An informal but officially-sanctioned ecumenical dialogue between Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians has met to consider “the difficult question of Anglican Orders.” The Malines Conversation Group was originally established in the early 1920s by Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Malines-Brussels; some 24 years after Pope Leo XIII declared that Anglican Orders were “absolutely null and utterly void”. The 1920s Malines Conversations Group envisioned the restoration of communion between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the phrase l’Église Anglicane unie non absorbée – united, but not absorbed.
Since then, a number of formal dialogues and relational groups between the two churches have been established, including the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which undertakes theological dialogue; and the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), an episcopal commission which seeks ways to put joint agreements into practice.
But in 2013, with the blessing of both Lambeth Palace and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, a group of Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians began to meet once again to, “explore matters which the official theological dialogue is not mandated to do, including the difficult question of Anglican Orders,” the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid, said.
The group met last month at the San Alfonso Retreat House in Long Branch New Jersey. “The intense theological discussions are driven by our common commitment as Anglicans and Roman Catholics, in obedience to Our Lord's command, to walk together as the one Body of Christ in our divided world,” Bishop David said.”
In the group’s communiqué, they say that “like its predecessor, it is an informal group while at the same time it keeps in close contact with the official mandated ecumenical bodies in both communions; it includes members of ARCIC and IARCCUM.
“Last year’s meeting at Clare College, Cambridge, UK, continued work of previous meetings on questions of sacramentality and ordination, with particular focus on liturgical theology, canon law, and the relation between theological anthropology and ordination in both communions.
“This sixth meeting developed each of these areas in greater depth as resources for ecumenical theology, continuing to sharpen the focus on the question of ‘order’”.
The group discussed a number of papers, including on the “ecclesial grammar of scripture”, the “reality of life at the root of the reality of holy order”, “perspectives on gender and the human person”, ’.
The Revd Prof Paul McPartlan from the Catholic University of America presented “a close reading of ecclesial texts, asking the question: ‘can it be said that the church of Christ subsistit in the Anglican Communion?’”
“A number of themes recurred throughout the sessions, most notably the recognition that liturgical language, rich in symbol, sign, word and gesture, offers rich possibilities for expressing the reality of unity and communion we share already,” the group said in their communiqué. “And it gives rise to possible methodologies for developing new layers of unity as we continue to explore the reception of orders and fuller communion together.”
The Group will continue their work when they meet in the UK city of York next Spring.