Anglican-Catholic Unity Strained, but Hopeful, says Secretary General

Anglican-Catholic unity has been emphasized by both traditional churches over the past several decades. In celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Unitatis Redintegratio – the decree of the Second Vatican Council that acknowledged the “special relationship between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion,” the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion addressed Pope John Paul II with a special message, on Nov. 18, 2004.

As Anglicans we have always been very conscious of the special relationship between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion acknowledged in the Decree of the Second Vatican Council Unitatis Redintegratio, the fortieth anniversary of which has been celebrated in Rome just this last week, said the Revd Canon John L. Peterson in his address.

Peterson took note of the strains placed on the Anglican-Catholic relationship in recent years because of the controversy surrounding gay union blessings and the ordination of gay individuals in some of the Anglican Communion members.

“The ecumenical pilgrimage is far from easy, and I am conscious that developments within Anglicanism - the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate, and more recently within the Anglican Episcopal churches of North America, issues concerning ministry by and to persons of a homosexual orientation - have appeared to set back our co-operation, rather than advance it,” said Peterson.

Nonetheless, Peterson expressed hopes that unity and cooperation can continue within the two faiths through new ecumenical developments in coming years.

The following is the full text of the Revd Canon John L. Peterson’s statement, as released by the Anglican Communion News Service:

Your Holiness

I was honoured to be received by you for the first time in the company of the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury on his first official visit to you in 1996. Although my time as Secretary General of the Anglican Communion does not begin to equal the length and stamina of your own ministry in the Holy See, I have been privileged to be party to some significant milestones in the renewed history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

As Anglicans we have always been very conscious of the special relationship between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion acknowledged in the Decree of the Second Vatican Council Unitatis Redintegratio, the fortieth anniversary of which has been celebrated in Rome just this last week (1). We Anglicans are naturally proud of our own history, stretching back to the ancient Celtic churches of the British Isles, and of our conviction that in our life we have retained Catholic faith and order. It is precisely this history, however, that has given a distinctive impetus to our resolve to seek full visible unity with the Catholic Church as a key element of our ecumenical endeavour.

That aspiration for full visible unity, first delineated with breadth of vision by your predecessor, Pope Paul VI, in conversations with the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, has been the star by which Anglican - Roman Catholic relations have been navigated since 1968. It was an especial joy to see the agenda set out by those two great Christian leaders fully addressed by the work of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) over the last 38 years, and brought to a relative stage of completion with the achievement of the agreed statement, "Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ" at the beginning of this year. We look forward now to the publication of this statement in 2005, and to the publication of the collected works of both ARCIC I and ARCIC II later next year.

I call it a "relative completion", because the work of ARCIC must still find its fulfilment in reception by the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, and to this end, I personally look forward to the renewed dialogue of both IARCCUM, which is charged with this task, and a third phase of ARCIC.

The ecumenical pilgrimage is far from easy, and I am conscious that developments within Anglicanism - the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate, and more recently within the Anglican Episcopal churches of North America, issues concerning ministry by and to persons of a homosexual orientation - have appeared to set back our co-operation, rather than advance it.

However, I believe that recent initiatives have shown how seriously we wish to work co-operatively and hear the views of the Catholic Church as we strive to discern Christ's will for us at this time; for example, the collaborative study undertaken by a sub-commission of IARCCUM into the ecclesiological difficulties raised by recent developments - a study which emanated from a request by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a positive response from Cardinal Kasper as President of the PCPCU. And we have recently invited the Holy See, through the PCPCU, to offer its own reflections on the Windsor Report, commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury to consider how the forty-four churches of the Anglican Communion will respond to the challenges before us. Such moves are highly symbolic of our desire to work in ecumenical partnership with the Catholic Church.

The churches of the Anglican Communion have been accustomed to exercising a constitutional autonomy by which they order their understanding of Christian faith and life. Increasingly, however, we are learning that the life of all Christ's disciples is interdependent, and the wisdom and counsel of the successor to the See of Peter is one particular voice, which the Anglican Communion has come, in the spirit of the ecumenical movement, to hold in high value and respect. Your own ministry, generosity of spirit and hospitality, your Holiness, has played no small part in the nurture of confidence in the conversations between our two communions.

At the end of this year, I conclude my ministry as Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. I do so, however, giving thanks to God for all that has been achieved in your ministry as Bishop of Rome, for the progress in the ecumenical dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, and hopeful that the path charted by Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI is one which will continue to flourish under your continued sponsorship and in your partnership with the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams.

May the God who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1.6).

The Revd Canon John L. Peterson

The Vatican

1. "Other divisions arose more than four centuries later in the West, stemming from the events which are usually referred to as 'The Reformation'. As a result, many Communions, national or confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place." From the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio given in Rome at St. Peter's, November 21, 1964.