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Clarifications regarding the front page article in The Times, 19 February 2007

Posted on: February 19, 2007 1:40 PM
Related Categories: Ecumenical, IARCCUM

from Archbishop John Bathersby, Catholic Co-chair of IARCCUM and Bishop David Beetge, Anglican Co-chair of IARCCUM

Growing Together in Unity and Mission is being published as an agreed statement of IARCCUM (the International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission), and is to be published under the Commission’s authority, not as an official statement of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. It is being put forward to foster discussion and reflection, as the statement clearly states.

The statement was recently completed by IARCCUM, and is scheduled to be published by the Commission as soon as a Catholic commentary to accompany the document has been completed; an Anglican commentary has already been prepared for publication. The text was made available to the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council and to the Anglican Primates, currently meeting in Tanzania. The Primates were also presented with a copy of the agreed statement of the International Commission of the Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue, entitled The Church of the Triune God. Through these two texts, Anglican leaders were able to look at the recent results of important international dialogues with which the Anglican Communion is currently engaged. Both of these texts address the theology of the Church, and given that the Anglican Primates are currently discussing the nature of the Church, it was felt that the dialogue documents had something to contribute to those discussions.

Growing Together in Unity and Mission has not yet been officially published.  It is unfortunate that its contents have been prematurely reported in a way which misrepresents its intentions and sensationalises its conclusions. The first part of the document, which treats doctrinal matters, is an attempt to synthesize the work of ARCIC (the Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission) over the past 35 years. It identifies the level of agreement which has been reached by ARCIC, but is also very clear in identifying ongoing areas of disagreement, and in raising questions which still need to be addressed in dialogue. Those ongoing questions and areas of disagreement are highlighted in boxed sections interspersed throughout the text. It is a very honest document assessing the state of Anglican - Roman Catholic relations at the present moment.

Both the heading of the article ('Churches back plan to unite under Pope') and its opening sentence, which speaks of ‘radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope’ need to be put into proper perspective.  For 35 years this dialogue has addressed questions of authority, including the papacy.  The so-called 'radical proposals' found in Growing Together in Unity and Mission are the same proposals which ARCIC has been putting forward over the past 35 years. What this document says about the Petrine Ministry is not new, but a synthesis of what is said in ARCIC's documents on authority (Authority in the Church I, 1976; Authority in the Church II, 1981; The Gift of Authority, 1999). While it is encouraging that a document of this kind can be produced and that practical day to day cooperation between Catholics and Anglicans can be strengthened, talk of plans to reunite the two communions is, sadly, much exaggerated.

The second part of the document sets forward proposals for concrete initiatives, identifying aspects of common mission, common study, common prayer which are for the most part already permitted according to authoritative sources of the Catholic Church and the provinces of the Anglican Communion. Most of these proposals aren't new, and some of them have been implemented for decades in some places. The document draws together a series of proposals which IARCCUM’s members believe are possible in the present context given the degree of faith we share. But it also says that local bishops in each part of the world will need to discern what is appropriate locally, given that the context and dynamics of relationships between Anglicans and Roman Catholics differ widely across the world.

The Times article speculates about the Catholic Church’s response to a possible schism within the Anglican Communion. It should be pointed out that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has consistently spoken of the value of the Anglican Communion remaining a communion, rooted in the Apostolic faith, as indicated in this statement from 2004: “It is our overwhelming desire that the Anglican Communion stays together, rooted in the historic faith which our dialogue and relations over four decades have led us to believe that we share to a large degree.” During the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Pope Benedict in November, 2006, the Holy Father noted: “It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition which form our common patrimony and are the basis of our common aspiration to work for full visible unity.”

We hope that when published, Growing Together in Unity and Mission invites a good deal of discussion, and that it will be a helpful instrument on the long journey towards full communion which has been the stated goal of Anglican - Roman Catholic relations for the past 40 years.

ENDS