Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s address to Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference, Canterbury

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Today, at 4pm, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor spoke to Anglican bishops at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. The Cardinal reflected on his experiences of ecumenical dialogue.

Full text:

‘Dead in the Water’ or ‘Money in the Bank?’
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

I want to take advantage of this kind invitation to reflect on my experiences: of what has been going on over these last four decades while we have been in dialogue with each other, and especially in the years when I was intimately involved in the work of ARCIC. There are people on both sides who have become sceptical about this whole enterprise, but I am not one of them.

1. Some ‘biography’

First, a bit about myself. I’ve been involved with the search for unity, and with ARCIC’s work in particular, for a large part of my priestly life. I was appointed Co-Chair of ARCIC 26 years ago and presided over its work with Bishop Mark Santer until 1999. After I stepped down, I have continued to be involved: particularly as a participant in the Mississauga Meeting of Anglican and Catholic bishops which took place in Canada in 2000; and by attempting to implement some of what came from that meeting in the shape of the IARCCUM commission and the proposals in its document, Growing Together in Unity and Mission. Here in England and Wales, for example, we had the first joint meeting of Anglican and Catholic bishops a while ago.

When I look back at the time when I started my work with ARCIC it sometimes seems like a different age. They were ‘heady days’. You remember this was back in 1982:

– ARCIC had just published its Final Report, which had brought together all the Statements it had produced since it began in 1970: the statements and elucidations about Eucharistic Doctrine, Ministry and Ordination, and Authority in the Church.
– All this was very new. Engaging in this sort of dialogue was itself new, and people were genuinely amazed and delighted by what had been done over 12 short years.
– Pope John Paul II was still in the early years of his long papacy. In 1982 he had just paid a landmark pastoral visit to the Catholic community in this country. How well I remember when he visited this city and Archbishop Runcie welcomed him to Canterbury Cathedral. People witnessed that extraordinary sight of the two of them processing down the nave and praying together for unity.
– And here in this city, they had also declared publicly that there was going to be a new ARCIC commission, a second phase of dialogue of which I was to become a co-chair.

Back then, many people were expecting a quick and positive evaluation of ARCIC I’s work – after all, the initial hope had been that some concrete intermediate steps on the way towards full communion might result. We were early on in this new enterprise of ecumenical dialogue – and maybe people had not yet fully reckoned with what reception of such documents might require. Even ‘high-level’ official reception takes time, and it did. A careful process of discussion in the Provinces prepared the way for Lambeth 1988 to recognise the Eucharist and Ministry statements as ‘consonant in substance with the faith of Anglicans’ and the work on Authority as a good basis for further dialogue, especially over the concept of a universal primacy. In the Catholic Church it took even longer before the full Catholic Response came out at the end of 1991 – largely positive about Eucharist and Ministry, and also acknowledging ‘remarkable’ progress on ‘authority’.

One thing we have gradually come to realise is that the reception of any dialogue document involves far more than just its publication or even an official response. It takes time and discussion at every level of the life of the Church, as the path taken by your own 1997 Virginia Report and its proposals shows. And some or all of the contents can prove not to be accepted or received. I know some of our Christian partner communions have had anxieties when the Catholic Church has closely analysed or even questioned some of what has been proposed in dialogue statements. But that has to be an integral part of the process of receiving what a dialogue commission may propose.

2. The Changing Atmosphere during the time of ARCIC II

While this was going on, ARCIC began its second phase – but the atmosphere was changing. What do I mean by that?

In several respects, when we look back now we can easily see how much in those years was positive: Pope John Paul produced his Encyclical Letter on Commitment to Ecumenism in 1995, for example, the first time such authoritative teaching on ecumenism was given by the Pope. As I hope you know, it is full of a zeal for unity, and rich perspectives flowing from the Second Vatican Council that people are still unpacking a dozen years later; and it contains his remarkable appeal for others to enter into dialogue about how his Petrine ministry may ‘accomplish a service of love recognised by all’ (UUS, 95). Two years before that he had issued the Catholic Church’s Ecumenical Directory, a handbook full of the key principles and guidelines to help every member of the Church engage in the search for unity – and I believe we remain the only Church to have produced such a thorough and positive handbook. And what we had applauded here in Canterbury back in May 1982 revealed what would be one of the main priorities in the Pope’s many visits across the world: while he was healthy, and even after he became ill, Pope John Paul met, got to know, and prayed with other Church leaders. Meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury – seemingly so daring and even controversial back at the outset – have as a result become fraternal and frequent. No longer are they limited to the solemn ‘set piece’ meetings such as that of Archbishop Coggan in 1987, but have become more informal and increasingly normal.

