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Report: Plan for Anglican return to Catholic church?

February 19, 2007

The London Times: Churches back plan to unite under Pope

Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt.

The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.

In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the Pope.

The statement, leaked to The Times, is being considered by the Vatican, where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response.

It comes as the archbishops who lead the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in an attempt to avoid schism over gay ordination and other liberal doctrines that have taken hold in parts of the Western Church.

The 36 primates at the gathering will be aware that the Pope, while still a cardinal, sent a message of support to the orthodox wing of the Episcopal Church of the US as it struggled to cope with the fallout after the ordination of the gay bishop Gene Robinson.

Were this week’s discussions to lead to a split between liberals and conservatives, many of the former objections in Rome to a reunion with Anglican conservatives would disappear. Many of those Anglicans who object most strongly to gay ordination also oppose the ordination of women priests.

Rome has already shown itself willing to be flexible on the subject of celibacywhen it received dozens of married priests from the Church of England into the Catholic priesthood after they left over the issue of women’s ordination.

There are about 78 million Anglicans, compared with a billion Roman Catholics, worldwide. In England and Wales, the Catholic Church is set to overtake Anglicanism as the predominant Christian denomination for the first time since the Reformation, thanks to immigration from Catholic countries.

As the Anglicans’ squabbles over the fundamentals of Christian doctrine continue — with seven of the conservative primates twice refusing to share Communion with the other Anglican leaders at their meeting in Tanzania — the Church’s credibility is being increasingly undermined in a world that is looking for strong witness from its international religious leaders.

The Anglicans will attempt to resolve their differences today by publishing a new Anglican Covenant, an attempt to provide a doctrinal statement under which they can unite.

But many fear that the divisions have gone too far to be bridged and that, if they cannot even share Communion with each other, there is little hope that they will agree on a statement of common doctrine.

The latest Anglican-Catholic report could hardly come at a more sensitive time. It has been drawn up by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, which is chaired by the Right Rev David Beetge, an Anglican bishop from South Africa, and the Most Rev John Bathersby, the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia.

The commission was set up in 2000 by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity. Its aim was to find a way of moving towards unity through “common life and mission”.

The document leaked to The Times is the commission’s first statement, Growing Together in Unity and Mission. The report acknowledges the “imperfect communion” between the two churches but says that there is enough common ground to make its “call for action” about the Pope and other issues.

In one significant passage the report notes: “The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth.” Anglicans rejected the Bishop of Rome as universal primate in the 16th century. Today, however, some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy, which would be exercised by the Bishop of Rome, as a sign and focus of unity within a reunited Church.

In another paragraph the report goes even further: “We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”

Other recommendations include inviting lay and ordained members of both denominations to attend each other’s synodical and collegial gatherings and conferences. Anglican bishops could be invited to accompany Catholic ones on visits to Rome.

The report adds that special “protocols” should also be drawn up to handle the movement of clergy from one Church to the other. Other proposals include common teaching resources for children in Sunday schools and attendance at each other’s services, pilgrimages and processions.

Anglicans are also urged to begin praying for the Pope during the intercessionary prayers in church services, and Catholics are asked also to pray publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In today’s Anglican Church, it is unlikely that a majority of parishioners would wish to heal the centuries-old rift and return to Rome.

However, the stance of the Archbishop of Canterbury over the present dispute dividing his Church gives an indication of how priorities could be changing in light of the gospel imperative towards church unity.

Dr Rowan Williams, who as Primate of the Church of England is its “focus for unity”, has in the past supported a liberal interpretation of Scripture on the gay issue. But he has made it clear that church unity must come before provincial autonomy. A logical extension of that, once this crisis is overcome either by agreement or schism, would be to seek reunion with the Church of England’s own mother Church.

The Anglican Communion: Clarifications regarding the front page article in The Times, 19 February 2007, on Anglican – Roman Catholic relations

Today an article appeared in the front page of the London Times with the headline: ‘Churches back plan to unite under Pope’.

Archbishop John Bathersby, Catholic Co-chair of the International Anglican – Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, (IARCCUM) and Bishop David Beetge, Anglican Co-chair of IARCCUM Issued the following statement in response.

Growing Together in Unity and Mission is being published as an agreed statement of IARCCUM (the International Anglican – Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission), and is to be published under the Commission’s authority, not as an official statement of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. It is being put forward to foster discussion and reflection, as the statement clearly states.

