Damian Thompson notes:

Two words stick out like a sore thumb from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s otherwise unremarkable address to the General Synod this afternoon: “Ecclesial Community”. This is the Roman Catholic Church’s description of bodies that call themselves Churches but are not recognised as such. I never thought I would hear it pass the Cardinal’s lips in an address to the Church of England’s governing body.

I wonder if that is why extracts from the text of the Cardinal’s speech were marked STRICTLY EMBARGOED before 4pm this afternoon – there was nothing else newsworthy in the press release, unless you count as news the fact that +Cormac is in favour of Church unity.

Here is the quote: “Divisions within any Church or Ecclesial Community impoverish the communion of the whole Church. We Roman Catholics cannot be indifferent to what is happening to our friends in the Anglican Communion and, in particular, in the Church of England.”

Why not just say “divisions within any Church impoverish etc”? Because, in 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger sent a note to the heads of bishops’ conferences telling them that they should not use the term “sister churches” when speaking of “the Anglican Communion and non-catholic ecclesial communities”. The term “sister church” is reserved for bodies that have preserved a valid episcopate and Eucharist – ie, the Orthodox and other Eastern Churches.

Anglicans were outraged by this clarification, while simultaneously pressing ahead with plans for women bishops – ie, wanting to have their cake and eat it. Sorry, guys, but you can hardly expect Rome to rethink its declaration that Anglican orders are null and void when you do something that Catholics believe the Church is forbidden to do by Christ’s example.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor is a former co-chairman of ARCIC, an Anglican-Roman Catholic “commission” which, in the 1970s, seemed to be working toward some sort of corporate reunion. That is now impossible, as Joseph Ratzinger was among the first to recognise.

+Cormac’s speech today is laced with nostalgia for those far-off days of ARCIC chin-wagging. It’s no secret that his thinking on these questions is very different from the Pope’s, at least in emphasis. But there is the phrase, bang slap in the middle of the press release: Ecclesial Community. Non-Church. What clearer demonstration could there be that, to quote Clifford Longley, ecumenism is yesterday’s word?

Now perhaps Mr. Thompson makes too much out of this.  I don’t know.  However, it occurs to me that in conjunction with the latest buzz about Rome preparing to offer a personal prelature to the Traditional Anglican Communion, perhaps this is a well placed stick to go along with that carrot?

I find this a particularly provocative idea because one of Mr. Thompson’s commenters had this to say in response to his post:

‘Anglicans were outraged by this clarification’.

I don’t know why we should be, and personally I don’t know many who are. I understand that the Roman Catholic Church is compelled by its theological position to conclude that Anglican orders and null and void and that the Anglican eucharist is defective. I don’t hold to this theology myself (if I did, I would become a Catholic), but I don’t resent or blame anyone who does, I simply think they are wrong. But their being wrong doesn’t affect my position in any way, so what possible reason is there for outrage? I can only conclude that if some of my fellow Anglicans are outraged it is because they are secretly or subconsciously worried that the Catholic Church might be right.

Oh, She might be! She might be!