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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY

Relations with the Anglican Communion
and World Methodist Council in 2012

Msgr. MARK LANGHAM

 

 

1. THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

Internal Developments

This year has witnessed a continuing climate of dissent within the Anglican Communion, with ethical questions concerning the episcopal ordination of active homosexuals creating serious tensions between different Anglican provinces, and presenting a major problem for ecumenical relations with the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the move in the Church of England towards ordaining women bishops, while not a new development on the scale of the worldwide Anglican communion, has further entrenched an intractable church-dividing issue. Nevertheless, there are also indications that the co-operation between Anglicans and Catholics continues at many levels, and two successful visits to Rome by the Archbishop of Canterbury underlined the close relations between the two communions.

Worldwide Anglicanism continues to be dominated by damaging ethical disagreements between provinces. In North America, conservative dioceses continue to secede from The Episcopalian Church, while there appear to be serious problems over the progress of the Anglican Communion Covenant, with the Church of England itself voting not to accept it. As ever, Anglicanism in general, and the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular, face the dilemma of maintaining some sense of identity in an increasingly diverse worldwide Communion, while remaining deeply averse to any centralised authority. The Anglican Covenant, to which the Archbishop of Canterbury has given his personal support, his been widely criticised as too authoritarian and "un-Anglican". At the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Auckland, New Zealand, in October, much time was given to the Covenant, and it was clear that the structures of doctrinal limitation it implies are unpopular with the majority of Provinces. At present, it is hard to see that the Covenant will gain communion-wide approval, and since adherence to it was to determine participation in ecumenical dialogues, the consequences for Anglican – Catholic relations remain unclear.

In the Church of England, meanwhile, the failure of General Synod to pass legislation permitting the ordination of women to the Episcopacy has created a crisis, with the Government seeming to threaten at least indirect pressure to reverse the decision. It is important to note that this vote was not about women bishops per se: that development is inevitable, since the vast majority of English Anglicans support it. The vote was about providing a substantial framework for those Anglicans who cannot accept the measure; the proposal failed as not enough members of Synod felt that safeguards for opponents were secure, despite assurances from the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is hard to see how the legislation, when it returns, can be adapted to encompass two essentially conflicting points of view. The ramifications for relations with the Catholic Church both locally, and more widely, are yet to be seen.

ARCIC III and IARCCUM

Despite these problems, the second meeting of the current phase of the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC III) took place in May a positive and fruitful environment. The Commission, under the co-chairmanship of Roman Catholic Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon of Aotearoa-New Zealand, met in Hong Kong, as guests of the Anglican diocese, to continue its discussions on the themes ‘

The Church as Communion, local and universal’, and ‘How in communion the local and universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching’. Both these topics are crucially relevant to the Anglican Communion at this time. During the meeting, it was decided to treat the ethical issue through "case studies", that is, to consider particular ethical issues where there is either agreement or disagreement between Catholics and Anglicans, and to investigate how those differing positions have been reached. It is hoped that this work will be of real value in local circumstances throughout the world where Anglicans and Catholics work together. The Commission met with the leadership of the Catholic and Anglican communities in Hong Kong, and held an evening of discussion and exchanging information with seminarians from both traditions. Members of the Commission were also introduced to the work of the Mission to Seamen, undertaken jointly by Anglicans and Catholics. At a further small planning meeting in November, the ARCIC work assignments in preparation for beginning work on an agreed statement, ahead of the third meeting of ARCIC III, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro in May 2013.

The International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), which was developed following a successful joint meeting of Anglican and Catholic Bishops in 2000, has been revived. Its scope is to publicize the work of ARCIC and promote reception of its work. The co-chairmen, Anglican Bishop David Hamid and Catholic Bishop Donald Bolen, have sent all known local Anglican-Catholic dialogues a questionnaire, to ascertain what is being done about ecumenical relations at present, and to share good practice. These results will be collated early in 2013, and local bishops identified in each region who can help promote the ecumenical achievements of ARCIC.

Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, announced earlier in 2012 that he would retire at the close of the year, in order to return to a life in academia. This added a poignancy to his two visits to Rome, and in particular his second journey became an opportunity to thank him for his leadership of the Anglican Communion and to bid him farewell. In March, Dr Williams was in Rome to take part in the millennium celebrations of the Camaldolese Order, whose basilica of San Gregorio al Celio has particular historic links with England. As part of these events, Dr Williams participated in Solemn Vespers celebrated by His Holiness Pope Benedict, and delivered an address. Following Vespers, together with the Prior of San Gregorio he prayed in the Chapel of St Gregory, in preparation for its dedication as a special place of pilgrimage for Anglican visitors to Rome. On the following day, he took part in a conference on monastic life, and later visited the San Egidio centre in Trastevere. The Archbishop also engaged in a dialogue with the seminarians of Venerable English College, answering their questions and discussing ecumenical relations with them.

In October, Dr Rowan Williams returned to Rome to address the thirteenth ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the profound connection between contemplation and the task of evangelisation. His intervention was given in the presence of His Holiness Pope Benedict, and was followed by a period of dialogue with the Synod Fathers, following which the Archbishop held a short meeting with the Holy Father. On the following day, Dr Williams was present in St Peter’s Square for Holy Mass celebrated by His Holiness Pope Benedict to inaugurate the Year of Faith. During this final visit, the Archbishop met with many friends from the Curia to bid them farewells, including H.E. Cardinal Kurt Koch of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Upon the announcement in November that Right Reverend Justin Welby had been appointed to succeed Dr Rowan Williams, Cardinal Koch sent a letter of congratulations. He will attend the Archbishop’s enthronement next March, and it is hoped that the new Archbishop of Canterbury will make a first visit to Rome later in the year.

Other contacts

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity welcomes many visitors through the year, who help to strengthen bonds of friendship and provide first-hand information about Anglican developments. Bishop Steven Croft of Sheffield, England, was present at the Synod of Bishops, as Anglican Fraternal Delegate, and made a brief intervention. He later reported his experience in very positive terms to the General Synod of the Church of England. Bishop Robert Ladds was present in Nettuno for a symposium on the role of the Virgin Mary in ecumenism, in which Monsignor Langham of the Pontifical Council participated. Monsignor Langham also addressed the Trustees of the Anglican Centre, present in Rome in November for their annual meeting.

In June, there was a significant visit to Rome by the clergy and choir of Westminster Abbey, London, which recalled the presence of His Holiness Pope Benedict to the Abbey in 2010, and provided an example of collaboration that bears profound witness to the shared heritage of Anglicans and Catholics. The famed Abbey choir was granted the privilege of singing at the Papal Mass on the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, alongside the Sistine Choir, after which they were greeted by His Holiness. On the following day, a concert was given by both choirs in the Sistine Chapel, at which H.E. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone spoke warmly of the English choral tradition.

In the same month, Cardinal Koch traveled to England, where in Canterbury and London he met with members of the Church of England and wider Anglican communion representing different traditions within Anglicanism. This visit, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was an opportunity for the President of the Pontifical Council to experience something of the breadth and inclusivity of Anglicanism.

In October, Monsignor Mark Langham of the Pontifical Council attended the Anglican Consultative Council in New Zealand, and made presentations on the work of the Pontifical Council and upon the importance of the Anglican Centre in Rome. He also took part in two workshops on Anglican – Catholic relations. In Rome, the Annual Informal Talks were between the Pontifical Council and representatives of the Worldwide Anglican Communion were held in November. This event offers a regular opportunity for a frank and fraternal exchange of news and opinions on a range of subjects, allowing information to be shared and questions to be answered. This year, the meeting was held at the offices of the Pontifical Council, was chaired by Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council and included other important representatives of the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion.

In December, a significant ecumenical milestone was reached when His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester visited the Venerable English College, and read a message from Her Majesty the Queen congratulating the College on the six hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its original foundation. The message from the second Queen Elizabeth was a small, but significant, indication of how far relations between Anglicans and Catholics have been transformed in recent decades.

It was announced earlier in the year that Canon David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Rome and Director of the Anglican Centre, would retire at Easter in 2013. In December, his replacement was named as Archbishop David Moxon of New Zealand, currently co-president of ARCIC. Cardinal Koch sent a message congratulating Archbishop Moxon, and expressing confidence that his

considerable experience and gifts would suit him well for this important position which has such a significant role in relations between the Holy See and Canterbury, confirming the bonds of affection between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and assisting our mutual understanding and work.

2. THE WORLD METHODIST COUNCIL

2012 marked an quiet year in relations between the Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council, but also contained a significant event in the first meeting of the new phase of the International Methodist – Catholic Joint Commission.

