Monumental decisions affecting the reconciliation of churches and the establishment of full communion are facing both the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church in the months ahead. This summer, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting separately, will vote on whether to adopt or lay aside a "Concordat of Agreement" on full communion. Adopted, this agreement would mean that the two churches recognize in each other the essentials of the one catholic and apostolic faith and the full authenticity of the ministries of both churches. In a process now expected to culminate in 1998, the churches constituting the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church will decide individually on a proposal to declare that condemnations which they aimed at one another in the sixteenth century, particularly the anathemas concerning God's justifying grace acting through the free, unmerited gift of faith, are no longer applicable among those churches that agree to this proposal. These are two of a number of remarkable steps before several churches that are the fruits of sustained dialogue and that challenge Christians to redefine their relationships through decisive mutual actions that accelerate the progress of their churches towards full communion.
In this context, we who oversee the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States reiterate with gladness the real and concrete progress and hopes for strengthening relations between our churches from the perspective of our theological dialogue. Some may feel that this progress and these hopes will be eclipsed if one or both of the proposals are adopted. Instead, the committed and creative efforts of churches involved in these decisive mutual actions contribute to the whole ecumenical movement; furthermore, we are convinced that international and national Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogues will continue to serve an important role in advancing the cause of unity.
In late August, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission will convene at Virginia Seminary in Alexandria. Our two Churches are encouraged by ARCIC's agreements on Eucharist and ministry. The Commission is working towards consensus on certain clarifications concerning primacy in service to the unity and mission of the Church. We look forward especially to that agreement's articulation of common principles regarding the exercise of authority within the Church. We were gladdened that the 1996 meeting of ARCIC was held in Mechelen, Belgium, marking the 75th anniversary of the Malines Conversations which presaged the formal steps of our time towards the restoration of unity. In a message delivered to the anniversary celebration by Cardinal Cassidy, Pope John Paul II extolled the three initiators of those dialogues--Cardinal Mercier, Lord Halifax, and Abbé Fernand Portal--as men "impelled by indomitable faith" and "remarkable witnesses to the urgency of Christ's plea for unity." The Pope repeated the Malines formula, full communion within the Catholic Church of "the Anglican Church united not absorbed," and prayed that the anniversary will give fresh impetus to the dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics.
Then, last December, at the beginning of Advent, Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the guest of Pope John Paul II in Rome so that they could pray earnestly together that "Catholics and Anglicans may be granted the wisdom to know, and the strength to carry out, the Father's will." They affirmed the agreements of the international commission on the Eucharist and ministry. They noted that the ordination of women continues to require further common study, as do the other areas where full agreement has yet to be reached.
On ARC-USA, we have been reflecting on these international events and conversations, especially in our last two meetings. ARC-USA has been in existence since 1965. An initial volume of Anglican-Roman Catholic international and national documentation, Called to Full Unity, was published in 1986, and a second volume, including Canadian documents as well, Common Witness to the Gospel, will be published this year making available the record of the first 30 years our dialogue. In joint statements after our June 1996 and January 1997 meetings, we spoke for all members of the dialogue who recognized that the hopeful signs in the present, as well as the exacting challenges, have been occasions "to move forward with renewed mutual insights" and to set an agenda "to explore the questions of ecclesiology, the sources and exercise of authority in our two ecclesial communities" among other critically important topics. The members of ARC- USA envision a three-five year project ahead of them with several possible agreed statements along the way.
A whole range of ecclesiological topics is open before ARC-USA touching upon how authority is exercised relative to teaching, governance, discipline, decision-making, conciliarity, reception, and the fostering of unity and recognition of apostolicity between our two churches. The members of the U.S. dialogue feel that over the next few years they will be addressing the heart of the matter that keeps us from full communion. At the next meeting, the dialogue hopes to produce an agreed statement on what is held in common regarding the relationship between the local church and the universal church, noting too those areas in need of further joint exploration. The Consultation also will begin to investigate how a national episcopal conference functions for Catholics within an ecclesiology of communion of local churches with a universal church and how the Episcopal Church functions for Episcopalians as a member of an international communion. More specifically, the members of the dialogue will study how questions of authority determine policies of sacramental sharing, mindful of the judgements of the International Commission and of developments for both our churches in relations with other churches.
We trust that God's Spirit will guide ARC-USA in its genuine efforts towards reconciliation, strengthening all of us in humility and patience before one another and deepening our conversion in order to overcome what prevents full agreement and mutual and complete sharing of God's gifts to us. Whenever our recent meetings have been complicated by events within and between our churches, our conversations, though sometimes painful, have testified to the depth and breadth of the faith that we share, to our common commitment to remain in dialogue for the attainment of full communion, and to the bonds of friendship and affection that continue to enrich us individually and together.
ARC-USA will meet next in January 1998. This is a postponement from September 1997 and will allow the Consultation to take fuller account of the major decisions that the Episcopal Church will make at its General Convention in July, as well as of the work of ARCIC on authority in the Church. A second meeting of ARC-USA will follow soon afterwards in June 1998. We are truly grateful and feel blessed by God to be at this moment in time among those participating in the actual conversations leading to reconciliation and full communion between our Churches.
|The Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Bishop of Chicago
|The Most Rev. John J. Snyder|
Bishop of St. Augustine