Common Declarations and Deal Breakers

The Commmon Declaration, the Holy Father’s Address, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address… ho hum.

You’ve all seen them in the news and, with a yawn, maybe scanned them and moved along quickly to find something more interesting. I did.

However, a conversation with a very well-informed friend got me thinking about them differently.

The Pope’s Address to the Archbishop of Canterbury (somewhat edited but my emphasis and comments):

Your Grace,
Dear friends,

In the present context, however, and especially in the secularized Western world, there are many negative influences and pressures which affect Christians and Christian communities [the Pope is about to start talking about homosexuals and radical feminism, not global warming, or poverty and hunger, get it? This is the culture war.]. Over the last three years you have spoken openly about the strains and difficulties besetting the Anglican Communion and consequently about the uncertainty of the future of the Communion itself. [We move from the general to the particular. So, the Pope into these same problems afflicting Anglicans.] Recent developments, [Read = mistakes] especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, [We’re back to feminism and homosexuals…] have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the Gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations. [See my comments at the end.] It is to be hoped that the work of the theological dialogue, which had registered no small degree of agreement on these and other important theological matters, will continue [to] be taken seriously in your discernment. In these deliberations we accompany you with heartfelt prayer. It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition [Which is FOR YOU by no means certain, by the way, and if you ordain a woman bishop, well…] which form our common patrimony and are the basis of our common aspiration to work for full visible unity.

The world needs our witness and the strength which comes from an undivided proclamation of the Gospel. The immense sufferings of the human family and the forms of injustice that adversely affect the lives of so many people constitute an urgent call for our shared witness and service. Precisely for this reason, and even amidst present difficulties, [Which aren’t our fault.] it is important that we continue our theological dialogue. I hope that your visit will assist in finding constructive ways forward in the current circumstances. [In other words, "The world is going to hell in a handbasket and it would be great if you could help us rather than contribute to the confusion."]

May the Lord continue to bless you and your family, and may he strengthen you in your ministry to the Anglican Communion!

Let’s look at the …

of Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

Forty years ago, our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, met together in this city sanctified by the ministry and the blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul. They began a new journey of reconciliation based on the Gospels and the ancient common traditions. Centuries of estrangement between Anglicans and Catholics were replaced by a new desire for partnership and co-operation, as the real but incomplete communion we share was rediscovered and affirmed. [We don’t hate each other anymore. I stipulate.] Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey undertook at that time to establish a dialogue in which matters which had been divisive in the past might be addressed from a fresh perspective with truth and love.

Since that meeting, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have entered into a process of fruitful dialogue, which has been marked by the discovery of significant elements of shared faith and a desire to give expression, through joint prayer, witness and service, to that which we hold in common. [We don’t hate each other anymore. I stipulate.] Over thirty-five years, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) has produced a number of important documents which seek to articulate the faith we share. [But what do those documents mean if during the time of Carey, Anglicans and others in the communion act differently, without respect for the Catholic Church or the Orthodox, in ordaining women?] In the ten years since the most recent Common Declaration was signed by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the second phase of ARCIC has completed its mandate, with the publication of the documents "The Gift of Authority" (1999) and "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" (2005). We are grateful to the theologians who have prayed and worked together in the preparation of these texts, which await further study and reflection.

True ecumenism goes beyond theological dialogue; it touches our spiritual lives and our common witness. [Talk is not enough. What you actually do matters!] As our dialogue has developed, many Catholics and Anglicans have found in each other a love for Christ which invites us into practical co-operation and service. This fellowship in the service of Christ, experienced by many of our communities around the world, adds a further impetus to our relationship. The International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) has been engaged in an exploration of the appropriate ways in which our shared mission to proclaim new life in Christ to the world can be advanced and nurtured. Their report, which sets out both a summary of the central conclusions of ARCIC [But Anglicans ordained women priests anyway, despite everythng. So what do the earlier documents really mean for our common ecumenical journey?] and makes proposals for growing together in mission and witness, has recently been completed and submitted for review to the Anglican Communion Office and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and we express our gratitude for their work. [I don’t envy those guys, let me tell you.]

In this fraternal visit, we celebrate the good which has come from these four decades of dialogue. We are grateful to God for the gifts of grace which have accompanied them. At the same time, our long journey together makes it necessary to acknowledge publicly the challenge represented by new developments which, besides being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress. It is a matter of urgency, therefore, that in renewing our commitment to pursue the path towards full visible communion in the truth and love of Christ, we also commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous. [Uh huh… like the circus of ordaining women priests and open homosexuals and women bishops in the Anglican communion in the USA?]

As Christian leaders facing the challenges of the new millennium, we affirm again our public commitment to the revelation of divine life uniquely set forth by God in the divinity and humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that it is through Christ and the means of salvation found in him that healing and reconciliation are offered to us and to the world.

