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This article was published in the Summer 2000 issue of the Journal.

A Time for Practical Steps Forward in Anglican-Roman Catholic Relations

The English Association of Interchurch Families was privileged to have Dr Mary Tanner as its Second John Coventry Memorial Lecturer in March 2000. Recently retired from her post as General Secretary of the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity, she had previously been a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II). When she gave the lecture, she was preparing for her role as a consultant to the Toronto meeting of Anglican Primates and Presidents of Catholic Episcopal Conferences, 14-20 May 2000. Her stress on the need to match theological agreements achieved since Malta 1968 with practical steps forward is very relevant to interchurch families. The fruits of ARCIC must be received into living relationships, said Dr Tanner in the discussion period following the lecture; that is just what ARC interchurch families are trying to do.

English AIF was very grateful too that Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor chaired the lecture as arranged, although he was in the throes of moving to become Archbishop of Westminster. He was previously co-chair of ARCIC, and he and Mary Tanner had worked closely together in that context. It is time now for Bishops to give a lead in taking practical steps forward on the basis of theological consensus, said Mary (or how can Anglicans and Roman Catholics commend them to non-episcopal churches?); the future Archbishop of Westminster did not disagree.

Here we have shortened the text of the lecture; it will be printed in full in One in Christ.


I Malta begins a new chapter in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations

On 26th March 1966 Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey issued their Common Declaration from St Paul Without-the-Walls in Rome. They talked of ‘a new atmosphere of Christian fellowship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion’, and of ‘sincere efforts to remove the causes of conflict and to re-establish unity.’ They announced their plan to ‘inaugurate…a serious dialogue … not only on theological matters, but also one which faced honestly matters of practical difficulty.’ It is a short, passionate, declaration and the photograph of the two men, clasping hands and smiling into each other’s eyes speaks volumes for ‘the respect, esteem and fraternal love’ which they hoped all Anglicans and Roman Catholics would come to share for each other. These sentiments supported the Decree on Ecumenism’s statement that: ‘Among those (communions separated from the Holy See) in which some catholic traditions and structures continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.’

Unity by stages

Two years later in 1968, after three meetings of a small Joint Preparatory Group, The Malta Report was published. It suggested how progress towards unity could be made by stages. A second stage would begin with ‘an official and explicit affirmation of mutual recognition from the highest authorities of each Communion.’ It would ‘acknowledge’ that both Communions accept the Trinitarian faith, the basic truths set forth in the ecumenical Creeds, and the common tradition of the Ancient Church, ‘although neither Communion is tied to a positive acceptance of all the beliefs and devotional practices of the other.’ Such mutual recognition and acknowledgement would lead to a binding commitment being made to act together. Annual joint meetings of hierarchies is put top of the list. Then: constant consultation between committees concerned with pastoral and evangelistic problems; agreements for shared churches; shared theological education; exchange of students; collaboration on theological scholarship; common prayer; joint retreats and close co-operation of religious communities; exchange of pulpits; shared liturgical renewal. Also: joint statements on national, international and local issues; joint missionary endeavours; and a thorough investigation of the doctrine of marriage with the setting up of a Joint Commission on marriage.

This officially entered into second stage would lead to a third and final stage in the quest for ‘full organic unity of our two Communions’, although it was not possible to see in advance all that a final stage would entail.

An urgent issue

In closing the Report refers to the question of sacramental inter-communion ‘being raised on every side.’ For many, ‘no issue is more urgent’. The Commission could not approve this, nor sanction changes. More study of the theology was needed, not least in regard to Anglican Orders, the nature of priesthood and a serious study of the nature of authority.

The report recommends that a Permanent Joint Commission (an unfortunate adjective) be set up with two sub-commissions: one to examine the subject of inter-communion and matters of Church and ministry, the other to examine the subject of authority. Almost as an afterthought it adds that there should be a joint study of moral theology.

