Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation meets in Louisville

September 21, 2006

The 75th General Convention, the role of Mary in the Church, and Spanish-language ministry were topics at the 61st meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation in the USA (ARC-USA), held in Louisville, Kentucky, from September 14-17.

The meeting was hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky, and was co-chaired by Bishop Edwin F. Gulick, Jr. of Kentucky, and the Most Rev. Edward W. Clark, an auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The first two sessions of the dialogue were devoted to discussion of the decisions reached at the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church that took place in Columbus, Ohio, in June, including the election of Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. She will be the first female Primate in the Anglican Communion.

Dr. Ruth Myers, a deputy from the Diocese of Chicago, guided the Episcopalians' time of sharing about General Convention. Clark and the Rev. Ron Roberson, from the staff of United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), had both been at General Convention and shared their perspectives. Clark observed that the selection of a woman as Presiding Bishop changes nothing about the relationship between the two denominations, since the Episcopal Church have had women in the episcopate in recent decades, according to Bishop Christopher Epting, the Presiding Bishop's deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations, who is staff to ARC-USA's Episcopal delegation.

The Consultation continued its consideration of "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ," the paper released in 2004 by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and also known as the Seattle Document or Seattle Statement.

The discussion included conversation about where the two denominations agree and where they are different in their responses to the document, Epting said. A small-sub committee was formed to draft an initial response of ARC-USA to the document.

The document considers the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the doctrine and life of the Church. While Mary has held an important place in the life and liturgy of Anglicans and Roman Catholics, the two denominations' understandings of Mary and Marian devotion within the Roman Catholic Church have been seen as points which have separated Anglicans and Romans. The second paragraph of the document outlines what the two denominations do agree on about Mary and then notes that "the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption raise a special problem for those Anglicans who do not consider that the precise definitions given by these dogmas are sufficiently supported by Scripture."

Dr. Marsha L. Dutton of Ohio University offered a reflection from an Episcopal perspective that was responded to by Dr. Joanne Pierce of the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts. The Rev. Canon Dr. J. Robert Wright of the General Theological Seminary offered another Episcopal perspective that was responded to by the Rev. Robert Imbelli of Boston College.

More information about the document is available at An Introduction to the Mary Document and Commentary and Study Guide on the Seattle Statement.

The document itself is available as a pdf in English and Spanish . A web-based English version is available and a web-based French version.

ARCIC, the group that produced the document, is the official instrument of theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the Anglican Communion. The dialogue, first called for by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Michael Ramsey in 1966, was established in 1970. Its sponsors are the Anglican Consultative Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The statements ARCIC issues are not official pronouncements of either community, but are offered for study and reflection. To read more information, click here.

The members of the Consultation also heard a proposal prepared by the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Prichard of Virginia Theological Seminary concerning Spanish-language ministry in the two denominations. He proposed that a brief Spanish-language pastoral tool be prepared that would clarify the distinctions between the churches, as well as the progress made in ecumenical dialogues. A draft text will be prepared for the next meeting.

Epting said that the group's hope is to honor one another in showing ecumenical hospitality. "Episcopalians should not 'masquerade' as simply another form of Roman Catholicism in our efforts at evangelization," he said. "Similarly, Roman Catholics should not assume that every Spanish-speaker coming to our shores is a Roman Catholic just looking for a parish church."

The members of the Consultation heard a proposal from the Rev. James Massa, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of USCCB, regarding the format of the Consultation. The proposal envisages moving towards conducting the dialogue in rounds, each of which would address a specific topic and include members from both denominations with special expertise on the question at hand. The new rhythm of meetings would include one annual plenary along with the annual meeting of a steering committee that would be concerned with the overall progress of the dialogue as well as overseeing the drafting of agreed texts. The length of each round would be flexible, ordinarily lasting approximately five years. The members of the Consultation adopted the proposal in principle with the understanding that it would most probably come into effect in 2008.

During this meeting the regular cycle of worship was observed, including Morning Prayer and Night Prayer in both traditions. Epting presided at an Anglican Eucharist in the Christ Church Cathedral chapel on September 16. Clark presided at a Roman Catholic Eucharist in the Cathedral of the Assumption on September 17. The members participated in these celebrations as allowed by their own denomination's disciplines. The Most Rev. Thomas C. Kelly, O.P., Roman Catholic Archbishop of Louisville, joined the group for the evening meal on September 15.

The 62nd meeting of the Consultation is scheduled to take place March 8-11, 2007, at a location to be determined.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States was established in 1965 and ordinarily meets twice each year. In addition to Dutton, Gulick, Pritchard and Wright, the Episcopal members are Bishop Barry Howe of West Missouri; the Rev. Dr. Thomas Breidenthal; and the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers. Epting and the Rev. Dirk Reinken serve as staff and the Rev. Richard D. Visconti serves as the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers representative.

The Roman Catholic members, in addition to Clark, Imbelli, and Pierce, include the Most Rev. John C. Dunne, auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Center; Professor Jon Nilson; the Rev. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.; the Rev. George Tavard, A.A.; and the Rev. Msgr. Robert Trisco. The Rev. Dr. Ronald G. Roberson, C.S.P. and Benjamin Brown serve as staff. The Rev. Vincent Heier is the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers Representative.

A complete list of the agreed statements released by the consultation, as well as links to earlier press releases, can be found on the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops website.