The Catholic Church takes no pleasure in the tensions within the Anglican Church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said in a Friday address to Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury.
Discussing the progress of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) on Church unity, the cardinal suggested that ARCIC’s work on the nature of the Church is relevant to present Anglican disputes. While voicing his confidence in the commission’s work, he said the path to church unity “might be longer than we had imagined at first.”
The cardinal, who is now the Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, noted that he had co-chaired ARCIC for 26 years until 1999 and continued to be involved with the commission after stepping down. He recounted the early years of the commission, which he described as “heady days.”
“All this was very new. Engaging in this sort of dialogue was itself new, and people were genuinely amazed and delighted by what had been done over twelve short years,” he said.
Pope John Paul II’s “landmark pastoral visit” to England, the cardinal said, had been a cause of great hope.
Papal meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, which Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said had first seemed “so daring and controversial,” have become “fraternal and frequent” because of Pope John Paul II. The Pope’s 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint had also outlined the Catholic approach to ecumenism with a “zeal for unity” inspired by the Second Vatican Council.
During ecumenical talks Anglican and Catholic theologians jointly authored ARCIC documents on Eucharistic doctrine, ministry and ordination, and authority in the Church under titles such as “Church as Communion,” “The Gift of Authority” and “Life in Christ.” According to the cardinal, the Lambeth Conference in 1988 said the documents were a “good basis for further dialogue,” while a 1991 Catholic response was positive about the documents concerning the Eucharist and ministry, acknowledging “remarkable” progress on the issue of authority.
Documents are not enough…
The cardinal insisted there was more to ecumenical agreement than simply having commissions write documents.
“The reception of any dialogue document involves far more than just its publication or even an official response” but requires time and discussion at every level of the Churches, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor explained. Though some or all of the contents of ecumenical statements may not be accepted, this process must be an “integral part” of ecumenical dialogue.
Despite the optimism of ARCIC’s first decade, the cardinal claimed that by the 1990s “the atmosphere was changing.” Ecumenical dialogue participants like Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor became aware that “the path to unity might be longer than we had imagined at first” and “some shadows were spreading over our relationship.”
The ordination of women priests and bishops has presented “a major stumbling block” for the Catholic Church. In a rhetorical question he said was not meant to be polemical, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor asked: “if Anglicans themselves disagree over this development, and find yourselves unable fully to recognize each other’s ministry, how could we?”
He said it was not necessary to explore the divisiveness of some issues of morality, but he declared that “If anybody ever thought that such questions concerned only the individual conscience and had little ecclesial (let alone ecumenical) consequence, events have shown otherwise.”
Disputes concerning the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, scriptural authority, sexual ethics and other issues have roiled the Anglican Communion in recent years.
Divisions were foreshadowed in dialogue
The cardinal said that the theme of “koinonia,” the Greek word for “communion,” has been constant in the ecumenical discussions between Anglicans and Catholics. The commission’s ecclesiological discussions, which concern the nature of the Church, in the cardinal’s view have anticipated the theological disputes which are now disturbing the Anglican Communion.
“It is precisely this issue of ecclesiology which has come to dominate so much discussion within Anglicanism of late,” the cardinal said, referencing both the Lambeth Conference to which he was speaking and the recent Jerusalem meeting of the Global Anglican Future Conference.
According to the cardinal, these disputes have brought forward key questions, such as “How do we understand the Church?” and “Where is the Church to be found?”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor asked whether the ARCIC had treated as obvious matters which had become controversial, such as questions concerning the tolerable and intolerable diversity among the faithful and the mutual recognition necessary for ecclesial communion. He cited what he called the commission’s “profound definition” of ecclesial communion in “Church as Communion,” which said the Church is rooted in the confession of faith, revealed in the Scriptures, and set forth in the Creeds while also being founded on baptism and focused on the celebration of the Eucharist.
The cardinal particularly noted one passage from the ARCIC document “The Gift of Authority,” which stated, “The mutual interdependence of all the churches is integral to the reality of the Church as God wills it to be. No local church that participates in the living Tradition can regard itself as self-sufficient.”
Though the tensions within the Anglican Communion seem to concern “matters that are very important,” the cardinal said, “our Church takes no pleasure at all to see the current strains in your communion – we have committed ourselves to a journey towards unity, so new tensions only slow the progress.”
“Our ecumenical journey has in the end to be a journey towards full communion,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said.