Cardinal ‘cautious’ in remarks

Published September 1, 1998

A top official of the Roman Catholic church has offered a positive but cautionary assessment of the relationship between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, say ecumenical consultants at Lambeth.

The homily at an evening ecumenical vespers service by Edward Cardinal Cassidy, president of the pontifical council for promoting Christian unity at the Vatican, reasserted that the two churches “share a real, but imperfect communion,” said Dean William Franklin of the Berkley Divinity School at Yale University in the U.S.

“He categorically reaffirmed the commitment of the Roman Catholic Church to the full visible unity of all the baptized, which means establishment of full communion,” including reconciliation of ministries and sacraments, Mr. Franklin said. Cardinal Cassidy’s statement that Anglicans and Roman Catholics are “increasingly bound up with each other,” also is a “technical but important description,” he said. And even though Cardinal Cassidy offered clear warnings that some developments in the Anglican Communion could impair that relationship, his comments reflected “a level of communion where we need to be realistic with one another.”

The homily also expresses “the level of concern that he has for the well-being of our church,” said Rev. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of Faith, Worship and Ministry for the Anglican Church of Canada. Like Mr. Franklin, Ms. Barnett-Cowan was an adviser to the Section 4 group of bishops.

She said, however, Cardinal Cassidy’s words were “more cautious than enthusiastic.” In particular he raised fundamental questions about the role of authority as a force of unity for the two churches, questions “the Anglican Communion wrestles with all the time,” she said.

While Cardinal Cassidy was not explicit in his references to the need for a universal authority as an instrument of unity, he seemed to be “offering the papacy as that authority,” Mr. Franklin said. “Will Anglicans wish to find universal communion in a primatial authority? It’s not a foregone conclusion.” Rather, “our bishops may come up with other forms of universal authority which are not focused on one person of a single office.”

Cardinal Cassidy also warned that “our internal disunity leads to an increasing disunity with the Roman Catholic Church,” Mr. Franklin noted. “He suggests a general weakening in the internal coherence of the Anglican Communion.”

Said Ms. Barnett-Cowan, “When Cardinal Cassidy refers to new interpretations of the Gospel creating new problems, he seems to imply something, but he doesn’t name it, so it’s difficult to know just what he means.” The Cardinal’s homily didn’t name any other topics being considered by the conference, other than human sexuality, noted Ms. Barnett-Cowan. Anglicans might respond that they are considering any particular issues in a “faithful response to the call of the Spirit,” she said, and also might point out “how Anglicans go about discussing things is different from the way that Roman Catholics may go about discussing things.

Mr. Franklin said the homily offered a “useful context” for the discussion of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations by the Section 4 sub-group chaired by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the U.S. “What the cardinal has done is to let us know what their understanding is of what our relationship should be for the next decade – which is real but imperfect communion, with cautions about ways that communion can be improved but also weakened,” Bishop Griswold said.


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