By Luke Coppen THE BELIEF that official talks between Anglicans and Catholics would quickly lead to unity was over optimistic". Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor has said in a wideranging interview on the state of the Church in England and Wales.
The Cardinal said that decades of theological dialogue had failed to resolve a deep split between the two communions over the exercise of authority. but promised that the Catholic Church would continue to search for full unity.
He also clarified his bold proposal for a meeting of all Christian denominations to build momentum towards unity, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor told The Catholic Herald that when talks between Anglicans and Catholics started there was "an over-optimism in terms of the unity we aspired to". Nevertheless, he said. the commitment to full unity was "necessary and rear.
The Cardinal. who was cochairman of the AnglicanRoman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) for 16 years, said: 'The whole thing comes down ultimately to the
question of authority. That is the key. The Anglicans have trouble with the way the Catholic Church exercises authority. We have trouble with the question where their focus of authority lies — which is of course one of their biggest pmblents too."
lii May 1999, the Cardinal and senior Anglican theologians produced a landmark report on the exercise of authority in the two communions. The report, entitled The Gift of Authority, surprised observers by stating that Anglicans could, in theory, accept the primacy of the Pope. Neither the Vatican, nor the Church of England, have so far accepted the conclusions of the report and both are unlikely to do so in the near future.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor suggested that one solution to the deadlock could be to bring together members of all Christian communities for a frank discussion of authority — an idea he first proposed at the extraordinary consistory of cardinals in May.
"There is a sense in which focus will only be achieved when authority becomes more in communion," he said. "What do I mean by that? When I suggested at the consistoty that the Pope should hold a pan. Christian meeting, it wasn't because I thought they would accept his jurisdiction, but they would accept his primacy.
"The more we meet each other, and the more that we care for each other, the sooner we will have effective collegiality.Despite setbacks to full communion, the Catholic Church could not give up the search for unity, he said, because it contains within it the essential elements of the church founded by Christ.
"We can't go back on the ecumenical journey," he said. "Our gift to other Christians is our experience and understanding of what it means to he Church. We gain from other communities, yes. But that is our gift. I suppose that is why we say that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.
"As Newman said, the Catholic Church will never fail because it has been tried through the ages. It's that guarantee that comes with what we believe is the gift of God to his Church, the main elements being the Petrine ministry, the apostolicity of the Church, and her sacramentality."
Interview — Pages 4-5