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Ethical teaching under discussion by Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission

07 June 2024


The two co-chairs of ARCIC III, the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley (front row, second from left), next to the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, with delegates at the meeting

The two co-chairs of ARCIC III, the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley (front row, second from left), next to the Archbishop o...

CASE studies concerning the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches’ responses to slavery and contraception formed the basis of the latest meeting, in Strasbourg, of the third Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).

ARCIC reflected on the two issues to learn more about how the Churches change their respective positions on ethical teaching. The Churches have broadly the same teaching on enslavement, but not on contraception.

Members reflected on what each tradition could learn from the other to inform future ethical decision-making.

The Rt Revd Christopher Hill, a former Bishop of Guildford, is currently a consultant to ARCIC. He said that the discussion was highly relevant during continuing debates about stances on human sexuality.

“The mandate of the current ARCIC is decision-making and moral (ethical) discernment. This is obviously a highly controversial issue for both sides, with deep divisions on human sexuality found among all the Christian Churches. ARCIC’s subject is not antiquarian or obscure,” he said.

“Two case studies are being used: one where there is current agreement, and the other where there is formal disagreement. On enslavement, there is absolute agreement that it is evil, including modern forms of enslavement. But, notoriously, both traditions over time have changed their earlier positions, previously tolerating ancient and colonial enslavement. Our Churches have changed their mind.

“On contraception, the Anglican Communion clearly changed its mind between the 1920, 1930, and 1958 Lambeth Conferences. There was Catholic reaction against the 1930 Lambeth Conference, though also some development. In 1968, Pope Paul VI generally condemned contraception, but Catholic lay people have in effect not received this teaching. We have formal disagreement, but, in fact, a largely common pastoral practice on the ground.

“Next year, we shall be trying to articulate what we can learn mutually from these different cases, with relevance to current divisive issues. Put simply: should and how does the Church change its mind?”

The third phase of ARCIC was commissioned in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to look at the Church, local and universal, and how it came to discern ethical teaching.

From 2011 to 2017, ARCIC members considered the first part of the problem posed by Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams, and published an Agreed Statement: Walking Together on the Way: Learning to be the Church — local, regional, universal.

ARCIC is working towards producing an Agreed Statement on discerning ethical teaching next year, which would set out how difference over issues is handled within Churches and between them.

Bishop Hill said that the statement “will set out potential learnings, and ways to arrive at a better debate within and between our Churches”.

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