This was back in an age when the Tablet still published my letters; and I was engaged with George Carey, then Bishop of Bath and Wells, in a controversy from which the poor old nincompoop had to retire when Henry Chadwick weighed in and explained to him the point at issue in language a toddler could understand. I also wrote for an admirable journal, The Catholic League Messenger, and one or two other periodicals. I ranted about the fact that the old Reformation differences were being 'solved' by clever people who could agree verbal formulations, while newer problems, which could not be verbally fudged, were ignored. I was, of course, a voice crying in a wilderness.
Not now. Instead of addressing ancient questions which have lost their original biting power, at long last ARCIC III is being required to do what I always said it should have been doing. It will have to solve questions, the real questions, the newly divisive questions, which cannot be verbally fudged. A deft formula cannot paper over divisions concerning homosexual 'marriage' and the 'ordination of women'. Nor, of course, those of Contraception. Or rather, ARCIC is not being made to deal with those questions in themselves, but with the means by which particular churches come to a discernment on such matters. Bingo.
Friends sometimes wonder why I am such an enthusiast for Professor Ratzinger. The reason is that when most of one's adult life has been spent being sneered at for holding unmodish opinions, as mine has been, to have a Roman Pontiff who, as far as I can see, shares pretty well all one's own preposterous mistakes, is ... not so much comforting as exhilarating.
One last point. Rowan Williamson, and others, have attempted to salvage something from the bright ecumenical past which they themselves have sabotaged, by saying that the ARCIC accords are "in the bank" for when they are needed. Rowan is no fool and must know that this is rubbish. In every academic field related to every science and to every humanity, research work, fashions, opinions, external pressures, controversies, assumptions, move on. Theology is not a bit different. In two, three, or however many generations Rowan and the rest of them have in mind, the solemn self-consciously self-pleased accords of the last fifty years will just look quaintly old-fashioned. Not only in minor details; our grandchildren will cry "However could those people in the 1990s have been so blind as to think that this was the real question, when it is so obvious that they should have been thinking about ...".