There are features of every church’s past which we cannot affirm or condone; there may be aspects of the theology and devotion of the Church in past ages which are remote, empty, or even repellent. Yet the present Church inherits this past, and must remember it, even if in penitence and puzzlement… It is also an admission of a kind of responsibility shared with Christians we believe to be wrong – a way of feeling the hurt of the Body of Christ, rather than simply lopping off what seems to be a diseased limb.
We, and our opinions and perspectives, do not dictate what the Church is now and certainly not what it has been; and the experience of this loss of control is itself salutary. We are not the hub, the spring of significance, the norm of interpretation in the Church, and neither is any other one segment of the Body. The Church was clearly blasphemous wrong for the greater part of two millennia on the subject of slavery; many would add that it has been no less wrong for even longer about the status of women. To be ‘catholic’ now involves resisting the temptation to blot out and forget this past, and the equally powerful temptation to condemn from a superior vantage-point. This kind of catholicity obliges us to recognize the Church’s fallibility and to admit our complicity in the Church’s continuing liability to failure and betrayal. – Dr. Rowan Williams