the ARCIC statements on Eucharist, Ministry and Authority as representing "substantial agreement on matters which had divided our churches for four centuries" and says that "they were regarded at the time as nothing short of sensational." This cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
The agreed statements were never accepted by the relevant authorities in Rome as adequately representing Catholic teaching; they therefore represented the "substantial agreement" only of the individual members of the commission which produced the statements and not of the two Churches. Today, now that the heady ecumaniac atmosphere in which they were produced has dissipated, the inadequacy of the documents is clear enough.
At the time, they contributed to a sense of false optimism which clearly still prevails in Mr Noel's fevered imagination, if in nobody else's. It is one thing, however, to look back fondly at the shattered hopes of one's comparative youth and to indulge in harmless fantasies about what might have been. But then to inform your readers that this fantasy is what actually happened in waking reality is entirely another.
Mr Noel tells us, as though butter would not melt in his mouth, that the "crucial agreement reached on the Eucharist ... produced an entirely new situation as regards intercommunion. It ... resulted in the ruling that an Anglican with the same understanding of the Eucharist as that of [a] Catholic could receive Holy Communion at any time in a Catholic Church".
There was never any such agreement; and no such ruling was ever issued.
Otherwise, why has Dr Carey, like Dr Coggan before him but unlike Dr Runcie, who understood something of Catholic sacramental theology — on his every visit to Rome repeatedly requested precisely such a ruling, only to be met every time by a polite but firm (and inevitable) refusal?
Mr Noel's tendency to reconstruct Catholic history as it should have been rather than as it was — always a risky procedure — has been noticed by readers before now (there was, I seem to remember, the curious episode involving his claims about the Eucharistic teachings of Justin Martyr).
This time he has produced from his endlessly inventive mind a fantasy about a historical period through which many of us lived with him: this is even riskier.
May I suggest that in future he express his undoubted creative talents in the form of actual full-blown fiction? A novel about Vatican III, presided over by an Anglican Pope, perhaps.
Now that would really be something to look forward to.
Yours faithfully, ARAMINTA WARNOCK, Oxford.