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Dialogue beyond the media sensationalism


For some years now, the Provinces (Member Churches) of the Anglican Communion have been struggling with deep internal tensions focused on questions of human sexuality, tensions which have threatened the unity of the Communion.

Efforts to address the moral issues have given rise to serious questions about the structures of authority and decision-making within Anglicanism, the nature of the Anglican Communion, the ministry of Bishops and the interpretation of Scripture.

These questions, and the way in which they will eventually be resolved, have clear implications for the Anglican Communion's ecumenical relations, including their relations with the Catholic Church.
Throughout this period of Anglican discernment, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has maintained close communication with our Anglican dialogue partners - with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his office at Lambeth Palace, with the Anglican Communion Office in London and with the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Long-established relations of friendship and trust have resulted in frequent conversations and a readiness to reflect together on questions as they emerge.

At times, our Anglican dialogue partners have also looked to the Catholic Church, and to their other ecumenical partners, for advice and support; they have not been afraid to ask open and honest questions and to hear what the Catholic Church has to say.

Open and clear lines of communication have been especially helpful given that the secular media has at times sensationalized internal Anglican disputes, making it difficult to gain a clear understanding of the current situation within the Anglican Communion.

The Dialogue Commissions

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which is the principal means by which the Anglican Communion and Catholic Church have entered into dialogue about doctrinal differences, completed its second phase of work in 2005 with the publication of the agreed statement "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ".

A preparatory group has met to explore possible themes which could fruitfully be addressed in the future, but a third round of ARCIC dialogue has not yet been initiated.

In 2001, a second international commission was established entitled the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

Constituted principally but not exclusively of Bishops, IARCCUM was asked to produce a synthesis of the work of ARCIC, which has produced statements on the Eucharist (1971), Ministry (1973), Authority in the Church (1976, 1981, 1999), Salvation and Justification (1987), Ecclesiology (1991), Morals (1994) and Mary, the Mother of God (2005).

IARCCUM's text was finalized in late 2006 and published in 2007, with the title "Growing Together in Unity and Mission: Building on 40 Years of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue".

As the Co-Chair's Preface notes, the document is not an authoritative declaration by the Catholic Church or the Anglican Communion; similar to ARCIC statements, it has been published to foster discussion and reflection.

"Growing Together in Unity and Mission" attempts to identify the degree to which Anglicans and Catholics have come to doctrinal agreement, as well as naming the areas where further theological dialogue is needed.

Convinced that steps towards doctrinal agreement should translate into an increase in common witness and mission, IARCCUM members have also included a section proposing a range of practical initiatives, largely drawn from and aiming to be consistent with authorized texts and norms for Catholic ecumenical engagement.

The text notes, however, that assessing these proposals will require discernment in light of local circumstances, given that "the context and dynamics of relationship between Anglicans and Roman Catholics differ widely across the world" (99).

On the Catholic side, the IARCCUM text has been published alongside a commentary by Bishop Bernard Longley, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Westminster. Bishop Longley's commentary offers an initial assessment of the document from the perspective of the Catholic Church, assessing both its strengths and weaknesses.

Both the IARCCUM text and the accompanying commentary are available on the Vatican's website.

The Lambeth Conference

Every 10 years, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites Anglican Bishops throughout the world to gather together for the Lambeth Conference. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has invited Bishops to join him for such a conference from 16 July to 4 August 2008.
The Conference is not a lawmaking body; each of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion have their own codes of canon law, and there is no overarching legislative body.

But as Archbishop Williams recently noted, there is a long history of Lambeth Conferences seeking ways to ensure that Anglicans worldwide "acted in a responsible way towards each other and stayed faithful to the common inheritance of biblical and doctrinal faith".

The forthcoming Lambeth Conference will have two principal points of focus: strengthening Anglican identity and equipping Bishops for their role as leaders in mission. Both of these themes should assist in addressing current tensions within the Anglican Communion.

A key draft text which has been prepared for study at the Lambeth Conference is a proposal for an Anglican covenant, which is to be revised in light of further discussion, with the intention that it will eventually be signed by all the Member Churches of the Anglican Communion, and serve as a constructive bond of union.

While there has been much discussion within the Anglican world about the possible delay of the Lambeth Conference until current points of dispute are settled, Archbishop Williams has indicated that about 70 percent of Anglican Bishops worldwide have already formally registered for the Conference, with a number of others signalling that they will attend.

In addition to the 881 Anglican Bishops invited to the Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Williams has also invited nearly 100 ecumenical guests, including a group of representatives from the Catholic Church.

For constructive ecumenical dialogue it is important for the Catholic Church to have a clear sense of where its dialogue partners stand, and a strengthening of the interdependence of Anglican Provinces, particularly if that means a stronger and united affirmation of the apostolic faith, would certainly have positive repercussions for our relations.

The Anglican Centre in Rome

Established in 1966, the Anglican Centre in Rome has been a valuable means of fostering close communication and mutual understanding between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

The Director of the Anglican Centre is also the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See, and for the past five years, this role has been generously filled by Bishop John Flack from England. Bishop Flack will be returning to episcopal ministry in England in early February.
The gracious, calm and dedicated leadership of Bishop Flack has been greatly appreciated, among many others, by the officials of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; he will be sincerely missed.

The Pontifical Council looks forward to welcoming his successor, the Very Rev. David Richardson of Melbourne, Australia, in April of this year.


Four years ago, during the course of a visit of Archbishop Rowan Williams to the Holy See, Cardinal Walter Kasper noted that internal tensions in the ecclesial life of a dialogue partner do not signal an end to ecumenical relations: "Precisely when there are problems there is ever greater need of dialogue".

When Archbishop Williams visited the Holy See just over a year ago, he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a Common Declaration which, while giving thanks for what has been achieved through dialogue and identifying possible areas for common witness, also directly acknowledged recent developments which, "besides being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress".

The Common Declaration proceeded to state: "It is a matter of urgency, therefore, that in renewing our commitment to pursue the path towards full visible communion in the truth and love of Christ, we also commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous". Ecumenical relations are not simply a strategy or a means to an end which we ourselves orchestrate.

They are fostered in obedience to the Lord's desire that his disciples be one, and they grow out of the recognition that those baptized into the death and Resurrection of Christ are sisters and brothers in him, who cannot simply be put aside when we face tensions or disagreements, old or new.

In the present context, the Holy Spirit has been present amidst challenges and difficulties, calling forth honest conversation, prayerful support and joint discernment about what it means to persevere in the apostolic faith which has been handed down to us.