Roman Catholic/Anglican dialogue meeting in Seattle postponed

December 4, 2003

The official dialogue between Roman Catholics and Anglicans has hit a speed bump, although both sides insist that they are committed to further conversations in their common search for Christian unity.

A scheduled February meeting of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) in Seattle has been postponed in the wake of the consecration of the first openly gay man to be elected bishop in the Episcopal Church. Archbishop Alex Brunett, co-chair of the commission who was to host the meeting, said that the November 2 consecration has created "a major problem" in relations between the two churches.

The dream of unity remains strong, Brunett said at a news conference, because agreement on theological issues has remained "very close" and both sides "certainly work hard to cultivate that relationship."

Brunett was echoing blunt comments from Pope John Paul II during an October 4 meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in which the pontiff said, "As we give thanks for the progress that has already been made, we must also recognize that new and serious difficulties have arisen on the path to unity. These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature; some extend to essential matters of faith and morals."

A journey together

In his meeting with Williams, Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed his concerns about the sexuality issues "because it is not only an internal problem of the Anglican Communion, but it also touches on our relations." Noting that the official dialogue goes back 30 years, Williams said that Roman Catholics and Anglicans "are on a journey together to become the Church that accords with Christ's call..."

Kasper met November 25 with the Rev. John Peterson, secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council, in Rome where they decided that the current work of ARCIC should proceed until the completion of the current phase in 2004 and then the future agenda and next phase can be determined. At the same time they decided that next meeting of the International Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, formed in 2001 to foster practical cooperation, should be put on hold in light of ecclesiological concerns raised by the consecration of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. The work of the commission's subcommittees, however, will continue.

Kasper welcomed the suggestion from Williams that both partners in the dialogue look for a way to look at the issues raised by the consecration in light of the work already done by ARCIC.

At the same time, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, co-chair of ARCIC, wrote to Williams announcing his decision to resign. "Given recent events in the life of the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the strain they have caused in the relationship between the Holy See and the Anglican Communion," he said that he was resigning "in the interest of not jeopardizing the present and future work of the commission..." The resignation may make it possible to schedule a new ARCIC meeting at the end of January.

Reunion with Rome?

On his return from meetings in Rome, Brunett said in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the Vatican had received a startling overture from Episcopalians who refuse to recognize Robinson's consecration. "We were approached by a whole Episcopal diocese about coming into the Roman Catholic Church, as perhaps Anglican Rite Catholics," he said. He would not identify the diocese.

"I can't tell you how much anger I hear from Anglican bishops around the world," Brunett added. "It puts us on the spot. We don't have any disagreement with the Anglican Church. It is that this section of it, the Episcopal Church, has decided to separate itself from the Anglican Communion."

American and Australian traditionalists have been in Rome discussing a possible reunion with the Roman Catholic Church, according to the Rev. David Moyer, president of Forward in Faith in North America. "The bottom line is that the Anglican Communion is being stressed to breaking point," he said, and that has led to discussion of joining the Roman Catholic Church while retaining Anglican doctrine and liturgy.

The Orthodox have also signaled a chill in ecumenical relations with Anglicans. The Russian Orthodox announced November 17 that it was suspending further cooperation with the Episcopal Church. The heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches "postponed" a meeting with Anglicans, arguing that the dialogue "would be better served by waiting, at present, for the Anglican Communion to have time to take proper account of, and reflect upon, the consecration which has taken place. It is very much hoped by all participants that the work of the commission will be resumed at a time convenient to all."