THE support for the principle of provincial autonomy evident at last year's Lambeth Conference has been followed by the ordination of a woman to the episcopate in the Anglican Communion. This, together with the ordination of women priests, has put a major obstacle in the path of Anglican-Catholic reconciliation which was opened up with the visit of Archbishop Ramsey to Pope Paul VI in 1966.
The Pope in his various utterances is crystal clear about two things. He is clear about the commitment of the Catholic Church to the search for fuller communion with the Anglicans and about the gravity of the obstacles that lie in the way of full communion of faith and sacramental life.
An accurate perception of ON August 6 at the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury took the initiative of writing to the Holy Father about its conclusions. The Archbishop spoke of his own address to the conference in which he alluded to the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986 convoked by Pope John Paul 11.
The Archbishop saw this as a model of the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome and asked whether all Christians could not come to reconsider such a primacy as was exercised in the Early Church of the bishop of Rome for the sake of the unity of the Churches. But because this ecumenical primacy ant unity is not yet in place separated Anglican-Catholic relations must keep in view the total context of the Catholic Church's sustained commitment to the ecumenical movement as a whole. In 1985, in a speech to the Roman Curia, Pope John Paul said that "the Catholic Church is committed to the ecumenical movement with an irrevocable decision." In saying this, he was making a point that sterns directly from the teaching of the second Vatican Council. Ecumenical endeavour is a dimension of catholicity and the Pope inevitably, therefore, has a primary role in promoting it.
The Pope (in his letter to Dr Runcie made public this week) leaves no doubt as to the impact of woolen's ordination on the dialogue. But aware that this issue is divisive within the churches must make decisions individually. So he informed the Holy Father of the likelihood of the election and consecration of a woman to the episcopate in North America for the sake of the mission of the Church in that culture.
Pope John Paul II clearly considered his reply with the greatest care. For Anglicans one of its most striking features is its emphasis on the communion we already share. The Pope sees the correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury as itself symbolizing something of this unity: of the Archbishop's letter he says: "I see in this gracious gesture a further indication of the trust that exists Anglican Communion, the Pope expresses concern about the effects of such divisions on Anglican-Catholic dialogue. The Catholic Church is in dialogue with the Anglican Communion as a whole and the weakening of the bonds of communion within Anglicanism makes the dialogue more difficult.
The Pope ends by saying that the reason for his frank statements is to serve the quest for unity to which Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey committed themselves in 1966 and to which he and Archbishop Runcie commuted themselves in Canterbury in 1982.
The "quest for unity% therefore, is the purpose of the correspondence. It was the purpose of Pope John Paul's visit to Canter bury in 1982 and, between us and of the strong bond of communion by which we are already united."
There then follows a frank recognition that the ordination of women "has created a new and perplexing situation for the Second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission" to whom in 1982 the Pope and the Archbishop gave a mandate to study the question of the recognition of ministries of the two communions. The Pope makes it clear that this development "appears to preemp: this study and effectively block the path to the mutual recognition of ministries."
No one can therefore he in whatever about the obstacles, is the purpose of Archbishop Runcie's forthcoming visit to Rome. Problems must be located in the perspective of seeking the unity for which Christ prayed.
There is no question, therefore, that the work of ARCIC must continue. It has been asked to study outstanding doctrinal differences between Catholics and Anglicans; it has been asked to study all that stands in the way of reconciliation of ministries. The authorities on both the Catholic and Anglican side have acknowledged that progress has been made by ARCIC. They have also made it clear that the Commission still has much to do.
Fr Kevin McDonald
doubt that this is a serious obstacle on the path to unity from the official viewpoint of the Catholic Church, though many Anglicans, especially in North America, have argued that they receive Catholic support for the ordination of women. The correspondence clarifies the situation by making the positions clear.
But it would be absolutely wrong to think that the clarification of a serious obstacle somehow ends the dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
Canon Christopher Hill
These extracts are taken from articles appearing in this months 30 Days magazine.