Lambeth Palace London SEI 7JU
6th August 1988
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
His Holiness Pope John Paul II
At the close of the twelfth Lambeth Conference of the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, I write to you to thank you for the presence of the Catholic Observers, for your personal letter assuring the Conference of your prayers, and to inform you directly of the results of our deliberations.
One of the happy features of our Conference has been the presence of Observers and Speakers from many churches. Among the speakers it was a particular pleasure to welcome Father Pierre Duprey, Secretary of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, who delivered an important response to my own opening address. Father Duprey carried your letter to the Conference and 1 read it to the plenary assembly of Bishops. The tactful courtesy in the manner of your reference to the known obstacle of the ordination of women was deeply appreciated.
Although the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate has been in the forefront of our deliberations, the principal issue before the Conference has actually been the underlying question of authority, the developing tradition of the Church, and ecclesiology. I spoke at some length to the Conference of this, including the structures required for unity: the episcopate, conciliarity and primacy. I spoke specifically of the primacy you demonstrated in Assisi in 1986 in convoking the Day of Prayer for Peace. Of your office as Bishop of Rome I asked:
“could not all Christians come to reconsider the kind of primacy exercised within the Early Church, a ‘presiding in love’ for the sake of the unity of the Churches”?
But the ecumenical pilgrimage has not yet reached this stage. In the meantime urgent questions have to be faced, new problems addressed and the mission of the Church exercised even in our separation. Thus in a number of Provinces of the | Anglican Communion the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood, and now episcopate, arises. The Lambeth Conference has no juridical authority over the Anglican Communion, Nor do I. All the Provinces have the canonical authority to implement the mission of the Church as they deem right in their own culture. So the matter of the ordination of women, especially to the episcopate, has been deeply divisive.
Nevertheless, the overall ethos of the Lambeth Conference has been one of unity and communion despite deeply held differences. It is probable that some provinces, especially in North America, may shortly elect and consecrate a woman bishop. The Lambeth Conference resolved to respect this decision even if not all other bishops and provinces can yet recognize such a woman bishop. There will be the pain of some impairment of communion. Difficult as this is, it is, in the judgement of this Conference, a more acceptable solution than a schism within the Anglican Communion. We are now urgently to examine the relations between Provinces which differ in practice on this matter. We recognize the ecumenical ‘ implications of this debate but know that the Catholic Church would also see a split in the Anglican Communion as a grave ecumenical obstacle.
I acknowledge that there is need for much more study of the question of women’s ordination. I also feel that this study should be conducted on an ecumenical basis. 1 was glad that this view was re-echoed in the response made to my opening address by Metropolitan John of Pergamos who is Co-Chairman of the Anglican/Orthodox dialogue and, of course, a member of the Catholic/Orthodox International Commission. He called for an exhaustive theological debate on this matter and said:
“It seems to me that we have not even begun to treat the issue of the ordination of women as a theological problem at an ecumenical level.”
It is my prayer that such ecumenical debate, involving all Christians, may be taken up and carried out in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.
The Conference went on to consider the responses of 23 autonomous Provinces to the Final Report of the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission. One of the most important tasks of the Conference was to pronounce the consensus of the Anglican Communion on the Agreed Statements of the dialogue established by our predecessors in 1966. The Bishops, by a very large majority, recognized the ARCIC Agreed Statements on the eucharist and the ordained ministry as “consonant in substance with the faith of Anglicans”. On authority the Agreed Statements were welcomed as “a firm basis” for the Future dialogue. The complete text of these very positive Resolutions is in the hands of the Catholic Observers. They represent a very strong affirmation by the Anglican Communion about the results of our dialogue.
While thé Bishops of the Anglican Communion realize that there will be no easy solution to the difficult question of the ordination of women, | see this strong affirmation of the work of ARCIC-1 as a significant Anglican step towards “the mutual recognition of the ministries of our two Communions” of which we spoke in Canterbury together in May 1982.
In spite of obstacles the Bishops of the Anglican Communion are determined to continue to seek the unity Our Lord wills and to pursue the quest for the full visible unity to which our two Communions are committed.
May God bestow upon us this gift and the grace to receive it.
Your Holiness’ Brother in Christ,
+ Robert Cantuar
To The Most Reverend Robert Runcie
Archbishop of Canterbury
I acknowledge with gratitude the letter which you sent to me at the close of the twelfth Lambeth Conference last August. Your thoughtfulness in informing me about the proceedings of the Conference is much appreciated. I see in this gracious gesture a further indication of the trust that exists between us and of the strong bond of communion by which we are already united.
In responding to your communication, I would first of all acknowledge the signs of openness to fuller communion with the Catholic Church which were evident at several points in the Conference, not least in your opening address and in the resolutions on the. Final Report of ARCIC-I. At the same time, I must express my concern in respect of those developments at Lambeth which seem to have placed new obstacles in the way of reconciliation between Catholics and Anglicans. The Lambeth Conference’s treatment of the question of women’s ordination has created a new and perplexing situation for the members of the Second Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission to whom, in 1982, we gave the mandate of studying “all that hinders the mutual recognition of the ministries of our Communions”. The ordination of women to the priesthood in some provinces of the Anglican Communion, together with the recognition of the right of individual provinces to proceed with the ordination of women to the episcopacy, appears to preempt this study and effectively block the path to the mutual recognition of ministries.
The Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church and the Ancient Oriental Churches, is firmly opposed to this development, viewing it as a break with Tradition of a kind we have no competence to authorize. It would seem that the discussion of women’s ordination in the Anglican Communion has not taken sufficiently into account the ecumenical and ecclesiological dimensions of the question. Since the Anglican Communion is in dialogue with the Catholic Church – as it is with the Orthodox Church and the Ancient Oriental Churches – it is urgent that this aspect be given much greater attention in order to prevent a serious erosion of the degree of communion between us.
I am aware that no final decision on the controversial question of women’s ordination has been taken as far as the Church of England is concerned. I likewise understand the delicate nature of your own position, given the autonomy of each of the provinces that make up the Anglican Communion, as well as your anxiety over a possible split within that Communion. Since, however, as Archbishop of Canterbury you also represent the Anglican Communion in its relations with the Catholic Church, a highly problematic situation could certainly arise for those provinces opposed to women’s ordination if there were women priests in the Church of England. In addressing Your Grace so directly on this matter, I would stress that my motivation is simply to serve the quest for unity to which our predecessors Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey committed themselves in 1966: a commitment which you and I renewed during my visit to Canterbury in 1982.
Assuring you of my prayers as we persevere in the search for that unity willed by the Lord for all his disciples, I renew my warm fraternal greetings in our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest.
From the Vatican, 8th December 1988
Joannes Paulus PP. II