BY MARK GREAVES
SENIOR ANGLICAN and Catholic bishops have reached a historic agreement to strengthen cooperation between the two communions.
The agreement proposes that Anglicans and Catholics should join together for worship. Catholics are even encouraged to attend Anglican Eucharists, and Anglicans to come to Mass though without receiving Holy Communion in either case.
The two communions would also join in teaching the faith to young people before Baptism and Confirmation. English Catholics would be asked to pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Anglicans for the Pope.
If the proposals are approved by the Vatican they could herald a new era in the Church's relationship with the Anglican Communion — which appeared to be disintegrating this week as its leaders quarrelled bitterly at their meeting in Tanzania.
But the bishops who have drawn up the Anglican-Catholic proposals denied that they called for immediate unity under the leadership of the Pope, as reported by the Times.
The suggestions are laid out in a document draWn up by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), which was established in 2001 to consider concrete steps towards unity. The proposals were leaked to the Times, which ran a front-page story claiming the bishops had drafted plans to reunite Anglicans and Catholics under the Pope.
Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane and Anglican Bishop David Beetge, the two chairmen of the commission. called the Times article "unfortunate".
They accused the newspaper of writing about the commission's report in a way that "rnisrepre sents its intentions and sensationalises its conclusions".
"While it is encouraging that a document of this kind can be produced and that practical day-to day cooperation between Catholics and Anglicans can be strengthened, talk of plans to reunite the two communions is, sadly, much exaggerated," the bishops said. The commission's document is an "honest" assessment of Anglican-Catholic relations which is clear in identifying disagreements, the bishops added. The IARCCUM text includes the suggestion that the papacy could be used as a "sign and focus of unity within a reunited church", which the Times interpreted as a radical proposal to unite the two communions. But Pope John Paul II made a similar suggestion in his 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint.
The report, entitled "Growing Together in Unity and Mission: Building on 40 Years of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue", will be made public as soon as a Catholic commentary has been completed, the two chairmen said.
The commission's report says that there is "enough common ground" between the two communions "to take seriously how we work together".
It offers practical suggestions about the ways in which joint activities between Anglicans and Catholics could be "appropriately fostered and carried forward".
The report proposes that local churches share teaching resources to prepare young people for Baptism and Confirmation and to instruct children at Sunday school.
One of the most controversial paragraphs reads: "We encourage attendance at each other's Eucharists, respecting the different disciplines of our Churches... While this would take the form of non-communicating attendance, it would initiate a renewed awareness of the value of spiritual communion."
Churches could work together on the formation of families, renew baptismal promises together and use the same baptismal certificate, the report says.
It also encourages Catholics and Anglicans to pray for the local bishop of the other communion as well as their own. It welcomes the Anglican practice of praying for the Pope. and invites Catholics to pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders of the Anglican Communion.
The report also recommends that "protocols" be drawn up to handle the movement of clergy from one communion to the other.
This provision is likely to become more important following the meeting of Anglican Primates in Tanzania, which some observers believe marked the beginning of a formal split of Anglicanism into liberal and traditionalist communions.
Some Anglo-Catholic bishops are already looking for ways to move into the Catholic Church while retaining elements of their Anglican identity.
Sister Donna Geernaert, president of the Canadian Religious Conference and one of the members of the commission, told The Catholic Herald that the report was about "looking back at what we have accomplished and also at how we can move forward, what we can do on the ground".
The commission was much more practical than previous ecumenical discussions because the majority of its members were bishops, she said.
She added that the protocols that the report recommends for priests who wish to move between communions have already been drawn up in local areas.
"The priest would ask his bishop to talk to his counterpart in the other church so that it doesn't cause an ecumenical incident," she said.
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