Anglican-Roman Catholic Relations and the 2008 Lambeth Conference

Author: Mons. Donald Bolen

Anglican-Roman Catholic Relations and the 2008 Lambeth Conference

Mons. Donald Bolen
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Catholic friendship serves Anglican journey

In his opening and closing presidential addresses to the Anglican bishops gathered for the Lambeth Conference (20 July – 3 August), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, asked or hinted at a series of questions: What sort of outcome can be hoped for from this Conference? What sort of internal unity are Anglicans seeking, and what are its theological foundations? What will be the Lambeth Conference message and how (and on who's behalf) will that message be sent?

The 2008 Lambeth Conference differed from previous Conferences in its genre of meeting. ecumenical openness. and in its outcome. In seeking to assess the Conference's results and ecumenical implications this article will reflect on the consequent ecclesiological questions. and the process orchestrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to best address them; it will examine the role of the Catholic representatives who attended the Conference; and finally summarize the achievements and the challenges which lie ahead for the Anglican Communion. with a view to its impact on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations.

Situating the Lambeth Conference

The great Anglican historian Henry Chadwick, writing on the early church, once noted that it "was the misfortune of the fourth-century church that it became engrossed in a theological controversy at the same time as it was working out its institutional organization". The same has been said of the Anglican Communion in recent years.

As is well documented, deep-seated tensions have arisen between and within Anglican Provinces concerning human sexuality, especially concerning rites of blessing for same-sex couples and the ordination to priesthood or episcopate of persons in same-sex unions, which have resulted in a situation where bishops are out of communion with each other and in some instances Anglican Provinces are out of communion with each other. These conflicts have been difficult to resolve, not only because of serious disagreements concerning sexual morality, but also because of underlying questions pertaining to the role of Anglican instruments for maintaining unity, and to the nature of communion among its Provinces.

It is helpful to hear how Anglicans themselves speak of these underlying ecclesiological concerns. The 2004 Windsor Report, which remains the principal document mapping a way forward amidst current tensions, spoke of authoritative structures within Anglicanism as complex and still evolving. It pointed not only to strengths but also to an "inherent weakness" in those structures, which has been illustrated by the current issues confronting the Communion (Windsor Report, n. 97; cf. n. 42). The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu has spoken in this regard of "an ecclesiological deficit that needs urgently to be addressed".

In a 2003 address in Rome. Anglican ecumenist Dr. Mary Tanner spoke of the Anglican Communion as "a Communion in via, struggling to understand how decisions are to be made, how communion is to be maintained when questions of truth and unity are posed and how to develop structures of belonging".

In sum, the Anglican Communion is engaged in a process of discerning what kind of a Communion it is called to be; and this discernment is being carried out in a transparent manner. In his opening presidential address at the Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Williams stated: "we all know that we stand in the middle of one of the most severe challenges to have faced the Anglican family in its history". He then pointed to the ecclesiological dimension of these challenges. and of the way forward: "we need renewal, and this is the moment for it. If you will. you can all help shape fresh, more honest and more constructive ways of being a Conference — and being a Communion".

Lambeth Conference: a New Genre

The Lambeth Conference itself, one of the four 'instruments of communion' within Anglicanism, has no legislative authority independent of the Provinces. Past Lambeth Conferences have produced large numbers of resolutions. which were the most tangible results of the gatherings: but these resolutions had a binding authoritative character only insofar as they were endorsed within the self-governing Provinces. Indeed, the much discussed 1998 Resolution 1.10 which offered a restatement of traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality while calling for a listening process attentive to the concerns of homosexual persons, was not universally endorsed at a provincial level.

Prior to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Williams also had to take account of the fact that approximately 1/4 of Anglican bishops worldwide made known that they were choosing not to attend because of the presence of those bishops who had disregarded Resolution 1.10. In seeking to structure this year's Conference in such a way that it could fruitfully address the current crisis. including an increasing polarization within the Communion, and to assist the Communion to move towards more solid ecclesiological foundations, Archbishop Williams and the Conference's organizers significantly revised the traditional shape of the meeting.

Firstly, while there has always been a spiritual dimension to past Conferences, this meeting began with a three-day retreat and each day of the Conference included morning, evening and night prayer and Anglican eucharist and a 75-minute Bible study.

Secondly, the Conference deliberately sought to rebuild bonds of trust between Anglican bishops, and it did so most explicitly by drawing on the "indaba process'', an African means of building consensus whereby bishops and ecumenical participants spent part of every day in groups of 40, and addressed key issues in the Anglican Communion's life and mission.