The statement was recently completed by IARCCUM, and is scheduled to be published by the Commission as soon as a Catholic commentary to accompany the document has been completed; an Anglican commentary has already been prepared for publication. The text was made available to the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council and to the Anglican Primates, currently meeting in Tanzania. The Primates were also presented with a copy of the agreed statement of the International Commission of the Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue, entitled The Church of the Triune God. Through these two texts, Anglican leaders were able to look at the recent results of important international dialogues with which the Anglican Communion is currently engaged. Both of these texts address the theology of the Church, and given that the Anglican Primates are currently discussing the nature of the Church, it was felt that the dialogue documents had something to contribute to those discussions.

Growing Together in Unity and Mission has not yet been officially published. It is unfortunate that its contents have been prematurely reported in a way which misrepresents its intentions and sensationalises its conclusions. The first part of the document, which treats doctrinal matters, is an attempt to synthesize the work of ARCIC (the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission) over the past 35 years. It identifies the level of agreement which has been reached by ARCIC, but is also very clear in identifying ongoing areas of disagreement, and in raising questions which still need to be addressed in dialogue. Those ongoing questions and areas of disagreement are highlighted in boxed sections interspersed throughout the text. It is a very honest document assessing the state of Anglican – Roman Catholic relations at the present moment.

Both the heading of the article: ‘Churches back plan to unite under Pope’ and its opening sentence, which speaks of ‘radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope’ need to be put into proper perspective. For 35 years this dialogue has addressed questions of authority, including the papacy. The so-called ‘radical proposals’ found in Growing Together in Unity and Mission are the same proposals which ARCIC has been putting forward over the past 35 years. What this document says about the Petrine Ministry is not new, but a synthesis of what is said in ARCIC’s documents on authority (Authority in the Church I, 1976; Authority in the Church II, 1981; The Gift of Authority, 1999). While it is encouraging that a document of this kind can be produced and that practical day to day cooperation between Catholics and Anglicans can be strengthened, talk of plans to reunite the two communions is, sadly, much exaggerated.

The second part of the document sets forward proposals for concrete initiatives, identifying aspects of common mission, common study, common prayer which are for the most part already permitted according to authoritative sources of the Catholic Church and the provinces of the Anglican Communion. Most of these proposals aren’t new, and some of them have been implemented for decades in some places. The document draws together a series of proposals which IARCCUM’s members believe are possible in the present context given the degree of faith we share. But it also says that local bishops in each part of the world will need to discern what is appropriate locally, given that the context and dynamics of relationships between Anglicans and Roman Catholics differ widely across the world.

The Times article speculates about the Catholic Church’s response to a possible schism within the Anglican Communion. It should be pointed out that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has consistently spoken of the value of the Anglican Communion remaining a communion, rooted in the Apostolic faith, as indicated in this statement from 2004: “It is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree.” During the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Pope Benedict in November, 2006, the Holy Father noted: “It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition which form our common patrimony and are the basis of our common aspiration to work for full visible unity.”

We hope that when published, Growing Together in Unity and Mission invites a good deal of discussion, and that it will be a helpful instrument on the long journey towards full communion which has been the stated goal of Anglican – Roman Catholic relations for the past 40 years.

Discussion boards:
TimesOnline Blog
TitusOnline
VirtueOnline

See also:
Stuff (New Zealand): Move to link churches ‘long way off’
The Australian: Universal primate plan ‘overstated’
CWNews: English Catholics soon to outnumber Anglicans

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One Comment
  1. Ronald Windham permalink

    I am no theologian, but I think that the thrust toward ecumenism needs to extend beyond those engaged in “official dialogue,” to the faithful (of all traditions) to pray as Jesus did: “…that they may be one…” Roger Schutz, the founder of the Taize community in France, was perplexed that Christians – who nevertheless live from a God of love – use so much energy to justify their separations. The bottom line, as Brother Roger alluded to, is this: The disunity that we see among the various Christian groups is contrary to the will of God. At the opening at the 9th Inter-Christian Symposium, Pope Benedict said that Christians everywhere should “intensify prayer, study, and dialogue with the aim of resolving the differences” that separate them. I think that all of us, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, need to lift up our Anglican brothers and sisters in prayer that the Holy Spirit may guide those involved in planning for the upcoming Lambeth Conference, and that unity (maybe in ways that we cannot forsee) becomes a reality.

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