Chasing false unity with a faltering sect
This past November, Archbishop Alexander Brunett of Seattle participated in a new "Anglican-Roman Catholic Working Group" of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).
The working group, composed of seven Roman Catholic bishops and seven Anglican bishops, had recently met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey-- who co-chairs the group together with Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.1
"We cannot but praise the God of all mercies for the many genuine advances of ecumenism." 2
"When discouragement threatens or new difficulties arise, we need to focus once more upon the Spirit's power to do what seems to us impossible. At times of apparent pause we must wait for the Holy Spirit to do what we ourselves cannot do." 3 (emphasis mine here and throughout)
"Absolutely null and utterly void"
In 1896, Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Apostolicae Curae to address a growing trend among Catholics in England. Inspired by a primitive version of ecumenism, some Catholic scholars were taking up the position that the Anglican rite of Orders introduced by Edward VI maintained some degree of validity. This would put Anglican "priests" on a similar level as those in the Eastern churches: valid, but lacking communion with Rome. Leo XIII commissioned a study of the very issue and intended the result to put the discussion permanently to rest:
"For some time ... a controversy has sprung up as to whether the Sacred Orders conferred according to the Edwardine Ordinal possessed the nature and effect of a Sacrament. ... through the extreme care taken in the new examination, all doubt, or even shadow of doubt, should be removed for the future." 4
"Wherefore, strictly adhering, in this matter, to the decrees of the pontiffs, our predecessors, and confirming them most fully, and, as it were, renewing them by our authority, of our own initiative and certain knowledge, we pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void." 5
If the Anglican male ordinations are "absolutely null and utterly void," their female ordinations amount to little more than a bad joke.
"On 11 November 1992 the General Synod of the Church of England took the fateful step of giving final approval for legislation to allow the ordination of women thus ruling out irrevocably any possibility of organic reunion with the Catholic Church." 6
"Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." 7
"In 1993 information came to light that many Anglican pastors were moving towards conversion to the Catholic Church. However, contrary to what one might expect, representatives of the Catholic Church in England discouraged such a move. Cardinal Basil Hume stated 'There is no doubt that we should not interrupt our ecumenical dialogue and amiable relations with the Church of England.'
"In 1996, the book, The Roman Option, by an ex-Anglican priest William Oddie was published. According to the author, several progressivist Catholic English Bishops placed obstacles to the conversion of seven bishops and 700 priests and deacons who had announced publicly their decision to leave the Anglican sect and convert to Catholicism. This was to avoid 'an invasion of intolerance'." 8
As with all Protestant sects, Anglicans suffer from their rejection of the Church's moral authority. Even Queen Elizabeth II's biographer was forced to admit as much when he explained her invitation of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O´Connor to preach at her residence:
"The majority of Englishmen still look, naturally, to the Church of England as a moral guide at key moments of life, such as marriage, children's education and national mourning. Yet, when questions arise on issues of bioethics, the BBC interviews the Catholic primate rather than the Anglican leaders, because on these issues, in the moral area, the Catholic Church has a more defined line." 9
This sort of decentralization of authority has led to "truth" defined by popular opinion rather than revealed by God. Without Christ's Church to protect it, truth can be clouded and confused with error. Without a proper foundation, beliefs can give way to popular agendas and societal pressures case in point: the feminist pressure to "ordain" women.
Those Catholic bishops pushing for a modern egalitarian-style form of "collegiality" are walking down the same perilous path. It's disturbing that even though Archbishop Weakland's little tirade about his "obligation to insist on the rights and duties of the local bishop in the Catholic Church" was more Protestant than Catholic, he received nothing but support from his fellow bishops.
ARCIC's troubled past
ARCIC was formed on March 24, 1966 by Pope Paul VI and the Anglican "Archbishop" of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey. Its goal was to enter into a series of discussions to examine those differences which separate Catholicism and Anglicanism and see if any sort of consensus could be reached. The result was a series of documents on such topics as the Eucharist (9/7/71), Christian ministry (12/13/73) and authority (1/20/77, 9/3/81). The documents were summarized into what became known as The Final Report.
