LONDON – Anglicans and Roman Catholics have outlined the next step on the road to unity in a 44-page report entitled "Growing Together in Unity and Mission."
The statement was agreed upon by the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) and released on Friday by the Anglican Communion Office and the Information Service of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
In a preface written in 2006 by John Bathersby, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Brisbane, and David Beetge, Anglican bishop of Highveld, the document was described as a "call for action, based upon an honest appraisal of what has been achieved in our dialogue."
"Despite our present 'imperfect communion,' there is, we feel, enough common ground to take seriously how we work together," they added,
The "Growing Together in Unity and Mission" report is an attempt from the two church bodies to summarize the last 40 years of Anglican-Roman Catholic theological dialogue on areas of agreement and convergence.
It begins by reaffirming that "Anglicans and Roman Catholics agree that God desires the visible unity of all Christian people and that such unity is itself part of our witness."
The report's authors also highlight the "substantial" progress made towards unity over the years, particularly the meetings between the archbishops of Canterbury and popes that have taken place on a regular basis since the Second Vatican Council held between 1962 and 1965.
"Their joint declarations affirm the degree of communion that is already shared, as well as the urgency of continuing together on the way to visible unity," the document read.
It also acknowledged, however, the disputes ongoing within the Anglican Communion over homosexuality and the ordination of women to the episcopate, which the Catholic Church opposes.
"We recognize that the obstacles that prevent us from receiving together all that God offers damage the effectiveness of our mission to the world," the document acknowledged. "We agree that there is a danger that areas of disagreement between us could expand as new issues and new contexts rapidly emerge.
"It is a matter of urgency that we take counsel, decide together, and act together in moral teaching, in order to guide and assist Christ's disciples in the way of holiness and to witness credibly and effectively to God's love and justice to the world."
The IARCCUM therefore concluded it was "not the appropriate time to enter the new formal stage of relationship envisaged by the bishops at Mississauga," referring to the 2000 meeting of Anglican and Catholic bishops which had resulted in a fresh zeal towards realizing full communion.
The report said, however, "Even in a time of uncertainty, the mission given us by Christ obliges and compels us to seek to engage more deeply and widely in a partnership in mission, coupled with common witness and joint prayer.
"In addition to all we can and must do, we trust the Holy Spirit that the One who initiated our pilgrimage to unity and common mission will bring it to fulfillment," It continued.
"While this may not be the moment to initiate a formal new stage in our relations, we believe that it is the time to bridge the gap between the elements of faith we hold in common and the tangible expression of that shared belief in our ecclesial lives."
The document went on to outline the ecumenical work that could build closer unity between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, including common public worship, the joint study of their shared faith, cooperation in ministry and shared witness in the world.
It concluded: "We call on all bishops to encourage their clergy and people to respond positively to this initiative, and to engage in a searching exploration of new possibilities for co-operation in mission."