The International Methodist-Catholic Joint Commission

The Commission is inaugurated its tenth phase October, meeting in Buenos Aires, with

 the topic of the ‘Universal Call to Holiness.’ This theme builds on the ecclesiological work that the dialogue has previously done, and seeks to establish common sources and traditions that will encourage a greater understanding and collaboration between Catholics and Methodists. The meeting took place in a positive and prayerful atmosphere, and several new members were welcomed to the dialogue. The Catholic co-President, Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville, Australia, was joined by his Methodist colleague, Dr David Chapman of England, who took over from the long-standing co-President Dr Geoffrey Wainwright. During the meeting there were encounters with the local Catholic and Methodist communities – there have been Methodists in Argentina since the early nineteenth century – and an ecumenical prayer service was held attended by an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Buenos Aires.

Also in October, the Pontifical Council welcomed to Rome the Reverend Sarah F. Davis, Vice President of the Methodist World Council, who was a Fraternal Delegate at the Thirteen Ordinary Session of the Synod of Bishops. During the Synod, Reverend Davis made a brief intervention, and communicated to the Pontifical Council her sense of privilege and joy at having been a participant at this important event. During her stay in Rome, the Reverend Davis also presided and preached at a service at the Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church.

Regular Contacts and Visits

The Methodist Minister in Rome, the Reverend Kenneth Howcroft, continues to be a close and useful contact for sharing information that concerns Methodist – Catholic relations, and the Pontifical Council meets with him regularly to discuss matters of mutual concern. On 18 June, the Pontifical Council was represented at the annual celebration of the Birthday of John Wesley, held at the Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church, and attended by dignitaries from the Curia and Diplomatic service.

In addition, the Methodist Church in Rome continues to host monthly meetings of English-speaking ministers in Rome from various denominations, which are attended by Monsignor Langham.

3. FUTURE PROSPECTS

Certain developments in the ecumenical scene that affect relations between the Catholic Church and Anglicanism are having a negative impact on ecumenical relations, calling into question earlier agreements made by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission, and presenting serious departures from Catholic moral and doctrinal teaching. The internal controversies that these developments have occasioned have made it difficult for Catholics to discern a clear Anglican position on certain issues. The Pontifical Council had hoped that the Anglican Covenant might provide some coherency to Anglican ecclesiology, and limit doctrinal diversity, but its virtually certain rejection means that it is unlikely that help will come from that direction.

The question of provision of women bishops in the Church of England has attracted great Press attention, and has been portrayed by many as a significant moment in the life of the Anglicanism. The Anglican Communion has, however, been appointing women bishops in other Provinces for twenty years, and ARCIC has for a long time had to take account of this reality. However, events at the General Synod in London are of major significance to the international dialogue, because of the special position of the Church of England within the communion. These event emphasizes the entrenchment of a development which is a serious obstacle to the progress of Christian unity.

With Methodists also, there are increasing concerns about the extent to which local practices do not conform to agreed worldwide practices, and the gap between official Methodist discipline and practice is a matter of some concern to the Catholic Church.

In this atmosphere, the positive spirit of the dialogue talks with both Anglicans and Methodists has been all the more remarkable. It is notable that, at the same time as ethical and doctrinal differences present seemingly intractable obstacles, fruitful dialogue on many other topics has still proved possible. ARCIC is preparing important work on the structures of ethical decision making, which it proposes to share with local Anglican – Catholic dialogues. There was particular delight in the Methodist – Catholic dialogue at the areas of common tradition that emerged from its discussion of holiness and sanctification.

In addition, ecumenical relations have been cemented through visits to Rome. The Anglican choir of Westminster Abbey, present at the Holy Mass on the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, sang the Ave Verum Corpus of William Byrd. This piece of music was written by a Catholic for the small and persecuted Catholic minority. That it should be sung in Rome in the presence of the Holy Father by an Anglican choir, was a striking demonstration of how many historical obstacles have been overcome. Above all, the visits by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the important address made by him to the Synod of Bishops, showed a depth of spiritual kinship and co-operation that resonates strongly even in difficult ecumenical times. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, although from an Evangelical background, has cited strong Catholic influences upon him. The coming year will provide opportunities to come to know him, and to carry forward the essential work of striving for Christian unity.

                 

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