(R-L) Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, joins the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and worldwide Anglican bishops and their spouses in a walk through central London July 24 to call attention to global poverty.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Friday assured Anglican bishops gathered here that while the current crisis over homosexuality within the Anglican Communion have slowed the progress of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, his church is still committed to the ecumenical dialogue begun 40 years ago.
Nonetheless, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor also said that “future dialogue will not be easy until such fundamental matters are resolved with greater clarity.”
He noted that while the ordination of women priests and bishops continues to be a major stumbling block in Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, “something else is now emerging which has been hidden in these shadows; something even more fundamental, which is the question of ecclesiology. How do we understand the Church? Where is the Church to be found? Is it a loose federation with a common history and family kinship? Is it a more closely-knit body with developed structures of authority? Moreover, with what instruments does the Spirit enable the churches to reach binding decisions where necessary?”
In a speech in one of the so-called “self-select sessions” offered to Anglican bishops attending the Lambeth Conference, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that the Catholic Church “takes no pleasure at all to see the current strains in your communion. We have committed ourselves to a journey towards unity, so new tensions only slow the progress.” But, he added, “I am not gloomy. Dialogue will continue in some form. Even if we sometimes find it hard to discern just how to go forward, we cannot give up on seeking the unity Christ wills.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor noted that the current divisions within the Anglican Communion – composed of about 80 million members in 44 regional and national churches in over 160 countries – are about matters that are “very important.” He said, “These discussions are about the degree of unity in faith necessary for Christians to be in communion, not least so that they may be able to offer the gospel confidently to the world.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission 26 years ago, but has continued to be involved in the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. In 2000, he was a participant in the Mississauga Meeting of Anglican and Catholic bishops which took place in Canada in 2000.
“People sometimes ask me: ‘Has it been worth it?’ ‘You’ve given a great deal of your life to this work and yet where are the results? Are we any closer yet to being united?’ My answer is ‘Yes, it has,'” said Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. “I have said many times that I believe the path to unity is like a road with no exit for those who genuinely seek unity and are also seeking the conversion it requires. That’s because I know it is Christ’s will that we be one, and however long it takes that has to be our goal. Pope Benedict again and again comes back to this as at the heart of what he is working for.”
He said that the dialogue statements of ARCIC, “whether or not they are accepted in their entirety, do signal a convergence.” He noted that the two churches now have “substantial consensus” on matters related to the eucharist and ministry. “They are ‘money in the bank’, whose value will one day be clearly seen,” he said. “We can already notice one result of this – in the changed relationships over these years, and the ways Anglicans and Catholics can sometimes work together with greater confidence in the faith we share.”
Still, he said, both churches have also became aware that “the path to unity might be longer than we had imagined at first, and that some shadows were spreading over our relationship.”
He reiterated what other Vatican leaders have been saying – that the ordination of women priests and bishops in a growing number of Anglican provinces has represented “a major stumbling block to the hoped-for reconciliation of ministries.” He asked, “If our Church does not believe that it can ordain women, in what way is the issue of Anglican ordinations to be overcome? Or to put the matter another way, and this is not meant to be polemical, if Anglicans themselves disagree over this development and find yourselves unable fully to recognize each other’s ministry, how could we?”
Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of the Anglican Church of Canada’s faith, worship and ministry department, welcomed Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s statement saying, “Given the current climate in both our communions, this is a very positive statement indeed. It will serve to remind both of us of where we have come from and what we have achieved, and I think that his suggestion that we revisit ‘Church as Communion’ is very helpful as we consider the possibility of an Anglican Covenant. It was one of the more neglected agreed statements of ARCIC but it contains some hints of a way of imagining a unity of the church that is not uniformity and gives space for legitimate diversity.”