Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey called for Roman Catholic and Anglican churches to work towards unity at a choral evensong May 17 at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Toronto. Edward Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, right, read a greeting from Pope John Paul.
Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops from around the world met in mid-May in Toronto to continue to explore areas of unity – a process that has been under way for 30 years. The conference wasn’t expected to produce huge theological breakthroughs; the participants were to discuss joint social projects as well as doctrinal disagreements.
“It’s a kind of a pulse-taking. It brings together people such as myself and Bishop (Gerald) Wiesner (president of the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops) who know a lot about their constituency. We’ll see how things are going,” said Primate Michael Peers.
The closed-door conference drew protests from conservative Protestants opposed to closer relations with Rome. Outspoken Irish Protestant leader Rev. Ian Paisley was scheduled to speak at a rally at Toronto Free Presbyterian Church, but cancelled after his wife fell ill.
A spokesman for Dr. Paisley said his views are reflected by Dr. Frank McClelland, minister of Toronto Free Presbyterian Church and organizer of the rally.
“It is a major betrayal of Anglican history to seek union with Rome,” said Dr. McClelland in an interview. He cited several theological differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics, including the number of sacraments, adding that “the major thing” concerns accepting the primacy of the Pope.
There is no “secret plan of merger,” said Rev. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of faith, worship and ministry for the General Synod. “I would hope there is more commitment to taking concrete practical steps to bringing us closer together, so we are more at home in each other’s churches,” she said.
The Anglican church permits Roman Catholics to receive communion at the eucharist, but the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t reciprocate. The Roman Catholic Church also refuses to accept the validity of Anglican ordinations.
A preliminary schedule indicated the group were to discuss such topics as how the moves toward unity are being received in local churches, but Canon Barnett-Cowan said the bishops have freedom to change the agenda.
Some observers note that the bishops’ discussion about social projects such as help for the poor and Native rights may lead to bigger things. “As people work in projects together, they discover the gap was not as wide as people thought,” said Canon Barnett-Cowan.
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey headed the Anglican delegation. Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, whose idea the meeting was, led the Vatican delegation.
Archbishop Carey preached at Anglican evensong held in St. Michael’s Roman Catholic cathedral.
Bishops from 13 countries attended in Anglican-Roman Catholic pairs. Also attending was Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States and Alexander Brunett, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Seattle, co-chairs of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.
ARCIC was established in 1966 after a meeting between then-archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI.
It released a controversial document last spring, the Gift of Authority, which proposed the pope exercise universal primacy over the two churches if they were to unite.