Anglicans, Roman Catholics team up to tackle big questions

"Suddenly we felt the energy of addressing questions that were pulsing with interest for people," says Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic diocese of Saskatoon. Photo: Diocese of Saskatoon
"Suddenly we felt the energy of addressing questions that were pulsing with interest for people," says Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic diocese of Saskatoon. Photo: Diocese of Saskatoon
Published May 20, 2016

Is doubt just the opposite of faith? Or is it more complicated?

Bishop Donald Bolen, of the Roman Catholic diocese of Saskatoon, says this is one of the central issues facing people today, and a question that’s been on his mind throughout his life as a priest.

For him, it’s definitely more complicated.

“In a sense, apathy is the opposite of faith, whereas a lively doubt is a part of our faith,” Bolen says. “Doubt wants faith to have its reasons…I think when people pay serious attention to their doubts and don’t give up on them, but work with them, the doubting becomes a motivation to think more, to search more, to pray more, to look harder, to find reasons, and I think that’s a motivation which leads to a deeper faith,” he says.

“The doubter is on a quest.”

If you like engaging with questions like these, you might enjoy a visit to, a recent initiative of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada (ARC-Canada), a gathering of theologians from both churches of which Bolen is Roman Catholic co-chair. Launched last December, the website features a collection of short meditations, captured on video, by dialogue members on basic questions of faith and existence, such as, “Why is the world the way it is?” “What is my mission in life?” “Why believe?” and “Will it be okay?” Each reflection is accompanied by questions to guide further discussion. is “a kind of stepping out in faith on the part of the dialogue-it’s like, ‘Let’s see where this might go, and who this might touch,’ ” says Coadjutor Bishop Bruce Myers of the diocese of Quebec and former ARC-Canada co-secretary.

“To my knowledge, no other ecumenical dialogue in the world has tried this sort of thing.”

The idea for the project arose in 2011, at a time when both churches were intensifying their focus on explaining themselves to people who might have no church background but still be curious about religion, Myers says.

“There was this kind of convergence of things,” he says. “We were both faced with this very secular context in which both our churches [were] trying to speak the faith anew to a new generation-a sometimes skeptical generation.”

There seemed a common desire among dialogue members, he says, to depart from the usual practice of developing jointly agreed statements on matters that divide the two churches, and instead engage in a “common witness project.”

Eventually, someone proposed the idea of a series of short reflections on fundamental questions of life and belief-an idea that generated a lot of excitement within the dialogue, Bolen says.

“When we asked, ‘Why believe?’ ‘Why belong?’ ‘Why the church?’ ‘Why this church?’, suddenly we felt the energy of addressing questions that were pulsing with interest for people,” he says.

Dialogue members brainstormed which questions the project should address, and each member basically selected his or her favourite, Bolen says. They then wrote their musings on these questions, aiming for what he calls a “non-churchy,” informal style.

They soon realized, however, that the project would likely reach more people if it were multimedia, Myers says-if the reflections were also captured on video and made accessible to “digital natives,” accustomed to using smartphones, laptops and tablets. The dialogue engaged Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, a Roman Catholic charity that produces television and other content for evangelical purposes, to film and edit the reflections. Their services were offered at what Myers calls “an incredibly generous rate” and the costs were shared by the two churches.

Anglican ARC-Canada co-chair Linda Nicholls, who is also co-adjutor bishop of the diocese of Huron, says the videos could easily be used within churches, by study groups, or as a tool for evangelizing or generating discussion in the wider public.

Myers agrees. He foresees the videos being used not only by parish groups, but also possibly by chaplains on university and college campuses. He hopes that generally they “might enjoy a life outside Churchland,” with Internet surfers, for example, perhaps stumbling upon them and sharing them.

It’s a prospect that would likely also delight the other Anglican-Catholic dialogue group in Canada-the ARC bishops’ dialogue-Myers says, given how enthusiastic the bishops in that group were about the project as a way of bringing ecumenism to a wider public.

“When ARC-Canada-the theologians-went to the bishops and said, ‘This is what we’re thinking about doing. What do you think?’, the bishops were really enthusiastic and said, ‘This is exactly the kind of thing we want to see more of,’ ” Myers says.

The bishops’ view, he says, was that “it’s practical ecumenism that has an immediate application, it’s evangelistic and actually gives tangible expression to what we’re always saying, which is, ‘Anglicans and Catholics agree on a whole bunch of stuff-why aren’t we articulating that in more tangible ways more often?'”


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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