Report sets stage for closer relations between Catholics, Anglicans
13 April 2007 • Permanent link: iarccum.org/?p=968
by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
Church unity hasn’t happened yet, but Catholics and Anglicans have a new list of concrete suggestions for ways to bring the two churches closer.
Seven years after nine pairs of Catholic and Anglican bishops from around the world met in Mississauga, Ont., to talk and pray over 35 years of official dialogue, a joint commission of Catholic and Anglican bishops has produced a 42-page report which aims “to bridge the gap between the elements of faith we hold in common and the tangible expression of that shared belief in our ecclesial lives.”
The result of work by theologians and bishops in North America, Europe and Australia, Growing Together in Unity and Mission: Building on 40 years of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue summarizes the agreements reached in 40 years of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, setting out common belief in the Trinity, the church as communion in mission, Scripture, Baptism, Eucharist, ministry, authority in the church, discipleship and holiness, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It also sets out in eight boxed sections areas of disagreement. The disagreements take up 15 of the 126 numbered paragraphs in the document.
While the summary of theological agreement is useful, the really significant contribution of Growing Together is the list of more than 20 practical, concrete steps parishes and dioceses can take to live their imperfect union, said Fr. Damian MacPherson, the archdiocese of Toronto’s ecumenical and interfaith relations officer.
“From my point of view we should begin to act on some of these things,” MacPherson said.
Some of the suggestions include praying for the Archbishop of Canterbury in Catholic churches and for the Pope in Anglican churches, common renewal of baptismal vows on Pentecost Sunday, shared Bible study classes based on the Sunday lectionary, common baptismal and confirmation preparation classes, common theological training for priests and deacons, increased contacts between Catholic and Anglican religious orders, joint pastoral statements, inviting Anglican bishops to participate in ad limina visits to Rome, joint social justice projects and joint evangelical campaigns.
“We really did want to do more than assent, but see it expressed in action,” said veteran ecumenist Sr. Donna Geernaert. Geernaert was a member of the North American team that worked on suggestions for practical action in Growing Together.
“Whatever is there is really doable in the present moment,” said the Sister of Charity of Halifax. “They’re quite careful not to suggest things that would be contrary to our present state of communion.”
Many of the suggestions for joint Catholic and Anglican action are already reality in Toronto. Priests and deacons who study at the Toronto School of Theology are already taking courses in Scripture and church history together. Through KAIROS, Project Ploughshares and outreach to aboriginal people in Toronto Anglicans and Catholics are involved together in social justice causes.
Some suggestions would be very easy to implement, MacPherson said.
“Praying for one another I think is an easy hit, quite frankly,” he said.
At St. James Cathedral and some other Toronto Anglican churches Anglicans do pray for the Pope and the patriarch of Constantinople on special occasions. Including the Archbishop of Canterbury in intentions of the faithful would be no problem on any given Sunday in Catholic churches, said MacPherson.
Among the measures Toronto’s Anglican Bishop Colin Johnson would like to see happen is common renewal of baptismal vows at Pentecost. Recognizing our common Baptism is the basis of Christian unity, Johnson said.
Commenting before he had seen the report, Toronto’s Catholic Archbishop Thomas Collins said he thought common witness on questions of social justice would be among the most fruitful things the churches could do together.
“There are many different ways in which Catholics and other Christians can work together, perhaps to study the Scriptures, reading the word of God, but most often I think in common prayer,” he said.
While Catholics and Anglicans have much in common, it’s important not to pretend the churches have achieved a unity which does not yet exist, said Collins.
“We’re disciples of Jesus together, but there are some issues that are profound issues that are not yet resolved,” he said.
By ordaining women as bishops in England and ordaining openly gay bishops in North America, in recent years the Anglican communion finds itself on thin ice ecumenically and internally, said MacPherson.
“There’s an overarching problem today that wasn’t present in Mississauga, and that is the state of the Anglican communion,” he said.
Catholic bishops and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome are worried that progress in ecumenical relations with Anglicans could be undercut if the communion breaks up, with African and Asian bishops rejecting North American accommodations of homosexuality from blessing same-sex unions to priests and bishops living in homosexual relationships.
Catholics should remember that the issues the Anglicans are struggling with are problematic for all Christians, said Geernaert.
“We have an apparent clarity that the Anglican Church doesn’t have,” she said. “But I think we’re all aware of differing opinions in both churches. I think it would be pretty arrogant of us to be looking, making judgments about other churches and their difficulties. I think we have to be pretty careful not to do that.”
“Catholics should be more sensitive and certainly much more aware of the pain and struggle that’s going on in the Anglican Church today,” said MacPherson. “If we take our theology seriously, and the Anglican Church was identified as a church that has a special relationship with the Catholic Church in the Decree on Ecumenism, and therefore it seems to me when you have an important relationship and one side of it is struggling then your sense of partnership really comes to the surface if you’re serious.”
The issue of women ordained to the episcopacy is one that calls into question the nature of the sacrament of Ordination, said Collins.
“Can we or can we not change the nature of the sacraments, whether it’s the Eucharist or Ordination or whatever? I don’t think we can,” he said.
When it comes to blessing same-sex unions, it calls into question chastity as a value in the moral life, said Collins.
“Married chastity involves fidelity to one’s spouse. It involves true respect of the other within the sacrament of Marriage. It involves certain specific things related to Marriage,” he said. “The chastity of a single person really is different. It involves something more appropriate, fitted into their state of life.”
Catholics can only wish Anglicans well as they see them struggle with important questions, said the Catholic archbishop.
“The Catholic Church has very little influence over what happens in the Anglican Church,” he said. “Most Catholics I know are more involved with trying to be good Catholics.”
But that doesn’t mean that Collins doubts the future for the two churches.
“The concrete form of unity when it is achieved, and I say not if it’s achieved but when it is achieved — not by our efforts so much as by the closer we come to Christ by the grace of God — I do not think it means uniformity,” Collins said. “There are 22 churches within the Catholic Church — great differences in various cultural expressions. So I think we’re not looking at a homogenization of Christianity to one cultural mode. That’s not necessary for unity. In fact, it’s probably not very good. I mean it’s certainly not very good because it would lose the richness of the cultural traditions.”
Cultural richness is the great strength Toronto and the churches in Canada bring to the question of church unity, said Johnson.
“The Canadian experience of working together across cultural differences without subsuming all those differences and without falling into civil war is an important contribution that we can make,” he said.
Ecumenism is always an important part of the ministry of a bishop because a church has to focus on more than internal questions, Johnson said.
“A church that is exclusively focussed internally ultimately dies,” he said.