This was 32 years ago. The Malta Report was published in January 1968. Both Roman Catholic and Anglican responses were made within months. You do get the feeling that there was a sense of urgency and expectancy about in those days. By June Cardinal Bea had replied onbehalf of the Holy Father expressing satisfaction and gratitude for the work done, and outlining how the Pope saw the continuation of the work. Ten points for further study were suggested including: a Common Declaration of faith; the theological and pastoral problems of the doctrine of marriage and, note the unfortunate language, ‘the difficulties caused by mixed marriages’; sacramental inter-communion; the ministry and priesthood; the nature of authority; and moral theology. The letter offered thoughts on practical actions: periodic meetings of hierarchies; consultation on problems of evangelisation, common prayer and close relations of religious communities. This was an encouraging response from Cardinal Bea, on behalf of the Pope, endorsing as it did so many of the suggestions of the Malta Report. However, something in the report must have made the Vatican nervous; Cardinal Bea cautions against publication, because of inexact formulations. The bishops might, he says, get the impression that it was being communicated to them for immediate implementation!

The Anglican response came two months later in the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference. Three short resolutions welcomed the report’s proposals: recommended the setting up of a Permanent Commission and, because of the urgent pastoral questions raised by mixed marriages, welcomed the work of the Joint Commission on Mixed Marriages. As you know that Commission published its report in 1976.

I guess that, like me, many of you will have forgotten how the journey of the last 30 years began. Re-reading The Malta Report, I have some sympathy with Cardinal Bea’s reaction. It isn’t always easy to see just what was in the mind of its drafters. However, certain things do stand out: the strong commitment to the goal of full, organic unity; the intention of moving by steps into clearly marked, and officially sanctioned, new stages of relationship; and the determination to keep theological progress and practical progress together.

Theology and practice go together

To get deeper into the thinking that lies behind Malta, one of the preparatory essays of the Commission is worth reading. Bishop Henry McAdoo (of Ossary, Ferns and Leighlin) offered a paper entitled Unity: An Approach by Steps? In it he proposed stages of growth, what he calls ‘phased rapprochement’, each stage being theologically justifiable. He outlined two stages. The first stage would be inaugurated by taking two steps: one in the theological arena and the second in the day to day level of church life. He was insistent that the theological and the practical went together, otherwise the result would simply be a rapprochement between theologians. Stage I would begin with a formal mutual recognition that each church holds the essentials of the Christian faith. The second stage would be one of limited inter-communion, inspired by the relation between the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. It would be based on an agreement similar to that of the Bonn Agreement between Anglicans and Old Catholics and would include a similar declaration on Anglican Orders as that reached in the Anglican-Old Catholic relationship. The Bishop underlined that the pattern of stages might well re-shape themselves as the relationship developed. What theologians needed to keep in mind, however, was the desire of the people for unity, their conviction of the rightness of unity.

Although there are differences between Bishop McAdoo's paper and the eventual formulation of The Malta Report, both support the same phased rapprochement. Each new stage of relationship would be entered into on the basis of agreements in faith, which would form the foundation for mutual recognition from the highest authority, and lead to binding commitment to live closely together in many practical ways.

II The 32 years of dialogue

Malta gave us a vision in the heady days of expectancy after Vatican II. What has happened to Anglican-Roman Catholic relations in 32 years? The setting up of the Permanent Commission – which fortunately became the International Commission – ARCIC is well known. There is no need to rehearse the significant achievements of ARCIC I with its Final Report on Eucharistic Doctrine; Ministry and Ordination; and Authority in the Church. We know the work of ARCIC II, produced under the distinguished chairmanship of Bishop Cormac and Bishop Mark Santer, with its reports, Salvation and the ChurchChurch as Communion; Morals Communion and the Church and the stunning text, The Gift of Authority. Bound together in one volume the ARCIC corpus represents a convergence in faith, which I suspect Malta could hardly have dreamed of.

Simultaneously with this search for agreement in faith has gone some growth in lived relations. The degree to which this has happened varies from country to country. Where there are national ARCs, as in this country, relations have generally progressed further.