But the atmosphere had also begun to change, as I said – we gradually became aware that the path to unity might be longer than we had imagined at first, and that some shadows were spreading over our relationship.

– It became increasingly clear that the ordination of women priests and bishops in a growing number of provinces has presented what is for the Catholic Church a major stumbling block to the hoped-for reconciliation of ministries. If our Church does not believe that it can ordain women, in what way is the issue of Anglican ordinations to be overcome? Or to put the matter another way, and this is not meant to be polemical, if Anglicans themselves disagree over this development, and find yourselves unable fully to recognise each other’s ministry, how could we?
– It doesn’t need me to enlarge upon the divisiveness of some issues of morality. If anybody ever thought that such questions concerned only the individual conscience and had little ecclesial (let alone ecumenical) consequence, events have shown otherwise.

3. The Underlying Issue in ARCIC II

But I think something else is now emerging which has been hidden in these shadows, something even more fundamental, which is the question of ecclesiology. How do we understand the Church? Where is the Church to be found? Is it a loose federation with a common history and family kinship? Is it a more closely-knit body with developed structures of authority? Moreover, with what instruments does the Spirit enable the Churches to reach binding decisions where necessary? – decisions which can provide clear and focussed guidance about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and about the moral decisions church members face as they try to follow the Gospel.

These, and questions like them, have emerged in most of our ecumenical dialogues and they have become increasingly pressing within the ecclesial lives of our dialogue partners as well.

What I hope you have noticed is that such matters have been central to all of ARCIC’s work:

– The specially written Introduction to The Final Report (no.6) already pointed this out: ‘The theme of koinonia runs through our Statements, In them we present the eucharist as the effectual sign of koinonia, episcope as serving the koinonia, and primacy as a visible link and focus of koinonia.’
– Those who regarded the Statements of the second phase as rather a ‘ragbag’ failed to notice that what was emerging through them was a deepening doctrine of the Church as koinonia. All through the specific themes, the ecclesiology of communion runs like an undercurrent: it’s there in ‘Salvation and the Church’, in ‘Church as Communion’, in ‘Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church’, in ‘The Gift of Authority’ of course and, yes, even in the latter paragraphs of ‘Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ’. ARCIC may have been ahead of the field in seeing just how crucial this is.

It is precisely this issue of ecclesiology which has come to dominate so much discussion within Anglicanism of late. At the heart of The Virginia Report, the Covenant process, and in many discussions at this Conference (and indeed at the recent gathering in Jerusalem) is the question of bonds of communion. What are they? How necessary are they? Do they have sufficient strength to be able not only to hold people together but, even more vitally, to deepen communion?

It is this same issue which has impacted on our relationship as well, because our ecumenical journey has in the end to be a journey towards full communion. If we are to make progress through dialogue we must be able to reach a solemn and binding agreement with our dialogue partners. And we want to see a deepening not a lessening of communion in their own ecclesial life.

4. ARCIC II Revisited?

ARCIC II’s work has certainly not yet had anything like the same impact as the work of ARCIC I – maybe some disillusion has set in, and certainly the Statements have not been as widely read. But I believe there is great worth in them – and I believe they will yet prove to have been very timely. ARCIC has been addressing the key issue – communion, koinonia. It’s my hope that people will revisit Church as Communion, for example, and also not be too quick to dismiss the concerns approached in The Gift of Authority and Life in Christ.

