Monday, February 19, 2007

Communion Reunion? Or Just Illusion?

From Catholic World News (subscription required for full text):
A joint Catholic-Anglican commission will soon propose concrete practical steps to unite their faithful, the London Times reports.

The International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) will release a report later this year, arguing that despite clear differences on major theological issues, Anglicans and Catholics have enough common ground to encourage steps toward common worship, the Times says.

But the Catholic and Anglican prelates who co-chair the commission have issued a statement rejecting the Times analysis, saying that the newspaper report on the IARCCUM document "misrepresents its intentions and sensationalises its conclusions." The two prelates point out that the draft document retraces recent theological discussions, is "very clear in identifying ongoing areas of disagreement," and does not suggest an immediate move toward reunion.

[…] While the joint commission’s report does not mark any major step forward in Catholic-Anglican relations, the premature leak of its contents comes at an extremely significant time for the Church of England. The world’s leading Anglican prelates met this week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in talks that have again highlighted the profound differences among the bishops of the Anglican Communion. The prospect of corporate reunion with Rome may be particularly welcome to conservative Anglicans who have been broken with their more liberal colleagues over issues such as homosexuality and the ordination of women.

[…] The IARCCUM report recognizes the serious obstacles to reunion, the Times story acknowledges. But the Times reported that the commission - which was set up in 2000 and is now co-chaired by Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane, Australia; and Anglican Bishop David Beetge of South Africa - avoids tangling with the difficult issues of doctrine and moral teaching. Instead the report suggests a series of practical steps that Catholic and Anglican parishes and dioceses might take to move closer together, reporter Ruth Gledhill said. Archbishop Bathersby and Bishop Beetge challenge that report; their February 19 statement insists that IARCCUM recognizes the doctrinal differences and treats them at length before making suggestions for practical steps toward a common witness.

The approach suggested by the Times - an effort to build a common practice that can overcome differences on key issues of faith - might appeal to the practical sense of leaders in the Church of England, who are struggling today to preserve the façade of unity in spite of overwhelming doctrinal differences. But the approach is not likely to pass muster in Rome, where Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly emphasized that ecumenical efforts must not be used to camouflage key dogmatic disagreements. The IARCCUM statement reports that “some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy,” according to the Times. Reporter Ruth Gledhill, quoting portions of the document which she obtained, says that these Anglicans see the importance of “a sign and focus of unity within a re-united Church.” The IARCCUM report, in its current draft form, suggests a series of practical steps to encourage closer ties between Anglican and Catholic worshippers. Gledhill cites passages of the document that:

  • suggest a joint renewal of Baptismal promises and a shared certificate of Baptism,

  • praise the Anglican tradition of praying for the Pope and suggest that Catholics in turn pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury,

  • call for joint programs for family enrichment, and combined pilgrimages and prayer services, and

  • recommend that Catholics and Anglicans attend worship services at each other’s churches-- but without receiving Communion.

[…] The leaked London Times report on the IARCCUM documents comes after months of sober realism in talks between the Vatican and the Church of England. Several times in the past year, Catholic leaders have warned their Anglican counterparts that the road to reunion has been blocked, perhaps permanently, by the Anglican decisions to break with teachings and practices of the apostolic Church. The statement described in the Times story does nothing to resolve those problems, and thus it is unrealistic to see the report as a concrete proposal for unity.

However, the IARCCUM report does serve as a reminder that some Anglicans wish to preserve the apostolic tradition. For those embattled Anglicans, now estranged from the leaders of their own denomination, the timing of the Times headline story may be a reminder that it could be easier to achieve reunion with Rome than to repair the divisions within the Anglican communion.

“Some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy.” No kidding. Some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of the Holy Inquisition.

Frankly, although I dearly love the idea of reunion, I do not expect to see it happen. With very few exceptions, the conservative elements of the Episcopal Church are thoroughly committed to women’s ordination, which is a show-stopper as far as the Catholic and Orthodox churches are concerned. Many of the thriving and populous parishes which have left TEC are highly Evangelical. The Continuum churches are largely Anglo-Catholic in worship and theology, and would seem at first glance to be likely candidates to gather together and form an Anglican Rite in the Catholic Church. However, those portions of the Continuum with which I am familiar contain significant Reformed and Evangelical elements among the laity. They are devout and committed Christians, but they would never go along with a return to Papal authority.

The only thing likely to truly bring reunion to Christendom is the arrival of the Antichrist. Whatever one thinks of the Primates of the Anglican churches, they aren’t him. I can think of several who might have the inclination, but none of them have the talent.

The best we are likely to see is the formation of a common cause among the various orthodox Christians of the world, as they come to realize that they have far more in common with each other than they do with the “liberal” members of their own denominations. My former-Episcopal friends include Catholics, Orthodox, members of the Continuum, a few Lutherans, and several Evangelicals. Love endures, but I fear communion will have to wait for the next world. The first one that gets to the New Jerusalem, please save us all a table at the corner bar. I am sure there will be one named Brigid’s Place.

I would like a great lake of beer
for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven's family
drinking it through all eternity.
(From The Heavenly Banquet, St. Brigid of Kildare)