Six Anglican and six Roman Catholic bishops met November 19-23 at a retreat house in Malta to discuss further steps on the road to unity between the two churches. The bishops are members of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCUUM), established in 2000 in a historic international meeting in Canada of bishops from regions of the world where relations between the two churches are especially critical.
The Canadian meeting stemmed from a Common Declaration issued in 1996 by Pope John Paul II and Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey that committed the churches to a search for 'full visible unity.' A similar declaration from 30 years ago, stemming from the Second Vatican Council, established the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) to discuss doctrinal differences. The commission has issued a number of statements on ministry, the Eucharist, and 'The Gift of Authority.'
Among the major goals of the IARCUUM is to shape a declaration of common beliefs that could be endorsed by both churches and also to encourage the review process and eventual endorsement of the agreed texts from ARCIC. On a practical level, the commission will continue its search for ways the two churches can work together in mission.
A sub-group of the commission has worked to prepare a first draft to formally express the degree of agreement that exists. Another is preparing practical recommendations for the next steps in the on-going process of 'reception' of common statements and a third is focusing on visible and practical strategies to help the two communions, especially in local contexts, to do together even now whatever is possible in the present stage of real but imperfect communion.
After 40 years of dialogue 'we are in partial, not full communion,' said the Rev. Donald Bolen of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in an interview with the Sunday Times of London. 'The way ahead is not clear. Our responsibility is to foster a lived ecumenism, faith to shape our lives as churches.'
Bolen added, 'We can find forms of expressing our progress towards unity so far…These involve doing everything in common which deep differences do not oblige us to do separately.'
Roman Catholic co-chair of the commission, Archbishop John Bathersby of Australia, told the Sunday Times that 'my personal vision of achieving Anglican-Roman Catholic unity is to combine hard, slogging work and trust in the Holy Spirit. As Cardinal Walter Kasper, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity has encouraged us, we must maintain the capacity to be surprised by God.'
(Text of the communique and a list of participants is available on the Anglican Communion News Service web site at www.anglicancommunion.org/acns)