches, the older churches of East and West
would recognize therein much less of what they understand to be the
character and ministry of the bishop in the sense understood by the
early church and continuing through the ages.
Amidst all of this, the question arises which also occupied John Henry
Newman: is the so-called via media a viable path? Where and on what
side does the Anglican Communion stand, where will it stand in the
future? Which orientation does it claim as its own: the Latin, Greek,
Protestant, liberal or evangelical?
It may retreat to the Anglican principle of comprehensiveness and
answer: We are a little of everything. Such comprehensiveness is
doubtless a good principle to a certain degree, but it should not be
overdone, as my predecessor Cardinal Edward Cassidy once told you: One
arrives at limits where one must decide one way or the other. For
without identity no society, least of all a church, can continue to
survive. The decision you are facing is therefore an historic decision.
What follows from these conclusions and questions? What follows for the
future of our ecumenical dialogue? One thing is certain: The Catholic
Church will not break off the dialogue even in the case of such a
decision. It will above all not break off the personal relationships and
friendships which have developed over the past years and decades. But
there is a difference between types of dialogue. The quality of the
dialogue would be altered by such a decision.
Ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the
restoration of full Church communion. That has been the presupposition
of our dialogue until now. That presupposition would realistically no
longer exist following the introduction of the ordination of women to
Following that action we could still come together for the sake of
information and consultation; we could continue to discuss and attempt
to clarify theological issues, to cooperate in many practical spheres
and to give shared witness.
Above all we could unite in joint prayer and pray for one another. All
of that is, God knows, not negligible. But the loss of the common goal
would necessarily have an effect on such encounters and rob them of most
of their élan and their internal dynamic. Above all
and this is the most painful aspect
the shared partaking of the one Lord's table, which we long for so
earnestly, would disappear into the far and ultimately unreachable
distance. Instead of moving towards one another we would co-exist
alongside one another.
For many that may seem a more realistic path than what we have attempted
previously, but whether it is in accordance with the binding last will
and testament of Jesus, "that all may be one" (John 17: 21) is of course
another question. The answer would have to be in the negative.
I ask you: Is that what we want? Are we permitted to do that? Should we
not ponder what Cyprian tells us, namely that the seamless robe of Jesus
Christ cannot be possessed by those who tear apart and divide the church
of Christ ("De catholicae ecclesiae unitate," 1,6)?
That brings me back once more in conclusion to a consideration of the
fundamental principles. I have quoted our common Church father, Cyprian.
In conclusion I would like to refer to another shared Church father, St.
Augustine, and to one who must be particularly close to you, the
Venerable Bede. Both of them took up Cyprian's ideas.
Cyprian had illustrated his thesis of the "episcopatus unus et indivisus"
through a series of metaphors: the metaphor of the sun which has many
rays but only one light; of the tree which has many branches but only
one trunk grounded in one sturdy root, and of many streams which spring
from one single source. Then he states: "Cut off one of the sun's rays
the unity of the light permits no division; break off a branch of the
tree and it can bud no more; dam off a spring from its source, it dries
up below the cut" ("De catholicae ecclesiae unitate," 1,5).
St. Augustine took up these metaphors more than once in his text "Contra
Cresconium." I will quote just one instance: "Avelle radium solis a
corpore, divisionem lucis unitas non capit: ab arbore frange ramum,
fructus germinare non poterit: a fonte praecide rivum, praecisus arescit"
(Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not
allow a division of light; break a branch from a the tree
when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its
fountain, and that which is cut off dries up) (lib II 33.42).
Similarly, the Venerable Bede says in a homily: "Pastores sunt omnes,
sed grex unus ostenditur qui ab apostolis omnibus tunc unianima
consensione pascebatur" (All are shepherds but one flock is revealed.
Then it was fed by all the apostles with harmonious agreement).
"Grex unus, qui unianima consensione pascitur," that is the aim of
ecumenical dialogue; it can only succeed if the "unianima consensio" of
every single one of the separated churches is preserved and is then
constituted step by step between those separated ecclesial bodies. May
this, in spite of all the difficulties and resistance, be granted to us
one day by the grace of God.
