Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wowed members of the Society of Jesus & friends with his elegant, eloquent, and moving acceptance of America‘s Campion Award for achievement in letters last evening. Even though there’s been a fair amount of honor paid by the Catholic and Anglican churches to each others’ martyrs in recent years, it was still a bit of a bold move for the Jesuit magazine to give its highest award to the chief prelate of the church under whose auspices the famous Jesuit recusant was captured, hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1581.
Not surprisingly, some on the right have taken the award as a purposeful poke in the eye to the Vatican in the wake of last year’s dust-up over Rome’s outreach to Anglicans who would be Anglo-Catholics. That’s the view over at The American Catholic, where the award makes sense because “what the Church of England has morphed into,
a left wing pressure group with prayers, is frankly what America has been championing for years in the Catholic Church.” (Ah, that lovely Catholic blogosphere.) Actually, the award was decided on well before news of the new personal ordinariates hit the fan.
And yet, lurking in the background are some real questions about the character of Catholic ecumenism these days. Williams himself is a leading figure in longstanding efforts to bring the Catholic and Anglican churches closer ecclesially. His own assessment of the Vatican’s Anglican outreach, made
November 18 a conference on ecumenism at the Gregorian, was that it “failed to break any fresh ecclesiological ground.” But, as NCR’s John Allen made clear in a pointed essay last week, Pope Benedict seems happy to let that business languish in favor of forging common religious cause on challenges like climate change.
As America‘s editor Drew Christiansen noted, the giving of the award marked the 100th anniversary of the modern ecumenical movement, when “the churches of Scotland gathered in Edinburgh to foster unity in their missionary witness.” What Williams described as an “act of ecumenical generosity” was about more than just the desirability of working together on important social issues.