On the brink of unity? No, not really…

There was a time in which I would have been ecstatic (and likely in attendance) at last week’s meeting between Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in celebration of the 50th anniversary of a similar meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey. That meeting opened the doors for a half century of extremely effective ecumenical dialogue between the two communions, specifically by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and also the more local expressions such as the Anglican Roman Catholic dialogue here in the United States (ARC-USA).

Many of the church-dividing issues of the Reformation era — justification by faith, the centrality of Scripture, the doctrines surrounding Holy Baptism and the Eucharist, even the theology of Holy Orders (ordination) have been addressed and largely resolved by these ecumenical dialogues. Unfortunately, there has been a break-down on both sides in formally “receiving” these reports and so much of the common understandings reached remain on theologians’ library shelves and in ecumenist brains.

In addition, new complications (described in the Common Declaration signed by Francis and Justin as “serious obstacles”) have arisen, rendering full visible unity as far off as ever. Predictably mentioned are the ordination of women and issues of human sexuality (code language for the ordination of persons who are gay and lesbian and the blessing of same sex unions). These are all obstacles presented by developments on the Anglican side, of course.

Unaddressed are issues which have arisen since the Reformation on the Roman Catholic side, including “creeping papal infallibility” (since Vatican 1), certain Marian doctrines (immaculate conception, assumption) and mandatory priestly celibacy which are not accepted by Anglicans. To say nothing of the “Anglican Ordinariate” promulgated by Pope Benedict which — unannounced to the Anglican Communion before its unveiling — provides a kind of one way ticket for disaffected Anglicans to become Roman Catholics, not just as individuals, but as entire communities of faith.

So I know longer have any hope of a reunification or even full communion between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church — in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children…or grandchildren. That is not to say the dialogue should cease.

Efforts like the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) and institutions like the Anglican Centre in Rome do heroic work. And surely it is to be celebrated that the Bishop of Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury have recommitted themselves and their churches to work on issues of the environment, immigration, global poverty, and human trafficking — and to do so together whenever possible.

But then, we have been talking about doing that for a lot more than the 50 years since Pope Paul VI gave Michael Ramsey his episcopal ring.

And we are really not very much closer to “becoming one, that the world may believe” than we have ever been.

And that makes me very sad.

One Response to “On the brink of unity? No, not really…”

  1. Chris Highland Says:

    Makes you wonder if Jesus even came the FIRST time! Do you ever wonder: if we added up all the years and centuries of TIME spent by so many arguing these things, and compared how much time has been spent on compassion, justice and equality. . .oh, forget it.

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