No sugar coating of Anglican-Catholic tensions

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • February 23, 2007
ROME - A Catholic archbishop and an Anglican bishop who lead work on a document about witnessing to commonly held points of faith said the document will be “very honest” about current tensions within the Anglican Communion and the problems that poses for ecumenical dialogue.

Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane, Australia, and Anglican Bishop David Beetge of Highveld, South Africa, are the co-chairmen of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission. The commission was established by the Vatican and the Anglican Communion in 2001 to promote activities that would help Catholics and Anglicans demonstrate the results of four decades of ecumenical dialogue and take concrete steps toward full unity.

“While it is encouraging that a document of this kind can be produced and that practical day-to-day co-operation between Catholics and Anglicans can be strengthened, talk of plans to reunite the two communions is, sadly, much exaggerated,” the two bishops said in a Feb. 19 statement e-mailed to reporters.

The bishops were reacting to news stories, based on a leaked copy of the document, which made it appear as if the commission was about to announce a new plan for immediate unity.

Some of the stories also treated as a surprise the document’s suggestion that Catholics and Anglicans discuss ways the papacy could be exercised as a “sign and focus of unity within a reunited church.” Pope John Paul II had made the same suggestion to all Christians in his 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Dialogue has discussed the issue of authority in the church for decades.

Bathersby and Beetge said the commission’s new document, “Growing Together in Unity and Mission: Building on 40 Years of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue,” would be made public “as soon as a Catholic commentary” on it has been completed. A Vatican official told Catholic News Service the commentary should be completed in time for the document to be published in early April.

Although the commentary was not finished, the document itself was given to the primates of the world’s Anglican provinces and to others meeting in Tanzania Feb. 15-19 to discuss ways to keep the Anglican Communion united despite tensions over the ordination of homosexuals, the blessing of gay unions and the ordination of women bishops.

Bathersby and Beetge said that since the document includes summaries of what Catholics and Anglicans have declared jointly about the nature of the church it was felt that the document could be useful in the primates’ deliberation.

The text of the document, without the official Vatican and Anglican commentaries, was posted Feb. 19 on the web site of the organization Anglican Mainstream.

While it set out dozens of activities Catholics and Anglicans can and should undertake together — including prayer services, baptismal preparation programs, social service initiatives and attendance at each other’s eucharistic celebrations but without taking Communion — the document said the prospect of full unity appears further off than it did in 2000.

In 2000, Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops called for a “joint declaration of agreement” on the goal of full unity, a summary of doctrine held in common and a plan for moving forward.

“Since this meeting, however, the churches of the Anglican Communion have entered into a period of dispute” over the issues of homosexuality and women bishops, the document said.

“While this may not be the moment to initiate a formal new stage in our relations,” the document said, “we believe that it is the time 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.”

Writing about the document in a late January article in the Vatican newspaper, the Catholic co-secretary of the commission, Msgr. Donald Bolen, said, “Members of the commission are deeply convinced that, even in a period of uncertainty, the mission entrusted to us by Christ obliges us and requires us to deepen our brotherhood in life and in mission.”

The document, he wrote, would be published with a Catholic commentary “so that it can be studied and give rise to discussions among Catholics and Anglicans in various contexts.”



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