Serious obstacles remain between Catholics, Anglicans, pope, Anglican primate agree
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) – Serious obstacles remain to form closer ties between Catholic and Anglican churches, Pope Benedict XVI and Anglican leader Rowan Williams agreed, bluntly acknowledging disagreements on the ordination of gay bishops and women priests and the blessing of same-sex unions.
The meeting with the Anglican leader took place five days before Pope Benedict was to fly to Turkey to begin a pilgrimage on Nov. 28 that will include meetings with the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in Istanbul, as well as with Muslim clerics.
After a Nov. 23 private morning meeting between the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury, the two religious leaders signed a common declaration that noted the historic meeting 40 years ago by their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, which undertook "to establish a dialogue in which matters which had been divisive in the past might be addressed from a fresh perspective with truth and love."
That 1966 meeting aimed at uniting the churches split apart in 1534 by English King Henry VIII's anger over the Vatican's refusal to annul his marriage.
Benedict XVII and Archbishop Ramsey in the joint statement, signed while sitting side-by-side at a table, expressed gratitude for the efforts at unity and pledged to pursue the path of continuing dialogue.
"True ecumenism," they wrote, "goes beyond theological dialogue; it touches our spiritual lives and our common witness. As our dialogue has developed, many Catholics and Anglicans have found in each other a love for Christ which invites us into practical cooperation and service."
But their frank assessment of where relations stand now underscored the challenges.
"At the same time, our long journey together makes it necessary to acknowledge publicly the challenge represented by new developments which, beside being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress," the pope and the archbishop said.
The world's 77-million Anglicans have risked splintering among themselves after the elevation in 2003 in the United States of the first openly gay Anglican bishop. In 2006, the election of a female Episcopalian bishop to lead Episcopalians in the United States has been seen as impacting relationships among Anglicans worldwide. As well, the blessings of unions between men or between women in the United States and Canada have bruised Anglican-Catholic relations.
Twenty-six of the world's 38 Anglican churches have opened up the priesthood to women. Churches in Canada, New Zealand and the United States have chosen women as bishops, and the Church of England is debating whether to have women bishops.
In his address, Pope Benedict recalled in his remarks in English, while acknowledged that “there is much in our relations over the past 40 years for which we must give thanks," pointed to “many negative influences and pressures which affect Christians and Christian communities.”
“Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church,” he said.
"We believe," the pope added, "that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations. It is to be hoped that the work of the theological dialogue, which had registered no small degree of agreement on these and other important theological matters, will continue to be taken seriously."
"The world needs our witness and the strength which comes from an undivided proclamation of the gospel," Pope Benedict said.
"Precisely for this reason, and even amidst present difficulties, it is important that we continue our theological dialogue,” he added.
The joint declaration noted the work of the International Anglican–Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) “engaged in an exploration of the appropriate ways in which our shared mission to proclaim new life in Christ to the world can be advanced and nurtured.”
"In this fraternal visit, we celebrate the good which has come from these four decades of dialogue. We are grateful to God for the gifts of grace which have accompanied them,” Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams said in the statement. .
“It is a matter of urgency, therefore, that in renewing our commitment to pursue the path towards full visible communion in the truth and love of Christ, we also commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous,” the declaration said.
The pope and Anglican primate noted the "many areas of witness and service in which we can stand together, and which indeed call for closer cooperation between us.”
Among those areas, they agreed, included: “the pursuit of peace in the Holy Land and in other parts of the world marred by conflict and the threat of terrorism; promoting respect for life from conception until natural death; protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of children in the context of healthy family life; outreach to the poor, oppressed and the most vulnerable, especially those who are persecuted for their faith; addressing the negative effects of materialism; and care for creation and for our environment; … interreligious dialogue through which we can jointly reach out to our non-Christian brothers and sisters."
Following the signing ceremony, the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury went to the Vatican's "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel where together they prayed in the presence of the Anglican and Catholic delegations, including Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster.