"As we proceed towards a decision about the ordination of women as bishops, it is important that, here and in the dioceses, we should not be afraid of discussions that clarify the theological issues. It will be a great pity if we come to our final decision without having confidently articulated why women bishops would be theologically in tune with our deepest commitments. As I’ve said more than once before, I believe that the ARCIC Agreed Statement on ordained ministry offers a clear basis for argument and a clear common ground on which we can continue discussion with our ecumenical partners, whatever the tensions. Those like myself who believe women bishops to be a development both good and timely for the Church and wholly consistent with its mainstream understanding of ministry and sacraments should be ready to make the argument in the strong theological terms in which it can be made. And those who do not share these convictions have both the right and the responsibility to articulate the theology of the Church and its authority which makes them hesitate, because listening to these points is a necessary part of the whole body’s discernment.The whole address can be read here
Of course it is a matter of real sorrow that some have already decided that they cannot in conscience continue this discussion within the Church of England. They remain in our prayers and we continue to give thanks for the ministry they have offered all of us. And I must add that, despite continuing sensationalism about the effect of this on the main work of ecumenical relations, the planning of the next round of ARCIC has been developing constructively; and I was told last week in Rome at the highest level that the membership of the Commission is at last practically finalised. The remit of this next Commission is – appropriately – to look at exactly this question of the authority belonging to the local Church and its relation to the universal Church."
Here's the rub: (the emphasis is mine) "it is a matter of real sorrow that some have already decided that they cannot in conscience continue this discussion within the Church of England."
For most of those who have made the decision to leave, now or at some point in the near future (and it has hardly been a precipitate decision), "continuing the discussion" is precisely the problem. A "discussion" can only take place in any meaningful way when both sides are prepared to listen to the needs of the other. General Synod (not to mention the assemblies of other Anglican provinces) and its various committees and working groups have shown very few signs of a constructive engagement with the actual theological, ecclesiological and sacramental needs of those who "hestitate" (sic) to agree to this departure from apostolic order.
But for us, this is not a "discussion;" ecclesially, these are life and death issues, going to the very heart of the sacramental life itself, the nature of the Church, and the future of any ecumenical dialogue which could lead to full and visible unity, the unity for which the Lord prayed on the eve of his Passion. It cannot be a matter of "the whole body's discernment," because we, as Anglicans, are not the whole body.
It may also be reading too much into a general 'beginning of term' address, but these are the sort of diplomatic comments which are made when someone knows there is nothing more to offer, but is reluctant to admit it.
As in all of Dr Williams's addresses, there are several nuanced themes being enunciated at the same time. The encouragement by the Archbishop of the proponents of women bishops "to make the argument in the strong theological terms in which it can be made" can very easily be read as an implicit recognition of the weakness of the case they have so far presented - strong on sociology, weak on theology.
But ultimately this does not bode well for those Anglo-Catholics who wish to remain at all costs within Anglican structures.
It should also make the next round of 'ARCIC' rather interesting to say the least.