Honest analysis can bolster bonds of communion
In years past, since the close of the Second Vatican Council,
relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have
focussed on theological dialogue and on seeking appropriate means to
engage together in prayer, witness and mission.
During the past year the focus has shifted, as the Anglican Communion
is in the midst of a major discernment process, attempting to address
internal tensions which threaten to divide it.
The decisions which Anglicans will make over the coming months will
not only set a course for the Anglican Communion, but will also
significantly shape Anglican-Catholic relations.
The present overview of relations will offer a review of key
developments within the Anglican Communion over the past year ,
attentive to their impact on relations with the Catholic Church; it will
look at The Windsor Report, the text at the heart of current Anglican
discernment; and it will offer a brief update on the now-completed text
of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) on the
role of Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church.
When in 2003 the Episcopal Church of the United States endorsed the
consecration of a bishop who is in an active homosexual relationship,
and the Canadian Anglican Diocese of New Westminster adopted a public
rite of blessing for same-sex unions, strong opposition arose from
various quarters in the Anglican Communion.
In October 2003, the Primates of the Anglican Communion met to
discuss the situation. They spoke of having reached "a crucial and
critical point in the life of the Anglican communion" and noted that the
recent actions in North America put the future of their communion in
The Primates asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams,
to set up a commission
subsequently called the Lambeth Commission
which would make practical recommendations regarding a means to deal
authoritatively with divisive issues, and explore the way in which the
ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury might operate in relation to
other Anglican provinces when the unity of the Communion was at stake.
The Lambeth Commission was given a year to carry out this task.
Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope John Paul II
The Archbishop of Canterbury had paid a visit to the Holy See earlier
in the same month, and during the course of a meeting with Pope John
Paul II and in discussions with Cardinal Walter Kasper and staff members
of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Catholic
opposition to the recent decisions in North America had been clearly set
forth, both on moral and on ecclesiological grounds.
After the visit and once the Lambeth Commission had been established,
Archbishop Williams followed up on these discussions by inviting
Cardinal Kasper to join him in setting up a sub-commission which would
feed into the Anglican discernment process by reflecting upon, in light
of the agreed statements which the ARCIC dialogue has produced over the
past 35 years, the ecclesiological implications of the current situation
in the Anglican Communion.
An ad hoc sub-commission of International Anglican Roman Catholic
Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) was established to this end,
with Anglican and Catholic theologians reading carefully through ARCIC's
work, looking for the jointly articulated ecclesiological foundations
which might contribute to a constructive way forward for the Anglican
The IARCCUM sub-commission met twice and prepared a report which was
submitted to Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Williams, who immediately
passed on the report to the Lambeth Commission. The sub-commission
report was made public in June 2004, and can be found on the Anglican
It needs to be kept in mind that this report was produced jointly by
Anglicans and Catholics, who had to discern what they could say together
in addressing the current Anglican situation.
While it is not for the Catholic Church to interfere in the internal
discernment processes of her dialogue partners, the Archbishop of
Canterbury's request provided an opportunity for the voice of those
engaged in Anglican-Catholic dialogue, and for the texts produced by
ARCIC over the years, to contribute directly into the Anglican
discernment process. This gesture was seen by the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity as a positive sign of the Anglican Communion's
commitment to take seriously the ecumenical work carried out since
ARCIC's establishment in 1970.
The IARCCUM sub-commission report noted the importance of preserving
that which has been gained through our theological dialogue. ARCIC's
documents are all grounded in an ecclesiology of communion (koinonia),
and the report dwells at length on "the ways in which we have together
articulated our understanding of communion and the dynamics and
structures which nurture and sustain it".
Particular attention is paid to the role of the bishop, whose
ministry maintains and expresses the Church's unity, and to the mutual
interdependence of all churches, which necessitates limits to the
autonomy of local churches.
