The Vatican's announcement on 20 October of the enactment of a special Apostolic Constitution to take in Anglicans discontented by the ordination of women and homosexual persons certainly represents a new and unexpected level in the relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.
For the past 40 years, both churches have maintained a frank and productive dialogue that began with the initiative of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey to break centuries of silence between both sides. Such were the winds of the Second Vatican Council, in an era of advancement of dialogue and overcoming indifferences. This process continued in the past few decades with the production of documents and the creation, on the provincial level (including in the province of Brazil), of national committees for dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
We give thanks to God for all the work put forth amid much difficulty, but also mutual respect. This was achieved through our capacity to see each other as brothers who confess the same Christ and creedal faith in a constant search to build a common understanding around their theological identities. In this spirit the documents Church Authority I (1976), Church Authority II (1981), Ecclesial Communion (1990), Life in Christ: Morals, Communion, and the Church (1993), The Gift of Authority (1998), Maria: Grace and Hope in Christ (2004) and Growing Together in Unity And Mission (2007) were published.
All these declarations and the joint actions that ensued have steered us onto a path that has increasingly brought us nearer to the ideal of the unity that Christ so desired. Today we are part of numerous ecumenical organizations and acknowledge each other in baptism, according to a joint declaration signed in Brazil in 2007.
In stating that the Vatican's initiative represents a new and unexpected level in bilateral dialogue, we mean that it is not directly related to the process that has been ongoing for the past 40 years, as related above, but rather a unilateral initiative that will certainly require deeper analysis. Below are just two elements that merit close attention:
- The most recent official documents of the Roman Catholic Church have successively reaffirmed not only its identity as a universal church but its singularity as the true and original sign of the presence of Christ among peoples. This implies a self-understanding of ecclesiological and organizational exclusivity that hinders the advancement of dialogue between both our churches.
- The theological underpinnings for the Vatican's initiative are based on the understanding that the unity of the Church is grounded in the claim of Petrine ministry. This postulate must be seen through the lens of its theological dimension and the historical reality of the See of Rome and to this day has not been satisfactorily resolved in Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue.
Clearly, these issues must be faced with honesty and open dialogue, to which we have always been committed in a respectful manner. We express our concern over the initiative unleashed by Rome, considering the way in which it took place and its content.
It is unfortunate that no official instance of the Anglican Communion participated in the process of drafting the Constitution announced by the Vatican. To the surprise of many, not even the Congregation for Christian Unity participated in the internal process in Rome or the announcement of the initiative.
A matter conducted in such a way, privately and under the coordination of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – that is to say, specifically on a doctrinal level and without any regard for its ecumenical dimension – , would at least merit the transparency expected between two churches in ecumenical dialogue.
If the Constitution were aimed at persons who had already left the Anglican Communion for reasons of differing theological opinion, this would certainly be viewed as pastoral attention to those who are no longer under our pastoral care. But to the extent that it is aimed at persons and communities still within the Communion, even if in dissent, the Constitution creates an ethical problem of interference in the internal affairs of a sister church.
We honestly hope that this interference does not become an obstacle to the future of our dialogue and that, in time, we will be able to become familiar with all aspects of such Constitution – which have been made public recently – and to apply, inasmuch as possible, the principle of respect for the internal autonomy of our churches. The forthcoming conversation between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict XVI in the coming days in Rome may provide a clearer outline of this initiative. We await this conversation, which will be the first face-to-face dialogue between the supreme leaders of our two churches.
In the Brazilian context, we have received and welcomed clergy from the Roman Catholic Church and have cared for these people like brothers who wish to respond to their call to mission, which comes from God. The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has a specific canon for this and we recognize the sacred orders of each person, without a new ordination process.
We hope that this matter is discussed with sincerity on the international and local levels of dialogue of both our churches and that the progress already made may be restored in the quest to overcome our misunderstandings and resume the path to unity aspired after by Christ and dreamt of by all of us!
Brasília, 6th November 2009
William Temple (1881-1944)
D. Mauricio Andrade
Primate of Brazil