There are many areas of witness and service in which we can stand together, and which indeed call for closer co-operation between us: the pursuit of peace in the Holy Land and in other parts of the world marred by conflict and the threat of terrorism; promoting respect for life from conception until natural death; [Are Anglicans really "standing together" with the Church on this? Really? There is no question about what the Catholic Church teaches about this and the Church lobbies about it. Do Anglicans? What does "stand together" mean here?] protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of children in the context of healthy family life [What does "sanctity of marriage" mean to Anglicans?]; outreach to the poor, oppressed and the most vulnerable, especially those who are persecuted for their faith; addressing the negative effects of materialism; and care for creation and for our environment. We also commit ourselves to inter-religious dialogue through which we can jointly reach out to our non-Christian brothers and sisters. [Yah, right… like Islamic terrorists? in England?]

Mindful of our forty years of dialogue, and of the witness of the holy men and women [women… who can’t be priests, however…] common to our traditions, including Mary the Theotókos, Saints Peter and Paul, Benedict, Gregory the Great, and Augustine of Canterbury, we pledge ourselves to more fervent prayer and a more dedicated endeavor to welcome and live by that truth into which the Spirit of the Lord wishes to lead his disciples (cf. Jn 16:13). Confident of the apostolic hope "that he who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion" (cf. Phil 1:6), we believe that if we can together be God’s instruments in calling all Christians to a deeper obedience to our Lord, we will also draw closer to each other, finding in his will the fullness of unity and common life to which he invites us.

From the Vatican, 23 November 2006

Okay… the Pope recently told the Swiss Bishops that we can’t just yak about things, but really really need to do something. In the ancient Church, when leaders of Churches got together and signed something, there were consequences. So, I think we should all demand immediate implementation of this Common Declaration. The leadership signed on, right? Does this declaration have any impact on the life of the Churches? If they don’t why bother?

While in the sphere if ecumenism I really think that the Holy Father’s eyes gaze more eastward than anywhere else, perhaps Rome’s (read: Benedict and Kasper) immediate goal is fairly simple. Go back to what Cardinal Kasper told the Anglican House of Bishops on 5 June 2006:

Collegiality was not understood simply in terms of an ultimately non-binding collegial frame of mind; collegiality is rather a reality ontologically grounded in the sacrament of episcopal consecration, the shared participation in the one episcopal office, which finds concrete expression in the collegialitas affectiva and in the collegialitas effectiva. This collegiality is of course not limited to the horizontal and synchronic relationship with contemporary episcopal colleagues; since the Church is one and the same in all centuries, the present-day church must also maintain diachronic consensus with the episcopate of the centuries before us, and above all with the testimony of the apostles. This is the more profound significance of the apostolic succession in episcopal office.

Cardinal Kasper was crystal clear in his meaning and it could not have been misunderstood. Because any future possible communion of Rome and Canterbury depends on the concept of what a bishop is, if they "ordain" women, dialogue with the Catholic Church will change. It might continue in some way, but it won’t be the same. Kasper again:

Ecumenical dialogue in the true sense of the word has as its goal the restoration of full church communion. That has been the presupposition of our dialogue until now. That presupposition would realistically no longer exist following the introduction of the ordination of women to Episcopal office.


I don’t think Rome (read: Benedict and Kasper) have a real overall picture of what they want this to look like someday. The Common Declaration and the Holy Father’s address probably need to be read through this lens: the homosexual thing is a serious problem but "ordaining" a woman bishop… that’s the deal breaker.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Paul Haley says:

    You know, it pains me to see such goings on between the pope and the head of the Anglican Church. My mother, God rest her soul, and her brother were converts to Catholicism from the Episcopal religion. The rest of their family (a brother, sister, mother and father) remained episcopalians. No doubt this cause much consternation in her family although it was kept from us children we knew there was some friction. So, what did my mother give up in order to become Catholic, raise six children in the Catholic religion and send me to catholic schools for 16 years? And what is our pontiff doing giving what appears equal stature to a heretic like Rowan Williams? Is the Catholic Church the One, True Church or not? If it is, it should act accordingly.

  2. PMcGrath says:

    Two things:
    A. Regarding: promoting respect for life from conception until natural death; protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of children in the context of healthy family life

    Well, it looks like the Presiding Bishopess is going to have a problem with that!

    B. I’ve posted this on other blogs, and it’s worth repeating here. There is going to be a schism in the Anglican Communion. This is what I think the event-line will be:

    The faithless and faithful wings of the Anglican Communion will break up.
    The faithful wing will form itself into a polity, and will choose Abp. Akinola (or someone like him) as its Patriarch (to put down a title).
    The Patriarch of the new Anglican wing will knock on St. Peter’s door and say, “We want in!”

    It’s the Union of Brest-Litovsk all over again!

  3. Antonio says:

    It would be a wonderful thing to happen.
    But, what about women priests in almost every Anglican province in Africa?

  4. RBrown says:

    The Patriarch of the new Anglican wing will knock on St. Peter’s door and say, “We want in!”

    And Rome will say, “What do you mean “We”, kemosabe?

    I will be surprised if Rome looks at it that simply.

  5. RBrown says:

    The Patriarch of the new Anglican wing will knock on St. Peter’s door and say, “We want in!”

    And Rome will say, “What do you mean ‘We’, kemosabe”?

    I will be surprised if Rome looks at it that simply.

  6. If they come in, they’ll have to come in–individually or as a group–under the same conditions everyone else comes in. We don’t play the “my truth, your truth” thing.

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