Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > IARCCUM > Ecclesiological Reflections > Part I
I. Introduction



Report of the ad hoc sub-commission of IARCCUM presented to the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and to the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper
June 8th, 2004

I. Introduction

     1. The Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church have been committed for almost forty years to 'serious dialogue which, founded on the Gospels and the ancient common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed' (Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, 1966). Over these decades, remarkable progress has been made towards the 'restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life' called for by the 1966 Declaration. The importance of steady movement towards this goal was emphasized by Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert Runcie in their Common Declaration of 1989:

Against the background of human disunity the arduous journey to Christian unity must be pursued with determination and vigor, whatever obstacles are perceived to block the path. We here solemnly re-commit ourselves and those we represent to the restoration of visible unity and full ecclesial communion in the confidence that to seek anything less would be to betray our Lord's intention for the unity of his people…

We also urge our clergy and faithful not to neglect or undervalue that certain yet imperfect communion we already share.... This communion should be cherished and guarded as we seek to grow into the fuller communion Christ wills.

     The Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops who gathered in Mississauga in May of 2000, after reviewing the extensive progress made both in theological agreement and in practical relationships since the Second Vatican Council, confidently observed that the communion we already share is 'no longer to be viewed in minimal terms'. It is 'a rich and life-giving, multi-faceted communion. We have ... moved much closer to the goal of full visible communion than we had at first dared to believe'.1

     2. It is a significant confirmation of the progress we have made, and of the importance of our common commitment to the goal of full ecclesial communion, that the appearance of a fresh obstacle to achieving that goal has led to a common initiative to address that difficulty. The question raised by the episcopal consecration in New Hampshire is immediately an Anglican concern and is being addressed by the Anglican Communion itself. However, consultations with the Roman Catholic Church led the Archbishop of Canterbury to take the initiative of inviting Cardinal Kasper of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to join him in setting up a special sub-commission of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) to address the ecclesiological concerns raised by the event. As members of this sub-commission, we are grateful to be given an opportunity to contribute to the process of discernment within the Anglican Communion. We believe that the invitation to make this ecumenical contribution illustrates how close our two communions have come to each other, and reflects the fact that what one communion does has consequences for the other. Cardinal Kasper said of the present situation that Catholics do not see themselves simply as observers: because of our close relationship, there is no such thing as an entirely unilateral decision or action. He added that it was precisely in the midst of problems that dialogue was most necessary.

     3. Our theological dialogue of the past decades, carried out through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), has been principally concerned with doctrinal issues, but it has also dealt with moral matters, and in the process, has shown how closely the two are interconnected. The Agreed Statement, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church (1994), claimed that:

despite existing disagreement in certain areas of pastoral and practical judgement, Anglicans and Roman Catholics derive from the Scripture and Tradition the same controlling vision of the nature and destiny of humanity and share the same fundamental moral values. (Life in Christ, 1)

Our sharing in this common Apostolic heritage enables us to give shared witness and to speak prophetically on moral questions. Recent developments, however, call into question the extent to which we in fact share a moral vision. The episcopal consecration in New Hampshire raises two areas of concern: one relating to the moral teaching involved; the other to the ecclesiological difficulties deriving from the course of action taken. With regard to the moral aspect, the Roman Catholic Church holds a firm position on homosexuality, which is set out, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2357-2359. The consecration, following the endorsement of the General Convention, has caused Roman Catholics, and many Anglicans, to question, however, whether the churches of the Anglican Communion can sustain a coherent teaching and practice in this area, since the action was taken in spite of Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the statement of the meeting of Primates in October, 2003. This very fact simultaneously highlights the major ecclesiological questions that have been raised.

     4. The Lambeth Commission has not been asked to address directly the question of homosexuality but rather to focus on related ecclesiological issues. In like manner, our sub-commission has been asked specifically to give attention to the ecclesiological implications arising from the recent developments in the Anglican Communion, particularly in the light of, and with reference to, the relevant Agreed Statements of ARCIC. The major focus of our report, therefore, will be to draw out of the ARCIC texts pertinent signposts which relate to the current situation in the Anglican Communion, in the hope that they may help the Lambeth Commission in addressing the questions before it. In order to contextualize the contributions from ARCIC, showing them to arise both out of our ancient common traditions, and out of recent ecclesiological thinking in both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, we offer a preliminary section on shared ecclesiological foundations. We look first at the 4th century, where there are certain parallels to the current context which suggest some helpful insights for the present situation. Next, we look to recent statements from both our communions on the maintenance of communion, which have shaped and, in some instances, been influenced by the work of ARCIC. Finally, in the principal section of this document, we turn to the ARCIC Agreed Statements, identifying five areas relevant to the task facing the Lambeth Commission. We hope that our reflections will help the Commission to take full account of that 'certain yet imperfect communion we already share', and to cherish and guard it 'as we seek to grow into the fuller communion Christ wills' (Common Declaration, 1989).


  1. Communion in Mission, nn."-6.

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