The authors summarize their conclusions by arguing that the decisions
of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the Diocese of New Westminster call
into question significant portions of ARCIC's agreed statements: on
morals; on the nature of ecclesial communion; on the mutual
interdependence of churches; on the role of bishops in maintaining
unity; and on the process of discernment in the Church and the role of
Scripture and Tradition therein.
The text ends by urging the Anglican Communion to address the current
situation "in the strength of our increasingly shared understanding of
the apostolic tradition, and with a great resolve born of the profound
conviction that communion matters crucially"
thus not opting to become a federation of local churches which act
independently of each other on fundamental matters of faith.
The Windsor Report and an ecclesiology of communion
The IARCCUM sub-commission report was one of many submissions to the
Lambeth Commission, and in October 2004, the latter published its
results under the title The Windsor Report, which sets forward a
blueprint for the future of the Anglican Communion.
It is a complex document which, with appendices, runs to over 100 pages,
and it reflects the consensus reached by its authors, who were drawn
from a wide spectrum of regions and theological perspectives within the
The Windsor Report also develops an ecclesiology of communion
as its foundation, and assesses the current situation in the Anglican
Communion within that framework. The Report openly acknowledges that the
Anglican model of dispersed authority has an "inherent weakness" which
has been brought to light by recent events (n. 97).
While it was not the mandate of the Lambeth Commission to address
directly the underlying moral questions pertaining to homosexuality,
from an ecclesiological perspective The Windsor Report criticises
the decisions of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the Diocese of New
Westminster, noting that such decisions were "incompatible with the
Communion principle of interdependence" (n. 122); that unilateral
actions on contentious issues could result in broken communion and
should be avoided (n. 51); and that criteria for episcopal appointments
could be more clearly set forth (n. 131). It calls for a moratorium on
same-sex blessings and recommends the same for episcopal ordinations of
candidates in same-sex relations (cf. nn. 134, 144).
Two of the more far-reaching proposals of The Windsor Report,
which have already evoked considerable discussion, pertain to the
strengthening of the bonds of communion within Anglicanism. Both would
serve to limit diocesan and provincial autonomy, which the text defines
in terms of interdependence and therefore subject to "limits generated
by the commitments of communion" (n. 80).
Firstly, the Report proposes a strengthening of the role of the
Archbishop of Canterbury in various ways, notably a greater role in
directly addressing any provincial situation on behalf of the Anglican
Communion (nn. 109-110; cf. n. 99), and also an enhancing of the
authority of the Anglican Primates (cf. nn. 104, 106, Appendix One).
Secondly, The Windsor Report proposes the establishment of an
"Anglican Covenant" which would be adopted by Anglican provinces, making
"explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern
the relationships between the churches of the Communion" (n. 118). A
"possible draft" of such a covenant is included as an appendix to the
The future of the Anglican Communion
Within Anglicanism, there has long been a tension between the
autonomy of the individual provinces and the unity which binds Anglicans
together worldwide. The Windsor Report consolidates various
initiatives over the past two decades which have proposed a
strengthening of the bonds of unity within the Communion. At present, it
is being discussed within the Anglican provinces.
In late February 2005, the Anglican Primates will meet to study
The Windsor Report and discuss its possible reception and
implementation. It is a defining moment, and the decisions made there
and in the various Anglican provinces over the coming months will
decisively shape the future of the Anglican Communion.
In turn, the endorsement, adaptation or rejection of the Report's
proposals will have a major impact on Anglican-Catholic relations.
Through this period of discernment, the Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity will maintain close contact with Anglican
leaders and will follow important developments.
Meanwhile, in February of 2004 in Seattle, Washington, ARCIC
completed its work on an agreed statement on the place of Mary in the
life and doctrine of the Church. Work on the document had begun in 1999.
The role of Mary in the Church has long been a matter of controversy
between Anglicans and Catholics. The statement is not an authoritative
declaration by the Catholic Church or by the Anglican Communion, who
will study and evaluate the document in due course.
Entitled Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, the text is scheduled to be
published in the Spring of 2005.