Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anglican - Roman Catholic Dialogue in the US

There was a lecture held at Georgetown today: "The Contributions of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States: 1965-2007." The presenters were Dr. Ellen K. Wondra (Episcopal) and Fr. Francis Sullivan SJ (Catholic). This lecture was also held to honor the memory of Dr. George Tavard, an important ecumenist. ARC-USA is one of the oldest official dialogues between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

[The following remarks are by no means a comprehensive summary of the content of the talks. These are just highlights that I found interesting.]

Dr. Wondra talked about the various statements the various official dialogues had produced in the past 40+ years (12 from ARCIC, for instance), on a variety of topics that demonstrate just how deep the "real but imperfect communion" that is shared between the two communions is: statements on the creed, mission, the Word of God, Baptism and Eucharist, Authority and morality. There was a reminder that despite serious differences in the area of moral theology, particularly surrounding issues of human sexuality, one shouldn't conclude that there are not other areas of congruence (such as in the realm of war & peace, economic justice and so on.) and that absence of shared practice does not mean the absence of shared faith. There was a slight lament that very few people in the respective churches seem to realize that these dialogues are going on, or that, indeed, there are joint statements on these various issues. The group has even tried to publish a parish study guide on these matters, but, significantly, cannot find a publisher!

Fr. Sullivan mentioned that one of the issues that has been discussed is the sense of balance between the local and Universal Church. However, for each communion, this balance tends to be more a balancing act between the ECUSA and the worldwide Anglican Communion, and for Catholics, between say the USCCB and the Holy See. The dialogue also talked about the sense in which, for Catholics, this relationship is in imbalance in the way the Holy See reserves appointments of Bishops to itself, and that this is a problematic manifestation of the relationship between the local and universal Church. On the Anglican side, there has been much talk about the events following the consecration of Gene Robinsion as Bishop of New Hampshire and how this has affected the balance between the ECUSA and the Anlgican Communion.

In the Q&A one of the questions (asked by Bishop Gulick, Episcopal co-chair of the dialogue) was along these lines: "There seems to be a sense of hearkening back and nostaligia in both our churches. For Anglicans, there this sense of wanting to make the 39 articles as a kind of covenants [which, presumably, is disturbing]. For Catholics, I wonder if the recent decision to more widely allow the Latin Mass, as well as the opening of this conservative seminary in France is a reflection of the same trend." (I guess the underlying sense was, "in both our churches, there's this strong conservative/traditional element. I wonder what's going on?") Dr. Wondra responded that the 39 article were being misunderstood -- they are not confessional statements like the Westminster Confession, or the Augsburg Confession. Fr. Sullivan responded that the recent motu proprio is best understood as the Holy Father reversing what he thought was a mistake by his predecessor, Pope Paul VI when the old rite was suppressed on the introduction of the new one. He feels that the Pope's sole motivation is to meet the legitimate desire of a few people who want to worship in this way. He doesn't think this will do anything for reconciliation with groups such as the SSPX (the differences are deeper there than just the liturgy). He has no information on this seminary that was mentioned. Besides, none of this should impact the dialogue in any way.

My own assessment: I must confess that the event was rather dry and somewhat boring. I tried to take diligent notes, but after a while I gave up. "I don't think I want to be a professional ecumenist!" I remarked as we left the lecture. There was this sense of this being a closed group, an echo chamber of professionals talking to one another. To what end?

Don't get me wrong -- the intellectual and theological work of such dialogues is very important. But there must be some assessment of why the energy seems to be flagging, why no one seems to be listening? Why, such meetings are (in the words of one of the presenters) far from newsworthy?

Anyway, what do I know. I'm merely a novice.

[A list of all the ARCIC meetings and statements is archived at the website of the Centro Pro Unione in Rome.]

1 comment:

Mac said...

Surely among the reasons, if not the only significant reason, it's flagging is that the Anglican Church is increasingly so marginalised. It was never very significant in terms of numbers in the USA after the Revolution, of course, despite its social prominence (one-quarter of US Presidents have been Episcopalian: amazing) but even in jurisdictions where it was so it has become much like the RC Church in the francophone world. If the Man on the Clapham Omnibus has little-to-no awareness of the Anglican Church it is hardly a matter of pressing concern for the RC Church to educate itself....