Pope Paul VI and former "Archbishop" of Canterbury Dr. Michael Ramsey
These documents touched on the major differences but did not reach any true agreements or clear conclusions. In classic liberal fashion, the "agreements" were simply compilations of ambiguous statements that could be interpreted in different ways. This was demonstrated in the supporting arguments made by Catholic and Anglican apologists which claimed contradictory results. On the Eucharist document, for example, Catholic scholars claimed the text to support the sacrificial and propitiatory nature of the Mass, while Anglicans claimed it rejected such ideas. This ambiguity was the main basis for the criticisms lodged by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF):
"Certain formulations in the Report are not sufficiently explicit and hence can lead to a twofold interpretation, in which both parties can find unchanged the expression of their own position. This possibility of contrasting and ultimately incompatible readings of formulations which are apparently satisfactory to both sides gives rise to a question about the real consensus of the two Communions, pastors and faithful alike." 10
The Vatican's official response to The Final Report was similar to the CDF analysis. The Report was deemed unacceptably ambiguous and erroneous on many issues. Among the deficiencies:
"...[that it did not reach agreement] on the question of authority in the Church, particularly with respect to papal infallibility, that no real consensus was recorded on the Marian dogmas, and that it claims incorrectly that the 'assent of the faithful' is necessary to validate and magisterial decision. ... the Report's attribution to Peter among the twelve of 'a position of special importance' does not express the fullness of Catholic teaching on the papacy. ... the failure of the report to accept that the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present in the Mass ... the statement that there are those who 'find any kind of adoration of Christ in the reserved sacrament unacceptable' creates concern from the Roman Catholic point of view ... concepts of the Apostolic Succession and the Interpretation of Scripture are incompatible with those of the Church." 11
Ecumenism vs. reality
The ARCIC shenanigans highlight the key problem of modern ecumenical efforts which seek a superficial sense of "unity" without the conversion of heretics or the recognition of their errors. They seek the reconciliation of schismatics with Rome without their acknowledgement of the authority of the Supreme Pontiff.
This sort of vague meandering has plagued ARCIC right from the start:
"For twenty years, well-intentioned ecumenists, Catholic and Anglican, have attempted in the names of their churches to find a sound intellectual basis for reconciliation on the important matters that divide them.
"From the outset both sides have been engaged in a fundamentally futile exercise, that of creating a seeming reconciliation of two irreconcilable theologies. In the course of their discussions, well-meaning Anglicans have had their hopes raised by Catholic spokesmen who spoke only for themselves.
"It has never been entirely clear what the two sides hoped to achieve. The Anglican side was being asked to consider a form of unity that was incompatible with the central tenets of their foundation that the Mass is an idolatrous act and that the Pope has no jurisdiction in this land. The Catholic side was being asked to consider a form of unity that implied the theology of the reformed church contains truths that have eluded the Catholic church for two millennia.
"The basic flaw in ARCIC has been obvious from the outset. Neither side saw it as a means by which the Church of England would be brought back from both heresy and schism. They saw it as a means by which, by redefining terms, a united church could be created in which both of its constituent parts had undergone change. But true unity cannot be achieved by trading a doctrine here for a dogma there, and still less by redefining concepts in order to obscure fundamental difference." 12
The "genuine advances" praised by those interested in advancing the ecumenical movement amount to little more than ambiguous documents which can be interpreted as either reinforcing, downplaying or repudiating Catholic doctrine; "agreements" which outline items already agreed upon in an effort to emphasize similarities. But does an emphasis of similarities make the differences go away? Does it open the door for the "Spirit" to do the impossible: create union between truth an error, Catholicism and Protestantism? Can a heretic who believes the Catholic Mass to be an idolatrous abomination achieve any meaningful unity with a Catholic who believes it to be the Holy Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ?
The actual goals of ecumenism have never been made clear and may not be completely known on any side. Those involved in the efforts do not seem to want conversions but find it hard to define what they do want. "Unity" is too vague and confusing to be a meaningful goal, but that does not stop strange groups like ARCIC from working together on undefined tasks and ambiguous documents. Perhaps such cooperation, if allowed to continue for awhile, will acclimate people to the idea of Catholics and Protestants working together and make it easier to sell some false degree of unity?
Finally, it must always be asked whether ecumenism is hurting Catholics more than it is "helping" non-Catholics? If the issue of conversion keeps being disregarded or watered down while heresy and schism are relegated to "points of disagreement," the answer has to be an emphatic "YES". While the ARCIC efforts have come to somewhat of a dead end whose only hope for relief seems to be the "Spirit" achieving what is admittedly "impossible," the dialogue continues. Such actions implicitly endorse the false hope of "unity without conversion" which is witnessed by potential converts and Catholics alike. It is the wrong message and those spreading it should reevaluate the actual and potential success of their work.
On the other hand, we know for a fact that conversion is possible; wouldn't that be a more reasonable goal?
Peter W. Miller
1 CWNews, "Pope Meets with Anglican-Catholic Working Group" (11/26/2001)
2 Vatican Information Service, "Pope Welcomes Anglican-Roman Catholic Working Group" (11/24/2001)
4 Pope Leo XIII, "Apostolicae Curae" (9/18/1896)
6 M. Davies, "The Order of Melchisedech", Roman Catholic Books (1993) [MEC]
7 Pope John Paul II, "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" (5/22/1994)
8 A. Guimaraes, M. Horvat, "Previews of the New Papacy", p204, Tradition in Action (2001)
9 ZENIT, "Why Queen Elizabeth II Gave Cardinal an Invitation" (12/13/2001)
12 Lord Brian Gill, "Only in the Mass Can There Be True Reconciliation", The Latin Mass (Fall, 2001)