No planning for unity by stages

But this story of undeniable progress since Malta has a haphazardness about it. It is far from the ordered, officially recognised, steps taken, and new stages marked, that Malta itself looked forward to on the way to full, organic unity. Some may argue that the ordination of women to the priesthood has prevented the authorities from officially recognising and authorising any new stage of relationship. But has anyone actually asked whether, or how, these ordinations affect movement into some form of intensified relationship, some new degree of communion?

The topsy-turvey like growth of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, as distinct from the carefully planned theological dialogue, is clear. Convergence in faith and convergence in life have not been held together in the way that Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey envisaged, or that Malta looked for. This is very evident in the response process to The Final Report of ARCIC I and in the failure of either Communion to activate an intentional and guided response to the theological work of ARCIC II. Do you remember the two questions our churches were asked in response to The Final Report of ARCIC I? They were in keeping with the outlook of Malta. First, we were all asked whether these statements were consonant in substance with the faith of our churches, and secondly, we were asked whether The Final Reportoffered a sufficient basis for taking the ‘next concrete steps’ towards the reconciliation of our churches grounded in agreement in faith. The striking thing is the way these two questions set out to hold faith and life together. The warning of Bishop McAdoo is not far away. Unless the two are kept together the theological work will remain the preserve of a few theologians.

A failure to take concrete steps

What happened in both churches was an almost exclusive concentration on the first question. Of course it is much easier to deal with disembodied theology and much less threatening. It doesn’t require that costly repentance, and conversion of identity, that the road to visible unity requires of us. The Roman Catholic Observations, which followed swiftly on the publication of the Final Report in 1982, said that the next concrete step was to continue dialogue. The Lambeth Conference Resolution, six years later, in 1988, agreed that the eucharist and ministry statements were consonant with Anglican faith and went on to say they provided a sufficient basis for taking the next step. There was no attempt to suggest what step that might be, simply three pages on what the theological dialogue might examine next. When in 1991 the final response of the Vatican was published it recognised The Final Report as ‘a significant milestone’ but not yet ‘substantial agreement’, and talked of remaining obstacles to the restoration of full communion in faith and sacramental life. Malta, however, never thought that the next stepwould be that to full communion in faith and sacramental life. The Vatican response makes no reference to the second question, so important for us in our daily lives and relationships, in our families and in the places where we live.

In neither official response was the second question given serious attention. So, the Malta vision of keeping faith and life together, Bishop McAdoo’s warning that unless they were, the theological work would remain the preserve of the theologians, went unheard. Yet many of the responses of Anglican Provinces, and those from the Catholic Episcopal Conferences that were published, have much to suggest in answer to the second question about the next concrete steps. The response of the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales offers a map for future moves: church-state relations, joint prayer, social action, joint study. Doctrinal discussions alone, the bishops say, ‘are not sufficient’. Understanding the integral relation between the two, they say, is essential. Joint action at the local level is essential for the reception of ARCIC I. The Church of England’s response also devoted three pages to the second question. It quotes extensively from Malta’s list of actions that would be appropriate to a new stage of relationship entered into on the basis of the newly formulated theological convergence of the ARCIC report. It highlights regular joint meetings of the two hierarchies, sharing of theological education and alleviating the difficulties caused by mixed marriages. The response ends by saying:

Both churches (would) need to consider:

What degree of eucharistic sharing is appropriate on the basis of the understanding of the eucharist and of the ministry and ordination set out in the Windsor and Canterbury Statements and their Elucidations?

What should be the next step in the recognition and reconciliation of our two ministries? In particular what might the theological agreement of the Final Report suggest for our understanding of Apostolicae Curae, and what implication does it have for the ordination of women to the priesthood?

Finally, the Church of England, always looking for a party, said, we hope that some sign will be found to celebrate the theological convergence of our two churches.

