While decisions by some Anglican provinces to ordain women and allow same-sex marriage have formal unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, a common declaration issued by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis October 5 reaffirmed their churches’ commitment to ecumenical work.
“While…we ourselves do not see solutions to the obstacles before us, we are undeterred,” the declaration says. “We are confident that dialogue and engagement with one another will deepen our understanding and help us to discern the mind of Christ for his church.”
The declaration was issued during a visit to Rome by Welby and a delegation of Anglican primates and bishops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
Established in 1966 by Pope Paul VI and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, the Anglican Centre was one of a series of initiatives intended to draw the two churches closer together.
Welby and Francis highlighted the progress that has been made in the intervening decades, and praised bodies such as the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) for bringing theologians from both denominations together to examine the issues that have historically divided the two churches.
While they conceded that “serious obstacles” to full unity remain—including the “perennial question about how authority is exercised in the Christian community”—they stressed that “much progress has been made concerning many areas that have kept us apart.”
The declaration also affirmed that their differences neither “prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ” nor “lead to a lessening of our ecumenical endeavours.”
Among these, Welby and Francis highlighted the importance of their two churches expressing their shared faith by speaking with a united voice on pressing social issues, such as environmental degradation, poverty and religiously motivated violence.
“The world must see us witnessing to this common faith in Jesus by acting together,” the declaration says. “Our Christian faith leads us to recognize the inestimable worth of every human life, and to honour it in acts of mercy by bringing education, healthcare, food, clean water and shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace.”
The declaration, delivered at the Church of Saint Gregory, was part of a service in which 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops selected by the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) were “sent out” to work together on mission in their native countries.
Representing Canada were Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop Dennis Drainville, of the diocese of Quebec.
Drainville was paired with the Catholic Bishop of Victoria Gary Gordon to work together on ecumenical ministry in Canada.
(Editor’s Note: The photo, originally a video grab from Vatican Television, has been changed to a sharper image, courtesy of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The first paragraph has also been changed for clarity. )