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Interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey

Posted on: September 26, 2002 4:22 PM
Related Categories: Abp Carey, Australia

For broadcast on "The Religion Report", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 25 September 2002

Stephen Crittenden: Dr Carey, thanks for taking the time to join us. In your speech the other day, you appealed for unity and said you feared the fragmentation of the worldwide Anglican communion. You seemed pretty pessimistic. Is some kind of schism between liberals and traditionalists in the church a real possibility at this time?

Archbishop Carey: Well look, no, I'm certainly not pessimistic. In my time as Archbishop of Canterbury I've seen a growing sense of unity and mission. And here at our Anglican Consultative Council we have many reports of growth and great encouragement. What I think, Stephen, I'm trying to do, is to alert people to potential problems. And so in my warnings I was pointing to a number of incidents around the communion that could undermine our growing sense of communion - of becoming a global communion. So that's why I pointed to New Westminster in Canada, to incidents in the United States, and Sydney itself.

SC: Well let's take up this particular incident in Canada, where the Bishop of New Westminster, Bishop Michael Ingham, has decided to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. Now, Bishop Ingham has subsequently replied to your speech, saying your criticisms were "inappropriate", "oversimplified" and that you did a "great disservice to truth". That's a surprisingly direct and heated response!

GC: Yes, it was really, and I was sad he didn't have an opportunity to come and talk to me about his concerns. But my response to him will take the following form: first of all I had to refer to him and his diocese by name - otherwise there was no way of people understanding what I was describing. Secondly, that I do regard what is happening in New Westminster as a very serious problem for the communion if we don't address it. For example, he says he has had regard - due regard - for the rest of us, but in fact he hasn't. He hasn't spoken to me about it, and I'm one of the key points of unity in the communion. He hasn't referred it to the primates' meeting. You see, in other words, he hasn't really consulted. Secondly, the issue of blessing raises major questions about marriage itself. It undermines -

SC: Well can I take up this question of consultation. He says his synod has been pushing him in this direction over a number of years, that his decision has only come after a long and cautious process, that he has been consultative. Does he have any choice BUT to respond to the synod and the people who've elected him, in the end?

GC: No, because as a bishop in the church he has a wider responsibility. The church appoints him to a ministry like this. He's accountable as a bishop to guard the faith, and so I think he's oversimplified it himself. He's not simply accountable to his people. Indeed, I think he's been a bit of an evangelist on this issue. He's been pushing the issue, and my warning to him is that he must consult. And I'm hoping that he might do this and take this to his House of Bishops when it meets in two weeks time. I'm hoping the House of Bishops in Canada will try to draw him back from this decision. Whether it can, I don't know.

SC: On the theological side of the issue, same-sex marriages have been introduced in a number of countries in northern Europe - perhaps they're even on the cards in New Zealand. Here in Australia, two of our four political parties at a federal level are now led by gay men. Even the military seems able to come to terms with same-sex relationships. Is the church basically holding out against an unstoppable tide?

GC: What I'd say about that is that we must respect homosexuals in the church. I've got many homosexual friends, the issue is not in any way a homophobic reaction on my part. There's a tenderness, a deep desire to understand, and to draw them into the fellowship. What I think is that we in the church - and especially I as an Archbishop - I'm responsible for maintaining our rules, and making sure we hold to unity in the Body of Christ. Now, I'd want to put it this way: If a person says to me, what is the largest mammal in the world - it's got big ears and a long nose? I would say it sounds very much like an elephant to me. If someone talks about union, fidelity, a monogamous relationship, love, blessing, I would say it sounds like marriage to me. And blessing, you see, I think is undermining our sacrament of marriage. That's why the issue is a theological one, and it's not a minor matter in the hierarchy of Christian truth. That's why it's important. But that's why, also, we must listen to one another. Homosexuals matter. We want to hear their voice in the church - that's what the Lambeth Conference said in 1998 - and I'm anxious to maintain that unity while we listen to one another. But what we mustn't do is to rush ahead of a decision that belongs to us all.

SC: You've also been critical of the Diocese of Sydney over the issue of lay presidency. Can I put it to you that, in fact, that's a far more substantial issue - it actually has the capacity to shake the very foundations upon which Anglicanism is built, to undermine the whole idea of priesthood, and indeed to demolish that whole flank of Anglicanism which it holds in common with the Catholic Church.

