Rev. Donald Bolen
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Report on 'International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission' (IARCCUM)

1. The ecumenical journey may be long and difficult, as the Holy, Father suggests in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte (n. 12), but progress is ongoing, and new initiatives carry with them new hope. One such new initiative in Anglican-Catholic relations was the formation this past year of a new international "Working Group", which will be known as the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

Set up by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Anglican Communion, the new Commission is intended to complement the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) which has been and remains the official instrument for Anglican-Catholic theological dialogue. The majority of the members of the new Commission are bishops, and their task will involve reviewing the relationship between Catholics and Anglicans worldwide, consolidating the results of more than thirty years of ecumenical contact and dialogue, and charting a course for the future.

The new commission has its origins in the 1996 Common Declaration of Pope John Paul II and Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey. With obstacles relating to the ordination of women blocking the clear way forward, the Common Declaration suggested that "it may be opportune at this stage in our journey to consult further about how the relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church is to progress." The further consultation called for led to last year's International Meeting of Anglican and Catholic Bishops in Mississauga, Canada, where it was affirmed that despite obstacles, the partial communion we share "is even now a rich and, life-giving, multifaceted communion" (from the Mississauga meeting's concluding statement, Communion in Mission,n. 5). It was this meeting's recommendation that a new international commission be established.

The IARCCUM Commission held its first meeting in London and Rome from 20-24 November 2001, under the chairmanship of Bishop David Beetge, Anglican Bishop of the Highveld, South Africa, and Archbishop John Bathersby, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia. Conversations with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Carey and Pope John Paul II were the chief focus of the inaugural meeting.

In London, Archbishop Carey shared his vision for the work of the new Commission, and assured the members of the Commission of his prayerful support for their work. He stressed the importance of building on the foundations of ARCIC and all previous work which has fostered Anglican–Roman Catholic relations. In a message which he sent with the new Commission to the Holy Father, he articulated his hope that IARCCUM would enable us to "put into practice the mutual commitment and common

life that is already ours." His message also stressed the great importanceof our joint courageous witness to the truth of God's call in these troubled times.

In receiving the Commission in a private audience three days later, Pope John Paul observed that as an international group of Bishops, they were "especially well qualified to consider the next practical steps which might be taken not only to consolidate the gains already made, but also to lead us to new depths of communion on the way to that fullness of unity which is the will of Christ." Like Archbishop Carey, he too emphasized that today "the world needs more than ever the common witness of Christians in every area, from the defence of human life and dignity to the promotion of justice and peace."

The IARCCUM Commission will begin its work with sub-committees taking up the three following tasks: exploring the possibility of preparing a joint declaration which would formally express the degree of agreement that exists between Anglicans and Catholics; studying ways in which the Commission could guide and promote the study and reception of the agreed statements of ARCIC within the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church; and searching for strategies to translate the degree of spiritual communion that has been achieved into visible and practical outcomes. Commission members are proceeding with the conviction that by allowing a spirit of dialogue and cooperation to pervade our relations, Anglicans and Catholics will be offering the world a powerful example of a Spirit-led way of overcoming differences. Our Christian history testifies that we have not always given this example in the past, but the opportunity to do so at all levels of our relationship in the present presents itself with urgency.

2. Meanwhile, the work, of ARCIC continued this past year with ongoing dialogue about the role of Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church. Special attention was paid to the role of Mary in the New Testament and in the life of the early church, as well as in Reformation authors. This has prepared the foundations for the dialogue's forthcoming work on the dogmatic definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. The ARCIC Commission hopes in approximately two years time to be able to reach an agreed statement on Mary, which would then be submitted to Anglican and Catholic authorities for their consideration and evaluation. There are high hopes that the Commission's work on this subject will make an ecumenical contribution of importance even beyond the parameters of Anglican-Catholic dialogue.

ARCIC members felt very profoundly the absence of Fr Jean-Marie Tillard O.P., who had died since the Commission's previous meeting. Fr. Tillard, of the Canadian Province of Dominicans, was the only presentmember of ARCIC who had served on the Commission since its inception in 1970. The members recalled with deep appreciation and affection, by informal conversation and liturgical commemoration, the immense contribution of Fr Tillard to the work and life of the Commission, and to Anglican-Catholic relations in general.

3. For the third successive year, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Carey paid a visit to the Holy Father (June 2001). He has met with the Pope on five occasions during his 10½ years as the President of the Anglican Communion, more than any of his predecessors. Archbishop Carey's recent announcement that he will be retiring later this year will invite grateful reflection over the coming months on the many ways in which Anglican-Catholic relations have grown and deepened, despite obstacles, during his years of leadership as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Of related interest, Archbishop Carey recently appointed Bishop Garrard as the new Director of the Anglican Centre. The Centre's director is the representative to the Holy See of the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the Anglican Primates. As a place of study, hospitality and prayer, the Anglican Centre exists to encourage and strengthen ecumenical relations, especially the relationship between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.

4. We cannot do better to conclude this brief overview of Anglican-Catholic relations than to cite a powerful invitation to hope from Pope John Paul's address to the new IARCCUM Commission, carrying with it a message of encouragement to all who work for Christian unity: "I am certain that the new Working Group will feel sustained by the hope that comes from being led by the Risen One and the inexhaustible power of his Spirit, always capable of new surprises' (NovoMillennio ineunte,n.12). We have seen many of these surprises in recent decades; and when discouragement threatens or new difficulties arise, we need to focus once more upon the Spirit's power to do what seems to us impossible. At times of apparent pause we must wait for the Holy Spirit to do what we ourselves cannot do!"  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 April 2002, page 9

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