Christian Unity Being Hampered by Divisions Over Sexual Politics

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Pinpoints "World's Agenda" as Underlying Cause

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Unity between Anglicans and Catholics is being hampered by divisions over sexual politics and priestly ministry, a former Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Lord Carey of Clifton told a congregation of hundreds of people gathered into Chester Cathedral on Sunday that the Church of England was being “shaken by seismic shifts and changes as a result of disagreements on ministry, marriage and human sexuality”.

In comments aimed directly at Anglicans present at the service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity he said that “we must not allow ourselves to fracture under the colossal weight of dancing to the world’s agenda”.

His remarks came as the Church of England prepares to ordain women as bishops by as early as Christmas.

They were also made just a month after a Church of England report suggested that same-sex couples should be allowed to celebrate their relationships in Anglican parishes in what has been interpreted as a first step in accepting gay marriages in church.

The plan has already created divisions with the Church of England, with the proposal rejected outright by Bishop Keith Sinclair of Birkenhead, one of four bishops who sat on the working group that drafted the report.

In an exclusive interview for the forthcoming edition of the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice ahead of the service, Lord Carey said that “fractious” in-fighting also undermined the efforts of the Church of England to draw closer to the other Christian churches.

He said that Christian unity meant not only talking to other denominations but also to putting “your own house in order”.

Lord Carey said: “I believe that unity has two foci: one is outward to other Christians, to draw them more closely together, but there is always the challenge to maintain one’s own internal unity.

“When you have a disparate body like the Church of England and any body, there are divisions within the Catholic Church I know of, but I was talking to my own tradition – it is particularly empty to say ‘we want to be united with Catholics and Methodists and so on’ when all the time we are fractious and divided.

“So we have got to be honest with ourselves and to say it means a deeper internal unity as well as reaching out to others.

“I know Catholic leaders who have said ‘how can we have unity with the Anglicans when they are divided over the ordination of women and are you heading towards the ordination of women as bishops?’ so our own questions and quarrels can take us further away from the unity that I am speaking about today.”

He continued: “I think outsiders would say ‘okay, you talk about reconciliation but it is an empty word if you are not reconciled yourselves so put your own house in order’.”

He added: “Disunity is a scandal.”

Lord Carey was also critical of external pressure from the Government adding to tensions within the Church of England.

Parliament has threatened to intervene to force the Church of England to accept women bishops and Lord Carey says he expects that pressure will be applied in the future for Anglicans to perform gay marriages.

“When I talk about with the ‘world’s agenda’ it is what this Government has now set up in terms of civil partnerships and marriage is now open to same-sex relationships,” he told the Voice.

“This puts pressure on the Church at some point to offer rites of marriage to those who are in same-sex relationships,” he said. “Obviously, I would disapprove of that – but the pressure is on so many churches to do that.

“I am actually saying let’s keep our gaze on ecumenism, on true unity, let’s share what we have in common, let’s not be so tempted to dance to the world’s tune that we forget that unity and mission are indissoluble, one affects the other.”

In his homily, Lord Carey also said that the apathy shown by the Government to Christianity was sometimes “far worse than persecution”.

“We live in very difficult times for the Church,” he said. “There may be very good will for our churches and our service is deeply appreciated but the message is ignored. You know it and I know it too.

“Rarely has it been harder for the message to get a welcoming home. But this is not the time for self-pity or regret.”

Expanding on his theme in the interview with the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice, Lord Carey added: “Apathy is suggesting ‘we couldn’t care less, you might as well be Muslims or Jews, we are not interested in what you have to say, you might as well be talking another language’. Apathy is a real enemy.”

Lord Carey, who stepped down as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002 after a decade in office, was invited to Chester by Churches Together in Cheshire. The event was also attended by Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, by the Anglican Bishops Peter Forster of Chester and Robert Atwell of Stockport and by leaders of Methodist and non-conformist churches.

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Diocese of Shrewsbury