But the prize for the responses must go to that of the French Conference. It begins by saying that they wanted to reply to the theological report precisely because of lived relations. It cites the advances made in Jumelages et Exchanges, the work of French and English ARCs, which includes a statement about eucharistic hospitality for individual Anglicans when visiting France. The French bishops agree that ARCIC’s Final Report offers a sufficient basis for the next step towards reconciliation.

Theological convergence has outstripped convergence in life

The thirty years story shows the enormous achievement of the work of ARCIC, but also the disappointing way in which the Malta vision of keeping theological convergence together with convergence in life seems to be forgotten. Even the carefully crafted questions put to the Final Report were unable to keep the two togetherThe opportunity to take steps, however small, to celebrate new stages, however modest, has not been grasped. Instead there has grown a weariness with a process of dialogue that has little obvious cash value for personal relations or for local life and witness, and sadness at a lost opportunity to party together to celebrate what has been achieved. There is a longing among the laity for leadership from those whose ministry entails a care for the unity of the Universal Church. Clear, joint leadership from Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops would surely be a way in which episcopacy might be commended to those churches that do not have bishops.

III Toronto and beyond

We are not at the end of the story. At Toronto Cardinal Cassidy and the heads of Episcopal Conferences, or their representatives, will meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates of Provinces, or their representatives. Even with its insistence on the importance of regular joint meetings of national hierarchies, Malta never contemplated such a meeting. It is a first in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. The symbolic value of the meeting will be important for all of us and especially for those who fear the steam has gone out of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. The bishops will have an opportunity to experience joint collegiality. They will have time to get to know one another, exchange stories of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations in the different countries around the world, and reflect on where we are and where we are going as we enter a new millennium. Perhaps they will dust down their copies of the Malta Report. Perhaps they will be struck by those thirty-year-old suggestions that have never been put into effect, and consider whether they have any mileage today. Is the time right to call for a new step to be taken, a new stage of relationship entered into, in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations? Of course the bishops at Toronto could not be expected to emerge with a document ready to be signed. It would be wrong to place too high expectations on a one off meeting. But they could call for a Declaration to be drawn up, a programme to be worked out, for intensifying relationships. This might just provide a kick-start and revive the sort of enthusiasm of the heady days that followed Vatican II. It would demonstrate that we have progressed in 32 years and show our determination to go on together.

A common declaration might set out what we understand together now about the goal of full, visible unity. This could be of service to the wider ecumenical movement, where there is confusion about the goal of the ecumenical endeavour. It would be the opportunity to receive the vision of Church as Communion, a report that has hardly entered the consciousness of our churches. We could also claim some of those beautiful fresh images of the Church used in The Gift of Authority, the walking together on the way, the symphonic life of the Church.Secondly, a declaration could claim the agreements in faith that we have discovered in the thirty-year conversation that we already share. Malta already contained an impressive list of agreements: Trinitarian faith, common baptism, creeds etc…. So much more could be added from the discoveries of the ARCIC conversation: justification by faith through grace, as set out in Salvation and the Church; almost substantial agreement (or perhaps substantial agreement) on the doctrine of the eucharist (the letter of Cardinal Cassidy in response to Clarifications after all said that ‘no further study would seem to be required at this stage’); agreement on ordination and ministry (ARCIC’s own view was that their agreements stood, whoever was, or was not, ordained); and a considerable degree of agreement on the question of authority in the Church and on synodality, a ministry of collegiality and primacy (it was clear, even before The Gift of Authority was published that this was so). Many Anglicans have shown their appreciation of a personal ministry of oversight at world level. The Gift of Authority talks of both Communions re-receiving the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. The House of Bishops of the Church of England responded warmly to the Pope’s invitation in Ut Unum Sint to help him re-think his ministry in the service of the unity of the Church. Placing outstanding areas of disagreement in the context of so much existing agreement, will make even seemingly intractable issues appear less formidable.

