The third round of ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, opened this week. America Magazine does a nice job of bringing anyone up to speed on what the commission has accomplished since 1970, it’s current challenges and what ARCIC III is about.
Given what the ABC calls the Anglican Communion’s ecclesial deficit, we shouldn’t be surprised that the commission this time will be looking at just that:
…The first two phases — ARCIC I (1970-1981) and ARCIC II (1983-2007) — produced a series of inspiring and important documents on the Eucharist, Authority, Salvation, Mary, and so on.
But there were two big problems — or rather, one major one, with two dimensions.
The first was the mechanism of accepting the documents. The Catholic dialogue partner, the Pontifical Council (formerly the Secretariat) for Christian Unity, represents the Holy See and therefore has the power to speak on behalf of the Church. The Anglican sponsor is the Anglican Consultative Council, one of the four “instruments” of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has no comparable authority. The documents agreed in ARCIC have therefore needed to be voted on by synods of the Anglican member Churches of the Communion, who have often given them a rough ride. Agreement among delegate theologians, in other words, hasn’t translated more widely.
The second has been that Anglican actions have often seemed to Catholics to contradict the stated Anglican desire for unity. The Church of England’s 1992 decision to ordain women as priests dealt a mortal blow to the idea, while the consecration in 2004 by North American Episcopalians of the actively gay bishop Gene Robinson in defiance of the Anglican Primates worldwide, plunged the Communion into a crisis over authority which made ARCIC impossible: Pope John Paul II suspended the dialogue in 2003 on the grounds that there was little point in continuing while Anglicans were unable to move together as a single Church.
Since then, developments suggest that that crisis is deeper than ever. The Church of England has voted to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops, while rejecting a proposal for special episcopal oversight of those (so-called Anglo-Catholic) parishes which object. This, in turn, has led to Anglo-Catholic bishops petitioning Rome for a means of corporate reception of Anglicans, which Pope Benedict enabled in November 2009 in Anglicanorum coetibus. This led to the creation this year of the Personal Ordinariate of England and Wales by means of which close to 1,000 former Anglicans were received as Catholics at Easter.
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England (pictured), the Catholic co-chair of ARCIC III, suggests as much when he says that ARCIC “must face the obstacles that make that journey [towards full visible unity] much more difficult.” The next phase of ARCIC “will recognize the impact of the actions of some Anglican Provinces which have raised the issue of the nature of communion within the Church,” he says, adding that ARCIC III “can make a contribution to resolving some of the issues that seem so intractable at present.” [Today the Anglican Communion Office web service published the interview in which Longley made these statements. It also links to a Vatican Radio interview with both co-chairs.]
In that sense, the two themes for ARCIC III could not be more apt. The group will be studying “the Church as communion — local and universal” and “how in communion the local and universal Church comes to discern right ethical teaching” — precisely the issues, in other words, which the Anglican Communion has been facing.
Read it here.
The ABC means for his Anglican Covenant to be an answer to the ecclesial deficit that stands in the way of the Anglican Communion moving as one.
However, the Anglican Communion is what it is. Creating a single Church that moves as one strikes at its very identity.
In any event, although there have been several provinces that have adopted/received/subscribed the covenant they have all said in one way or another that they do so on their own terms, and that taking part means what they say it means — ranging from we subscribe to it because it means nothing, to we accept it if the bible-believers on the Primate Council have the teeth of a Magisterium. Given the clouds of murkiness this throws up it sounds as if the identity of the communion is not at risk for time being.
These qualified acceptances remind us of this 1866 resolution with its unapologetic whereas lest its resolve be misunderstood:
Whereas, The Diocese of Virginia, unchanged as to her principles, deems it proper, under existing circumstances, to resume her interrupted relations with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America; therefore,
Resolved, That the Diocese of Virginia, now resumes its former ecclesiastical relation, as a Diocese, in connection with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.