Thirdly, the Conference results were not formulated in a set of resolutions. Instead, the key texts to emerge from the Conference were the presidential addresses and a document entitled 'Lambeth Indaba Reflections', summarizing the various threads of the Conference's discussion.

One further change from previous Lambeth Conferences concerned the role played by ecumenical representatives. While the previous Lambeth Conferences have invited observers, at the 2008 Conference the 75 ecumenical representatives were told that they were to be active participants in the Conference. Because the process did not involve voting, there was no aspect of the Conference where ecumenical delegates needed to withdraw; rather, they were invited to bring the wisdom of their respective traditions and the fruits of their dialogue into the Anglican Communion's discernment process.

Catholic participation at Lambeth

The Catholic Church was asked to send six episcopal representatives and two consultants to the Conference. The delegation was led by Cardinal Walter Kasper. President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and also included Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster. In addition to the official delegation, the Archbishop of Canterbury had also invited Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, to address the Conference. Other Catholics were among the personal guests of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the end, 15 Catholics were present in at least part of the Conference.

Besides taking part in other aspects of the Conference, the various addresses given by Catholic representatives can be grouped into three categories. Firstly, there were addresses touching upon a particular aspect of the Church's mission and witness. In this context Cardinal Dias was invited to deliver a keynote address on the subject of evangelization and mission. He stressed the importance of engaging in common witness and mission wherever appropriate and possible, and of the importance of allowing the Scriptures and our apostolic Traditions and teaching to shape our ethical discernment in the present context. Maronite Archbishop Paul Sayah of Haifa and the Holy Land was also asked to take part in a seminar on the current situation of Christians in the Middle East.

A second category specifically addressed relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. Most of the Catholic presentations were given in the context of afternoon seminars, where bishops chose from among a range of themes being addressed, and two such seminars focused on the results of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, who co-chaired the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue commission (ARCIC) from 1982-99, presented an overview of its work. While identifying obstacles which have complicated relations in recent years, he strongly affirmed that the dialogue was worthwhile, and that the dialogue reports have a great deal to contribute in the present context as Anglicans grapple with difficult questions concerning the nature and shape of the Anglican Communion.

Four members of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) were also among the Catholic delegation, and each was invited to offer reflections on the IARCCUM text of 2007, Growing Together in Unity and Mission, and to speak of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations in their particular regions.

Finally, and most importantly, there was an invitation for Catholic leaders to address the current situation in the Anglican Communion from the perspective of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Kasper delivered an intervention offering a concise analysis of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations at present, which L'Osservatore Romano's daily edition translated into Italian and published in its entirety (31 July, pp. 4-5), and excerpts of which the L'Osservatore Romano English Edition (6 August, pp. 6-7) also published.

After offering an overview of the significant achievements of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations over the past 40 years, Cardinal Kasper turned to the ecclesiological dimension of current difficulties within the Anglican Communion, and to the ecumenical' repercussions of these internal tensions. After setting forth an understanding of the episcopal office as an office of unity, drawing on patristic sources and on the results of ARCIC's dialogue reports, Cardinal Kasper lamented the disunity reflected in various ways in the Anglican Communion at present. He then identified difficult ecumenical questions born from the present situation which would arise should further fragmentation within Anglicanism occur. He echoed the hope and prayer expressed by Pope Benedict XVI, both in his public comments and in the context of a letter sent to the Lambeth Conference from Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone, that there be no further fragmentation, and "that the Anglican Communion, in the communion of the Gospel of Christ and the Word of the Lord, finds responses to the current challenges".

Cardinal Kasper also addressed the fact that an increasing number of Anglican Provinces have proceeded to ordain women to the priesthood and to the episcopate which has blocked the Catholic Church's possibility to recognize the validity of Anglican Orders. He noted that this would inevitably have an effect on the goal of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue.

Concerning current controversies in the field of morals and sexual ethics, he expressed his hope that the Anglican Communion would be able to offer a clear restatement of the traditional Christian teaching concerning marriage and sexuality. Cardinal Kasper concluded by observing that at key moments of the past, the Church of England, and subsequently the Anglican Communion, has been revitalized when it has been able to make fresh recourse to the Apostolic Tradition. A new Oxford Movement, "a retrieval of riches which lay within your own household", could provide the Anglican Communion with the resources to find a way forward amidst current difficulties.

The forthright addressing of challenges in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, both in Cardinal Kasper's intervention and in that of Bishop Brian Farrell, L.C., Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in a separate seminar on ecclesiological issues, may sound abrupt to hearers less acquainted with the rigours of ecumenical dialogue.