A forward step into a new relationship

The degree of agreement in faith worked out so patiently over the last 32 years could surely form a firm basis for taking some modest step forward, and for reaching some new intensified stage of relationship. Would it not be possible to acknowledge publicly and thankfully the faithful witness each Communion makes to the Gospel, and to recognise the presence of the Church of Jesus Christ in one another’s lives, even if we all know that we both lack something of fullness, because of our continuing separation? Such recognition could lead us to make binding commitments to one another which could be lived out intentionally in every part of the world: commitments to regular joint meetings of bishops. Surely the time is right to bring this into practice everywhere. Anglican bishops might accompany Roman Catholic bishops on Ad Limina visits to Rome, as The Gift of Authority suggests. There could be an intensification of shared theological education; joint statements, wherever possible on matters of social and political concern with jointly prepared documents like The Common Good. We know it is not onlybetter together but it is more effective togetherWe could recognise the possibilities, not the problems, of interchurch families. We could commit ourselves to share at the very local level in serving the community, exchanging pulpits, building joint schools etc…A programme of commitments could be worked out which were thoroughly consonant with the degree of agreement in faith that has been reached. Perhaps, even a commitment to one another could be made not to take unilateral action on a matter that touches the communion of the Universal Church without the most serious of consultative processes. All of this would need to be seen within the wider context of Christian unity.

And, what of that ‘most urgent of issues’ highlighted in Malta as ‘being raised on every side’? One Bread One Body has recently set out local guidelines. That document acknowledges that it is not the last word on the subject. The ongoing dialogue with Interchurch Families, the L'Arche Community, and the Hengrave Community might open up a way where, in very special circumstances, eucharistic hospitality might be offered in the context of the explicit agreements in faith, and the new binding commitment of our churches to one another.

So what would the advantage be of such a common declaration?

It would provide a way of receiving into life the theological convergences of the ARCIC conversation;

It would help us to keep agreement in faith together with concrete practical steps;

It would show that concrete steps were being taken, not irresponsibly, but on the basis of expressed agreement in faith;

It would provide a world-wide framework for the development of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. The Provinces where progress is slow might be encouraged by those where advance is made more quickly;

The ratification of the declaration would certainly provide one of those symbolic photo calls for the Pope and the Archbishop which are important reminders for all of us. And such meetings could be replicated around the world by primates, diocesan bishops and people in local parishes.

It would provide an opportunity to celebrate together how far we have come since the end of Vatican II;

It would be a re-affirmation of our shared intention to search for nothing less than the full, visible unity of the Church for the sake of credible and authentic mission.

A sign of reconciliation

A declaration could give a kick-start to Anglican-Roman Catholic relations at the beginning of a new millennium. It might provide a model for others. It would be a sign that reconciliation is possible between those who once burnt one another at the stake, a sign that it is, by God’s grace, possible to heal the most bitter memories. A sign perhaps to the world of its own possibility.

A messenger

Let me end with a story. Thirty theologians are sitting around a table listening to the most eloquent of them (Fr Jean Tillard) talk. The door opens and a dishevelled man, unkempt, and poorly dressed walks in. He sits down quietly. The Moderator doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t dare interrupt the flowing thoughts of one of the world’s leading ecumenists. The atmosphere was tense. This was Northern Ireland. When Fr Jean finished there was silence. All eyes were turned to the stranger. He clearly wasn’t one of the group. But he seemed to know that he hadn’t just stumbled into that room by accident. The stranger was the one who broke the silence. ‘Do you know’, he said, ‘what’s going on out there? People get drunk, they take drugs, they hurt one another, they make petrol bombs and kill innocent children. Family is against family, community against community…for God’s sake get on with it. He wanted unity. That’s why he died.’ The stranger got up and walked out. We never knew who he was, or where he came from, or how he knew we were meeting in that particular room, in that vast seminary with its long corridors where every room looked the same as the next. We enquired of the staff but they had no idea who the stranger might be. But for us he was a messenger. Perhaps that same messenger will turn up in the midst of the meeting in Toronto. Who knows.

Mary Tanner



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