Is what was offered in Church as Communion really as obvious as some thought when the Statement appeared? Was the Commission just calmly discussing, and hopefully deepening, an issue that was ultimately uncontroversial for Anglicans and Catholics? Surely its subject matter touches not only on what we need to resolve together but also on those very issues that Anglicans are now grappling with as a communion. I am not going to go through the document in detail. But take a look again at what it says is needed in paragraph 40, for example: ‘Just as the church has to distinguish between tolerable and intolerable diversity in the expression of the apostolic faith, so in the area of life and practice the church has to discover what is disruptive of its own communion’ – those are words agreed by theologians officially commissioned to represent our two churches.

Or later on in no.43 the Statement says: ‘For all the local churches to be together in communion, the one visible communion which God wills, it is required that all the constitutive elements of ecclesial communion are present and mutually recognized in each of them. Thus the visible communion between these churches is complete and their ministers are in communion with each other.’

Then paragraph 45 gives a profound definition, part of which I shall read: ‘it is now possible to describe what constitutes ecclesial communion. It is rooted in the confession of the one apostolic faith, revealed in the Scriptures, and set forth in the Creeds. It is founded upon one baptism. The one celebration of the eucharist is its pre-eminent expression and focus. It necessarily finds expression in shared commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his Church. It is a life of shared concern for one another in mutual forbearance, submission, gentleness and love; in the placing of the interests of others above the interests of self; in making room for each other in the body of Christ; in solidarity with the poor and the powerless; and in the sharing of gifts both material and spiritual (cf. Acts 2:44). Also constitutive of life in communion is acceptance of the same basic moral values….
For the nurture and growth of this communion, Christ the Lord has provided a ministry of oversight, the fullness of which is entrusted to the episcopate, which has the responsibility of maintaining and expressing the unity of the churches.’

Much in The Gift of Authority too is about communion, including this: ‘The mutual interdependence of all the churches is integral to the reality of the Church as God wills it to be. No local church that participates in the living Tradition can regard itself as self-sufficient’ (no.37). Those words arising out of dialogue are meant to be expressive of the inner life of our churches even before they can be a blueprint for restored full communion between us. So I really do hope that people will return to reflect more closely on all that ARCIC has tried to say during the long years of its second phase.

5. Has it been worth it?

It is forty years since The Malta Report set Anglicans and Catholics on the way towards unity. Throughout these years, the Catholic Church has always sought dialogue with the Anglican Communion as a whole, with all the challenge that your treasured diversity can sometimes bring to the table. So our Church takes no pleasure at all to see the current strains in your communion – we have committed ourselves to a journey towards unity, so new tensions only slow the progress. But they do seem to concern matters that are very important. These discussions are about the degree of unity in faith necessary for Christians to be in communion, not least so that they may be able to offer the Gospel confidently to the world. Our future dialogue will not be easy until such fundamental matters are resolved, with greater clarity.

People sometimes ask me: ‘Has it been worth it?’ ‘You’ve given a great deal of your life to this work and yet where are the results? Are we any closer yet to being united?’ My answer is ‘Yes, it has.’ I have said many times that I believe the path to unity is like a road with no exit for those who genuinely seek unity and are also seeking the conversion it requires. That’s because I know it is Christ’s will that we be one, and however long it takes that has to be our goal. Pope Benedict again and again comes back to this as at the heart of what he is working for.

Moreover, I am sure that the dialogue Statements of ARCIC, whether or not they are accepted in their entirety, do signal real convergence. We now have the substantial consensus between us on Eucharist and about Ministry, indicated by ARCIC’s work. To the extent that we have achieved genuine convergence in these and other matters, to that extent we are also drawing nearer to the truth together. If truth really is expressed in these agreements they must sooner or later bear fruit. They are ‘money in the bank’, whose value will one day be clearly seen. We can already notice one result of this – in the changed relationships of these years, and the ways Anglicans and Catholics can sometimes work together with greater confidence in the faith we share.

So I am not gloomy. Dialogue will continue in some form. Even if we sometimes find it hard to discern just how to go forward we cannot give up on seeking the unity Christ wills. As The Gift of Authority puts it so well, ‘Only when all believers are united in the common celebration of the Eucharist will the God whose purpose it is to bring all things into unity in Christ be truly glorified by the people of God’ (paragraph 33).