Report on Anglican-Catholic Relations

Author: Fr Donald Bolen

Report on Anglican-Catholic Relations

Fr Donald Bolen
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

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 [2004], 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 jeopardy.

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 Communion.

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 Communion website.

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.

TheWindsor 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 Anglican Communion.

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 Report.

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.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
2 February 2005, page 9

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