Union with Rome not imminent

Published April 1, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI is presented with a gift by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, at a meeting in November 2006.

An “organic unity” between Anglican and Roman Catholic churches is not likely to happen in the near future, according to the co-chairs of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). But a recent commission report gave tangible suggestions for bringing the two churches closer.

Media reports of reunification were “sadly, much exaggerated,” they said. The Archbishop of Canterbury said the story, published by a newspaper in England and based on an ecumenical report entitled Growing Together in Unity and Mission by 20 bishops, clergy, and lay advisers from both churches, was “remarkably garbled.”

The report, which was distributed to primates of the Anglican Communion during their recent meeting in Dar es Salaam, only contained suggestions of what could be done “in pastoral practice,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Anglican co-chair of IARCCUM, Bishop David Beetge of South Africa, said unity was a long-term vision of the two churches, which split 500 years ago. “Of course we pray for it … but I can’t see it happening given the best intentions in all of our churches at the moment and the difficulties that we face in being a universal church,” he said. “I would be surprised if I saw anything in my lifetime.”

The Roman Catholic co-chair, Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane, said that major differences remain between the churches, especially around communion, the ordination of women and the recognition of the Pope as the possible central figure of authority for a unified church.

“There would be some Anglicans who would be very happy about having a universal primate as the leader of the Christian church,” said Archbishop Bathersby. “I think there would be an equal number who perhaps would be somewhat suspicious of that and perhaps wouldn’t even want it at any price.”

In the report’s introduction, the co-chairs wrote, “Despite our present ‘imperfect communion,’ there is, we feel, enough common ground to take seriously how we work together.”

The report commended Anglicans for praying for the Pope and urged Roman Catholics to begin praying publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury. It also suggested that Anglicans and Roman Catholics share in study, pilgrimages, charities, and attend each other’s eucharists for spiritual communion. They could also show unity by getting together at Pentecost to recite the creed and sending lay and clergy observers to each other’s synods.


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