Last month, Cardinal Kasper addressed (Zenit) the English bishops on what the reaction of Rome would be to the ordination of women to the episcopate.
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 dialogue.
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 expectations.
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 Anglican-Catholic relations.
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 heading.
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 episcopal office.
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.
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 [the restoration of Church communion] 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)?
In 1896, Pope Leo XIII declared in the Bull Apostolicae Curae that Anglican orders were in fact invalid for a number of reasons. Wikipedia's article on Apostolic Succession (which we take with a grain of salt always) notes that the decision was reaffirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger in a commentary accompanying the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem which added "new norms which expressly impose the obligation of upholding truths proposed in a definitive way by the Magisterium of the Church, and which also establish related canonical sanctions."
In his commentary, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, "With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations..."
The Church of Sweden's apostolic succession is seen by the Roman Catholic Church as having been maintained, and following the establishment of the Porvoo Communion an increasing number of Anglicans will also be able to trace their succession through Swedish bishops as well as Old Catholic bishops, whose holy orders are recognized as valid by Rome and who, at least those of the Union of Utrecht, are in full communion with Canterbury since the Bonn Agreement of 1931. It should also be noted that since the issuance of Apostolicae Curae, many Anglican jurisdictions have revised their ordinals, bringing them more in line with ordinals emanating from the early Church.
It is hard to say just where exactly the Church of England's succession is in the tangled web of validity. For certain, the ancient English succession (according to Rome) is long dead. The efforts made to change the Ordinal back to something more acceptable and to be consecrated by those bishops whose orders Rome still recognizes as valid makes a show of fixing things to some degree, but the entire situation remains murky.
At the very least, the decision by the General Synod of the Church of England that the ordination of women is 'theologically justified' does tend to clear the water quite a bit.