The Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue: A Special Relationship

Among the churches of the Reformation “in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican communion occupies a special place” (UR # 13). Fifty years ago I read these words in the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism and it inspired my ever growing interest in the world-wide Anglican Communion. In May 2011 ARCIC III met in Bose, Switzerland to begin its work on the third series of conversations and studies on ecclesial and ethical questions which need further study for full communion between the two communions.

The official press release on ARCIC III reads as follows:

The official dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion is undertaken by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Department for Unity, Faith and Order of the Anglican Communion. The dialogue has taken place over forty years, in two phases of the Commission.

Abp.Bernard Longley (Source: birminghamdiocese.org.uk)

Abp.Bernard Longley
(Source: birminghamdiocese.org.uk)

The co-Chairmen and co-secretaries of the new phase of the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC III) have drawn up a plan for the first meeting of the
Commission. This will be hosted by the Monastery of Bose, northern Italy, from 17 to 27 May 2011. The new phase of ARCIC’s work was mandated by Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at their meeting in Rome in November 2009.The co-Chairmen are the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, England (Roman Catholic) and the Most Reverend David Moxon, Archbishop of the New Zealand dioceses (Anglican).

The task of this third phase of ARCIC will be to consider fundamental questions regarding the ‘Church as Communion – Local and Universal’, and ‘How in communion the Local and Universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching’. These interrelated topics emerged from the Common Declaration of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Abp. D. Moxon (Source: waikatotolitx.com)

Abp. D. Moxon
(Source: waikatotolitx.com)

Life in Christ

ARCIC II made an important contribution to the present discussion in its agreed statement: “Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church” published by the International Commission in 1994. This was preceded by The Church as Communion published in 1991. Communion was seen as the key to a theological understanding of the
nature of the church. This concept was especially helpful to the study on moral/ethical discernment in Life in Christ. The Christological focus (and its Trinitarian rooting) is the ground work of the study. What it seeks to show is that while the Church of Rome and the Church of Canterbury may diverge officially and importantly on moral conclusions from its discernment, the foundations, values and method of discernment shows a shared faith and church uniting elements more than church dividing obstacles.

The study is carefully crafted and seeks common ground without minimizing either the divergences or effects of these differences. In the final analysis, the lack of full communion, the history of the churches that have acted independently and without the “exchange of gifts” to which Pope John Paul II pointed in his encouraging Ut Unum Sint and many allocutions, resulted in estrangement and a failure to give full clarity to the common ground on which both churches have built their moral discernment.

Part of ARCIC III’s mandate is to prepare and facilitate the reception of the work done by ARCIC II by the church authorities of both communions. Such a reception will give a practical visibility to the unity shared by the churches even in the present real but imperfect communion.

A Good Beginning

The Living Church, and Anglican Newsletter published the official communiqué from ARCIC III’s third meeting in Rio de Janeiro, May 8, 2013:

A wide range of papers was prepared for the meting and discussed, taking the Commission further towards its goal of producing an agreed statement. The mandate for this third phase of ARCIC is to explore the Church as Communion, local and universal, and how in communion the local and universal Church come to discern right ethical teaching. In exploring this mandate, the members of the Commission engaged in theological analysis and shared reflection on the nature of the Church and those structures which contribute to discernment and decision-making. Time was spent considering some case studies of ethical issues which members had prepared and analyzing the ways in which the two communions have come to their present teaching on these matters.

Over the forty years of its work, ARCIC have produced a number of Agreed Statements. The work of ARCIC I received official responses from the two communions. The Commission continued its task of preparing the documents of ARCIC II for presentation to the respective communions to assist with their reception. Members reviewed responses already given to each of the five Agreed Statements and will prepare introductions for them that place each of these documents within the current ecumenical situation.

It is clear from the latest communiqué that ARCIC III is doing exactly what it was mandated to do by the authorities of both communions and will guide the churches to the reception of ARCIC II and present the first Agreed Statement of ARCIC III for study by the churches.