Address of Benedict XVI to the Clergy of Rome on March 2, 2006
"Thus, the Church has a great debt of gratitude to women. And you have
correctly emphasized that at a charismatic level, women do so much, I
would dare to say, for the government of the Church, starting with women
religious, with the sisters of the great fathers of the Church such as
St. Ambrose, to the great women of the Middle Ages
St. Hildegard, St. Catherine of Siena, then St. Teresa of Avila
and lastly, Mother Teresa.
I would say that this charismatic sector is undoubtedly distinguished by
the ministerial sector in the strict sense of the term, but it is a true
and deep participation in the government of the Church.
How could we imagine the government of the Church without this
contribution, which sometimes becomes very visible, such as when St.
Hildegard criticized the bishops or when St. Bridget offered
recommendations and St. Catherine of Siena obtained the return of the
Popes to Rome? It has always been a crucial factor without which the
Church cannot survive.
However, you rightly say: we also want to see women more visibly in the
government of the Church. We can say that the issue is this: The
priestly ministry of the Lord, as we know, is reserved to men, since the
priestly ministry is government in the deep sense, which, in short,
means it is the sacrament (of orders) that governs the Church.
This is the crucial point. It is not the man who does something, but the
priest governs, faithful to his mission, in the sense that it is the
sacrament, that is, through the sacrament it is Christ himself who
governs, both through the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, and
thus Christ always presides.
However, it is right to ask whether in ministerial service
despite the fact that here sacrament and charism are the two ways in
which the Church fulfils herself
it might be possible to make more room, to give more offices of
responsibility to women."
* * *
 Information Service, 70 (1989/I), 60.
 Cited in: Growth in Agreement II, Report and Agreed Statements of
Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level, Geneva
Cambridge 2000, 327; 371 f.
 In the Ministry Elucidations of 1979 n. 5, in: Growth in Agreement
I. New York-Geneva 1984, 87; Church as Communion (1990) n. 57, in:
Growth in Agreement II, 342.
 Other relevant documents: Address by Pope Paul VI "On the Role of
Women in the Plan of Salvation," Jan. 30, 1977; Pope John Paul II,
apostolic exhortation "Christifideles Laici" (1988) No. 51; Catechism of
the Catholic Church (1992) No. 1577.
 Address of Benedict XVI to the clergy of Rome on March 2, 2006.
 Cf. on its interpretation Sources chrétiennes n. 500, Paris
2006,177-179; 184-f; 273-275.
 Cf. Authority in the Church I (Venice Statement) (1976), in: Growth
in Agreement I, 91-96; Final Report (1981), in: ibid. 65; Elucidation
(1981), in: ibid. 103-105; Authority in the Church II (Windsor
Statement) (1981), in: ibid. 106-117; Church as Communion (1990), in:
ibid. II, 328-343; The Gift of Authority. Authority in the Church III
 Cf. the Common Declaration of St. Paul Outside the Walls, in "Growth
in Agreement I," 125 f.
 Cf. apart from the documents listed in Notes 3 and 6 Ministry and
Ordination (Canterbury Statement) (1973), in: Growth in Agreement I,
79-84 and Clarifications on Eucharist and Ministry, in: Information 1
Service, 87 (1994) IV, 237-242.
 Cf. the Letter of Cardinal Willebrands to ARCIC's Co-Chairs from
July 13, 1985, in: Information Service 60 (1986/I-II) 23-f.
 J.H. Newman, "Apologia pro vita sua," Parts IV and V passim.
 Translation M. Bevenet, Cyprian "De lapsis" and "De Ecclesiae
Catholicae Unitate," Oxford Early Christian Texts, Clarendon Press 1971,
 Homily II: 22, translated in Bede the Venerable Homilies on the
Gospels Book 2, p. 227, translated by Lawrence T. Martin and David
Hurst, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1991 [cited in
Sources chrétiennes, loc. cit. 287; 293.]