GC: Well, let me put it this way on that issue, that I'm very conscious about Sydney, and if it goes ahead with lay presidency. I've been in touch with Archbishop Peter Jensen, and let me say I respect his view on this very much indeed. Sydney is a strong diocese. Its commitment to social welfare is second to none, I respect it as a diocese. It is, as you say, Stephen, a very important issue, and it could undermine ecumenical relationships - undermine our notion of what it is to be a church that is Reformed and Catholic. I wouldn't want to, though, in terms of the hierarchy of truths, say it's a more serious problem than New Westminster. Both these issues are important, they're different in kind. And I think my motion, that I want to present later today, which talks about "interdependence", I think hits both issues, and so there's an evenness, an even- handedness about it.

SC: There is a tension here, isn't there, between an appeal to the universal church - to unity - and then the contrary impulse which is the local impulse?

GC: Absolutely. We've got to hold on to both, you see. And it's important for Sydney to listen to these concerns. I don't know much about this, but I would imagine that the issue of lay presidency is driven by a concern to deepen the faith, to share together, to develop new congregations -

SC: And to do away with anything that smacks of the Mass?

GC: Well, that could well be, and therefore it's anti-Catholic. And if it's anti- tradition, then it does undermine the way we have traditionally perceived being a church which at the Reformation didn't toss out the baby with the bath water. That is, I fear, what Sydney may be doing. But the other issue of homosexuality is equally important. What we've got to do, is to find ways of handling disagreement in a loving Christian way.

SC: You've raised the Reformation. The Sydney diocese is involved in a debate over the nature of Anglicanism, in fact, which goes way back to your predecessor Thomas Cranmer, who I suppose was a bit of a "proto-Calvinist". The question I've had stored up that I've always wanted to ask you: I know that you're pretty evangelical in your own views, but I don't know how important Calvinism was in your own formation. My question is: What does Calvinism have to offer in the 21st century?

GC: Well I am not a Calvinist, and wouldn't want to go along with that, and I'm not quite sure if Cranmer was a full-bodied Calvinist himself. I think what Calvinism may offer us is that God's in charge of his world. But I don't think God is the kind of God who predetermines us to destruction, Hades, or eternal life. I mean he's compassionate - that's why I suppose I'm a bit of an Arminian as well as balancing that with Calvinism. God loves us all, wants us all to share his kingdom, has a role for us all. And what we have to do in the church today is to look out at a very needy world, seek to serve it, and to show that unity we have in Jesus Christ.

SC: Archbishop Carey, what do you look back on as your great achievement in your time as Archbishop of Canterbury?

GC: Well I want other people to judge that, it's not for me to do so. I mean can look back with great pleasure on what has happened in Sudan, and our commitment to people who are persecuted in that kind of way. I think in my own country, at the way we've seen through the ordination of women to the priesthood, which I'm delighted about, and that will move on to another level before very long. We've coped with a huge financial crisis in the Church of England, Stephen, in 1992. I think we've been able to reform our structures in such a way to ensure this never happens again, and we've brought together policy and money - which I can tell you in the Church of England is quite a big thing to do. On the inter-faith level, Stephen, I've put a lot of energy into that in recent years, especially over the last year since September 11 - trying to understand Islam, and trying to make sure that we listen to one another there. And that without in any way reneging to our commitment to mission and so on, to find out what we have in common for the sake of our world.

SC: I was very interested to hear that the dialogue with Muslims was actually underwritten by the British government. That's very interesting.

GC: Well that was post September 11, when I had a call from the Prime Minister asking if I could take some initiatives in this area to convene an international scholarly seminar between Muslims and Christians, which we did at Lambeth Palace in January. And it's now going on to a second phase, when a Muslim government in Qatar - the Emir of Qatar - is organising the next one, next April. My successor, Rowan Williams, will of course be involved in that. This is very good, this is governments realising that religion must be part of the answer, as well as part of the problem, as it often is. We've got to find ways of confronting the issues that divide - and at the heart of cultural issues, you often find religious.

