In a nine-page contribution submitted to the Anglican Church of Canada’s commission on the marriage canon earlier today, the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada (ARC) warns that changing Canon 21 to allow for same-sex marriages would “weaken the very basis of our existing communion, and weaken the foundations upon which we have sought to build towards fuller ecclesial communion.”
The contribution, produced at the request of the Anglican church, acknowledges that while great changes have taken place in the broader cultural understanding of marriage in North America in recent years, “Roman Catholics are left to wonder what has changed, such that our previous common understanding of marriage is left in doubt.”
The commission on the marriage canon, established by Council of General Synod in the fall of 2013, was created in response to a resolution approved at General Synod earlier that year to bring a motion concerning same-sex marriage to its next meeting in 2016. The commission’s mandate is to carry out a “broad consultation” within the church in preparation for the motion, and part of this consultation has involved seeking opinions from ecumenical partners such as the Roman Catholic Church.
The ARC submission, created collaboratively by both Anglican and Catholic members of the dialogue, begins by providing an outline of the traditional agreement that has existed between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches on the meaning and purpose of marriage. It then sets out a series of concerns about ways changes to the canon would impact moral teaching and ecclesiological considerations, as well touching on the ecumenical implications.
The document states unambiguously that “there is no such thing as an entirely unilateral decision or action,” and that a change to the canon would have a serious and damaging effect on the ecumenical relationship Anglicans and Catholics have been building in Canada since Vatican II .
“Not only would it signify a new obstacle on the road to full and visible unity between us,” the document states, “it would also put at risk the fuller reception of the consensus and convergence that has been achieved through the years, raising questions about the level of awareness and authority that past agreements carry, and abrading the ecclesial trust between us.”
It notes that one immediate consequence of a change to the canon would be “a necessary revisiting” of the Pastoral Guidelines for Interchurch Marriage Between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in Canada, a document produced in 1987 based on “what was then our common understanding of marriage.”
Among the more technical issues the document raises is the way the decision is being made, with the authors suggesting that “a cogent rationale” has not been provided to explain why a doctrinal change is appropriate, and that the “relatively rapid pace” of this decision is “worrisome.”
The document also expresses concern over the disruption such changes would make within the Anglican Communion.
As for Anglican-Catholic relations, it acknowledges that “Our two churches have experienced similar challenges in our relationship in the past,” over such issues as the ordination of women and the remarriage of divorced people, and that “Despite these differences, we have remained in dialogue.” It closes by expressing a desire for continued dialogue regardless of the outcome on Canon 21.
The ARC contribution, first requested in June 2014, was drafted in Ottawa in May 2015, after which it was reviewed the Ottawa-based Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops before being made public.