BY SIMON CALDWELL
Coe esssi. Comae MurphyO'Connor has expressed his deep disappointment at the near collapse of the ecumenical project between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
The Cardinal said that although he did not think theological dialogue had ended it had reached a "plateau" from where it was difficult to meaningfully proceed.
I-fis remarks came on the eve of the Church of England General Synod in London. where Anglican bishops were to debate the ordination of women as bishops, a move the Catholic Church believes will present a further obstacle to eventual unity.
He said he was saddened by the apparent failure of the Anglican Communion a, accept the conclusions of the work of the Anglican-Roman
Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), especially in the area of authority in the Church.
"1 think it's probably inevitable that there will be the ordination of women bishops," said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor at a press conference on Monday in Archbishop's House, London, to launch the white paper on the pastoral priorities for the Archdiocese of Westminster.
"There is no doubt that recent developments have meant that ecumenism is, in some ways, on a plateau. It
will go on, because as I have often said, it's a road with no exit.
"We've got to concentrate on 'spiritual ecumenism', focusing on the things that really unite us, such as scrip
ture and common beliefs."
The Cardinal. who was cochairman of ARCIC for 16 years, said he did not "rejoice at the divisions" within the Anglican Communion over such issues as the ordination of women and actively gay men as bishops. "I'm very sorry about the difficulties they encounter in all kinds of ways in terms of their communion with each other, which is becoming very, very impaired in all kinds of ways," he said. "It's not just a question of [Anglican clergy] changing from one to another. It's a question of their acceptance of the Catholic faith. if they were serious about this, then we would naturally want to consider it."
He continued: "Personally I can't avoid disappointment, but I also can't avoid understanding the difficulties for the Anglican Communion." He said that the differences were between the Anglican principles of "Scripture, Tradition and reason" and the Catholic principles of Scripture, Tradition and teaching authority.
"I think the 'reasonableness' of Anglicanism has come under pressure." he said, adding: "There is, and I mean this partly because of my ARCIC experience and because of my friendships with so many Anglican clergy and bishops over the years, a very real sense that England is terra ecumenica, and that we've got to keep on this road in every possible way!'
The Cardinal added that he did not think "there will be many Anglican clergy becoming Catholic as a result of the ordination of women bishops".
He said: "They would have done so already at the time of the ordination of women priests."
Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Longley of Westminster, also present at the meeting, dismissed the suggestion that the Catholic Church had been "betrayed" by its ecumenical partner.
"The decisions that the Church of England may well make regarding the ordination of women to the episcopate could be theologically foreseen 10 years ago or longer," he said. "There wouldn't be the basis for that sense of betrayal, which has an element of surprise about it." In July, the Church of England voted by a twothirds majority to remove the obstacles preventing women from becoming bishops. It is expected that the first female bishop may be appointed in Britain by 2010.
The Catholic Church made its position on the question clear in a paper produced as a formal response to the Rochester Report, which had laid down the theological arguments in favour of the consecration of women bishops.
The bishops said that while the Church of England was free to make such a decision "in isolation". the proposed reforms would "destroy" internal unity within the Anglican Communion.
"Roman Catholics are particularly concerned about the ecumenical implications of the affirmation of the `right of the Church of England to develop its own orders'," the paper said. "This may well be 'implied in the logic of the Reformation itself', but it is difficult to harmonise with the texts and spirit of various bilateral statements involving the Anglican communion in recent years, including those of ARCIC."
The work of ARCIC came to an end last year and at present ecumenical dialogue is being conducted chiefly by the International AnglicanRoman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) which last met in November.