Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Canada *

By Clifford, Catherine E. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Canada *


Clifford, Catherine E., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


The Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue of Canada (ARC), established over three decades ago, gathers together theologians twice a year for three days at a time in a retreat-like setting to enjoy moments of common prayer, friendship, and serious theological reflection. Members of the dialogue readily express their appreciation for the quality of exchange. Over the years a significant level of trust has been established that allows dialogue to take place quite naturally in a spirit of frankness and mutual respect.

It is worth noting that for more than twenty-five years the dialogue of ARC theologians has been complemented by a regular meeting of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops at the national level (eight bishops from the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, respectively). The ARC bishops' dialogue is an important forum wherein common pastoral concerns can be explored. Perhaps the most notable issues to retain their attention in recent years are the Catholic response to the sad history of physical and sexual abuse and the Anglican churches' complicity in the government policy of assimilating Canada's First Nations people in church-run residential schools. These encounters play a significant informative and formative role for the bishops in their ministry of communion and have given rise to a variety of forms of collaboration, including the development of common guidelines for the pastoral care of interchurch marriages (1987) (1) and guidelines for the transfer of clergy from one communion to the other (1991). (2) The dialogue among ARC theologians has been dominated by both our interaction with the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) (For many years ARC Canada was privileged to have both Jean-Marie Tillard and Bishop John Baycroft, key members of ARCIC, as participants.) and by pastoral concerns, some of which are brought to our attention by the bishops' dialogue.

Brother Jeffrey Gros of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops' Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs and his staff have thankfully published a complete collection of North American and international documents on Anglican-Roman Catholic Relations from 1983 to 1995. (3) This incorporates a significant contribution from ARC Canada, including "Comments on the Observations of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on Salvation and the Church (1990)," "Reflections on the Experience of Women's Ministries (1991)," an "Agreed Statement on Infallibility" (1992), and a "Reply to the Vatican Response to the Final Report (1993)." (4) In what follows I will attempt to summarize the work accomplished by ARC since 1995. My comments will touch on five projects that include two responses to the work of ARCIC, Life in Christ, and The Gift of Authority; a response to the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus; and two projects of a more pastoral nature that concern interchurch marriage and differing attitudes toward sacramental sharing.

Life in Christ

In an effort to receive ARCIC's 1994 study, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion, and the Church, (5) ARC Canada developed a common statement and study guide, "On the Road Together: Anglicans, Catholics, and the Common Good" (1998). Life in Christ showed that, while Anglicans and Catholics may differ in their positions on particular moral questions, they nonetheless share a common vision of humanity, created in the image of God "with the dignity of persons in community, [called] to a life of responsibility and freedom, and endow[ed] with the hope of happiness" (par. 5). ARC Canada attempted to build on this basic consensus and, in the face of a rapidly changing social context wherein the poor were increasingly marginalized, to reflect on principles that guide the participation of Anglican and Catholic Christians in society. It was wonderful to uncover the intersection of the Anglican tradition--particularly as it is reflected in the recommendations of the Lambeth Conferences and in Catholic social teaching--on questions such as human freedom, the responsibility to take part in the social order, the preferential option for the poor, and the role of government both in promoting the common good of human communities and in protecting the poor and the vulnerable.

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