SC: Your successor, Rowan Williams, is not a member of the established Church of England, he's part of the dis-established Church in Wales. Are we likely do you think - and would you like to see, a move towards the dis-establishment of the Church of England? Which after all, must look stranger and stranger in a multicultural Britain, to have the Prime Minister of Great Britain approve the next Archbishop of Canterbury?

GC: Well the issue of establishment, of course, is a moving target. It's changed a lot over the last hundred years, and no doubt will change further. I'm on record as being understood to be a supporter of a reformed establishment, in which other Christian denominations, and other faiths, play a major part. But there's no great desire in England to do anything like that at the present moment. And other faiths actually do appreciate the enormous role that the Church of England plays in representing them.

SC: Do you think that the next coronation will be a very different affair from the last one?

GC: Well it will be, obviously. We've got to take into account a changed England, and that of course goes without saying.

SC: Would you like to see some kind of ecumenical service?

GC: Well it will be definitely ecumenical, I'm sure, when the time comes. It won't be part of my responsibility, but it will be the Archbishop of Canterbury's, whoever's in charge then, whoever is the Archbishop of Canterbury will obviously have a very significant role in formulating that service.

SC: Could I turn, finally, to the momentous events in the Middle East, where the Anglican Church has a long history. The Christian churches have spoken out against another war on Iraq with almost one voice. Public opinion in Britain, and in Australia, is strongly opposed. What do you think about the way that the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has been trying to talk the British public into the war?

GC: I think Tony Blair has been trying to help the American government to realise that an isolationist policy is doomed. Reading between the lines, I think he's been playing his cards very skillfully. But as you have intimated, I am among those who would be very wary of any military action in the light of Saddam Hussein's willingness to allow the weapons inspectors to go in. I see no grounds whatsoever for taking any military action. It will undermine - well, I think it would deepen the crisis of terrorism in the world. I think it would be a shocking thing if the Americans went in on their own without the backing of the United Nations, and we need to be convinced that Saddam Hussein actually poses a real threat.

SC: Over the past week we have heard the United States President, George W. Bush, disparagingly compare the United Nations with the League of Nations. At the weekend, we saw the emergence of what seems to be a new American doctrine, which says that America has no intention of ever relinquishing its military pre-eminence. Now, the international community has spent 50 years trying to develop a co-operative framework of law to overcome the old framework of militarism. Is America coming close to junking all that hard work?

GC: All I do is refer to the sermon I preached on September 11 in New York - that even though America has the might, and has the means, what I think constitutes a great nation is the moral quality to say, even though we have the might and the means to do this, we have to take into account what should be done, what ought to be done as a great nation. And I hope America will realise as the only superpower now, it really must use its power in a way that's going to build up the world, and to support the United Nations. So that would be my response.

SC: Just finally, Dr Carey, to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israeli army is now demolishing Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramullah. There's talk of the need for a new generation Palestinian leaders. What do you think of this approach?

GC: Well honestly, I'd want to say, Stephen, that I'm closely in contact with the situation in the Holy Land, I grieve at the suffering of the Palestinian people, but again, we've got to be even-handed. The Israelis have suffered a great deal, we must condemn suicide bombers, and we must never say that the plight of the Palestinians justifies this terrible thing. But what we also have to say: the Palestinians deserve and should have a valid and proper state of their own, and we must work on that. If America is going to use its great influence, it ought to be doing so in the Middle East, and condemning the pressure on Chairman Arafat at the present moment, which is actually not only undermining his office, not only undermining him, but making it impossible to deal with the roots of terrorism within his own ranks.

SC: Would his forced removal be a mistake?

GC: Well let me put it this way, Stephen. I'm not a politician. We've got to trust the politicians with these decisions. What I can do as a Christian leader, is to find ways in which I can support the people on the ground there. And, indeed, I've been actively involved in what is called the Alexandrian Declaration of Peace between the religious leaders in the Holy Land. We're having a meeting in a couple of weeks time in Lambeth Palace. I'm taking a lot of responsibility for that. At the heart of it is the issue of religion again. We can make a contribution there, and hope that the politicians will follow our good example, and come up with a declaration that will lead to a lasting peace in a land that's beloved to all Christians and people of all faiths.

SC: Archbishop Carey thank-you for your time.