However, addressing the ecumenical representatives, Archbishop Williams specifically asked that they "should be honest with us and help us to be honest with ourselves". Turning to Cardinal Kasper, the Archbishop noted: "I am sure that my dear friend Cardinal Kasper won't mind if I say that one of the things that we have always looked for him to do for us is to ask some very awkward questions in a way that only a friend can ask with effect and pungency. In the past few years Cardinal Kasper has asked some very tough questions of us in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion and the importance of this is that it matters for us —as a Church, and as a Communion — to be theologically honest".

This same spirit greeted Cardinal Kasper's intervention after it was delivered, The Anglican respondents expressed gratitude for the Cardinal's honesty and "critical friendship", and identified a series of points which could be addressed in ongoing dialogue.

The multi-faceted way in which Catholic representatives were invited to participate at the. Lambeth Conference witnessed to the Anglican Communion's commitment to take seriously the concerns of its ecumenical dialogue partners. Catholic participants continue to believe that ARCIC's agreed statements could provide Anglicanism with a resource in addressing current difficulties.

Outcome of the Conference

Because the Anglican Communion does not have a magisterium or a single authoritative figure or body to exercise primacy at a universal level, what has emerged from the Lambeth Conference is not so much an authoritative decision as a sense of direction, with both short-term and long-term elements pointing towards a strengthening of the Communion.

The central component of this way forward is the proposal that the Provinces of the Anglican Communion enter into a covenant, which would intensify the relations that already exist. In the words of Archbishop Williams, a covenant "has the potential to make us more of a church; more of a 'catholic' church in a proper sense, a church, that is, which understands its ministry and service and sacraments as united and interdependent throughout the world".

While a draft of such a covenant was discussed a final version is still being prepared. The extent to which it would restrict Provinces from making independent decisions on fundamental matters of faith and morals remains to be seen.

It is acknowledged that not every Province or diocese currently in the Anglican Communion would be ready to enter into such a covenant, however it is increasingly seen as a necessary way of deepening the communion binding Anglicans together. When a final draft is ready, probably within the coming year, each Province (and possibly each diocese) must make a definitive decision regarding the covenant. It could be four or five years before such a covenantal relationship would take effect.

Concerning the substantive issues at the heart of current tensions, the Archbishop of Canterbury argued strongly that while they continue to study and reflect on human sexuality in light of the Scripture and tradition, and addressing questions arising out of human experience, a period of time in which no changes would be made to current teaching and practice is necessary.

Following the Windsor Report recommendations the Lambeth Conference expressed strong support for three interrelated moratoria: "ordinations of persons living in a same gender union to the episcopate; the blessing of same-sex unions; cross-border incursions by bishops" ('Lambeth lndaba Reflections').

Other initiatives which seek to address current challenges and strengthen the stability of the Anglican Communion are: a Pastoral Forum, to address conflicts within Provinces or dioceses; and a faith and order commission to address doctrinal matters arising in the Communion.

To summarize, the Anglican Communion is not at the same place as it was before the Lambeth Conference. A sense of direction is emerging, which will make it clearer where the Anglican Communion stands. Archbishop Williams noted in his final address: "We may not have put an end to all our problems — but the pieces are on the board".

That being said, it remains to be seen to what extent those pieces will be endorsed and allowed to shape the future, not least by those bishops who chose not to attend Lambeth. Anglican primates will be called to meet in early 2009, and that meeting, along with the Spring 2009 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, will offer an indication of the willingness of Anglican Provinces to move in the direction proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference.

From the Catholic Church's perspective some aspects of that direction look promising and other aspects raise questions. To the extent that a move toward greater ecclesiological stability and internal coherence materializes within the Anglican Communion, such a development most likely be welcomed and supported by the Catholic Church as a dialogue partner.

On the other hand, the ordination of women to the episcopate in an increasing number of Anglican Provinces creates a major obstacle from the Catholic perspective. Regarding questions of human sexuality, while the moratoria are an encouraging sign, a strong restatement of the traditional Christian understanding of human sexuality and marriage would be welcomed. It is hoped that these moratoria would successfully result in an end to cross-border incursions, which are highly problematic from an ecclesiological perspective.

Archbishop Williams spoke of the Anglican Communion as being summoned to seek "a deeper entry into the place where Christ stands, to find its unity there", for which there is unambiguous support.

Meanwhile, the Anglican openness to hearing the voice of its dialogue partners gives encouragement for persevering in Anglican-Catholic relations, as we continue to accompany the Anglican Communion in prayer.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13/20 August 2008, page 10

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069