“FULL visible unity” remains the goal for the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, despite a longer timescale than was “over-optimistically” estimated in the 1960s, an Anglican bishop said this week.
The Bishop, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, a former Bishop of Guildford, has been a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) since 1974.
He was speaking after the sixth meeting of phase three of ARCIC, which took place in Toronto this month, hosted by the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada (ARC-Canada). ARCIC III is charged with examining how moral discernment in the two Churches is related to their ecclesiology: how decisions made on such issues as same-sex marriage relate to their church structure. A draft text on structures had been prepared, Bishop Hill said, and could be published in the next year or two.
Some work on the second part of ARCIC III’s mandate — how structures relate to ethical questions — had been done, he said. The Commission had looked at the issues dividing Churches, but also at those where there was a significant degree of agreement, such as the end of life; and at historical examples where Churches had “changed their mind”, including slavery. This second strand of work would take years to complete, he said, “but we are doing it carefully”.
In the early days of ARCIC, formed in the 1960s, “We were a bit romantic in terms of timescales, and over-optimistic. Certainly the horizon for full visible unity is further away, but that was probably a long way away even 50 years ago.” While the ordination of women had been seen as a serious obstacle by the Roman Catholic side, the goal, restated by successive popes, had “not gone away. The timescale for the journey is longer, but we are committed to it.”
ARCIC III has yet to publish a significant document. ARCIC II ran for 28 years and published several, including Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ in 2005. Bishop Hill said that a book, published in the autumn, would include these papers and the responses to them. It was “ARCIC III housekeeping for ARCIC II”.
The co-chairmen of ARCIC III, Archbishop David Moxon and the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd Bernard Longley, have praised the method of “receptive ecumenism” being used. This meant each partner’s having to say to the other: “You tell me your worst nightmare in mission, and I’ll tell you mine. In other words, show me your wounds,” Archbishop Moxon said last week. It led to “a mutual courage, a mutual partnership to assist each other in overcoming, and healing, and redeeming together”.
Bishop Hill confirmed that each day’s work in Toronto had concluded with a drink together in the bar: “Friendship is a necessary and proper part of ecumenism.”