Thursday, November 19, 2009


Austin Ivereigh is a wonderfully well-informed commentator on things Anglican & Catholic, an adviser to the former Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. In an essay in the current issue of America, Ivereigh reflects on ecumenical relations in the light of what was (when he wrote) the as-yet-unpublished Apostolic Constitution. He suggests the following:

The current logjam [in ecumenical dialogue] is less over women priests or gay bishops than over the disintegration of Anglican ecclesiology [read: the self-understanding of structures and operation of the church]. Rome has long complained that the official Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission [ARCIC] agreements are worth little when the Church of England’s general synod later repudiates them. Rome wants a church it can deal with. This means backing [Anglican] Archbishop [Rowan] Williams’s attempts to introduce a tighter ecclesiology into the Anglican Communion… a “Catholic ecclesiology” but without papal magisterium. The result of this…could be a smaller but more coherent communion in which authority is more clearly defined—and with which Rome can do business.

‘Disintegration’ is the key word in this excerpt. The goal of ecumenical dialogue has been the hope and desire to bring about unity and solidarity, not fragmentation. But there have been times when partners in dialogue have taken radical and serious steps unilaterally, in isolation from their partners. If the ordination of openly gay bishops in the Episcopal Church is one example, the revision of the liturgical language of the Catholic Church (currently nearly complete) is another example. After all, one of the goals of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was to have an ecumenically agreed-upon set of texts in liturgical worship. It is not much different from a married couple deciding to make life decisions without consultation: it is a recipe for disaster.

If Archbishop Williams can indeed accomplish what Mr. Ivereigh is suggesting, it seems this would be a way of limiting (if not eliminating) such independent actions and decisions. It might indeed be a way forward in dialogue with the Anglican Communion that can bear real, abundant and wonderful fruit. But there will be need for a tremendous amount of spadework, fertilizing and nurturing before this can be the case. I hope our Churches are committed to engaging in the task—together.

Footnote: today a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission was named: Prof. John C. Cavadini, Chair of the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame.

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