The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches have come to a basic agreement on the difficult issue of authority in the church, according to Anglican representative, Bishop John Baycroft.
Bishop Baycroft, who cochaired the recent meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II) in Belgium, said the decision means the Anglican Communion might eventually accept the universal primacy of the Bishop of Rome - the pope.
"Our feeling following the meeting in Belgium is we have made sufficient steps forward in our understanding and our way of talking about the universal primacy," said Bishop Baycroft, bishop of the Diocese of Ottawa.
Contrary to the beliefs of many in both churches, infallibility of the church-and therefore, the pope-is not the major stumbling block to union with Rome, he said.
"Some people feel that infallibility means that you can never make mistakes about anything," said Bishop Baycroft. "They think, for instance, that the pope can have a sleepless night, wake up in the morning and proclaim a new truth. That's nonsense."
The major problem facing the two churches, he said, is the authority of the church-namely, the insistence of Anglicans that the church has the authority to ordain women, and the insistence of Roman Catholics that the church does not.
"We've got an interesting situation now where the Roman Catholic Church is saying the Anglican Church is claiming more authority than they are," when the reverse has been true in the past, he said.
"The difficulty is whether the Anglican Church has exceeded its authority in ordaining women."
ARCIC was launched in the late 1960s by Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI to bring the two churches together. ARCIC I, which concluded in the late 1970s, examined, among other issues, the authority of tradition and Scripture, while ARCIC II has focused on the question of authority in the church, including papal infallibility and immediate jurisdiction.
This question of jurisdiction is key, said Bishop Baycroft.
"In the Anglican Church, we put more stress on the responsibility of the local church ... the diocese, and the configuration of the national and regional churches to actualize the Gospel in the regional situation."
As an example of this, Bishop Baycroft said preaching the Gospel in the Caribbean requires a different approach than in an Eastern European country.
Despite these differences, said Bishop Baycroft, "we believe it is possible to reconcile those two tendencies and we think we can benefit from the strength of a centralized church and the freedom of the local, regionalized church to proclaim the Gospel."
The latest document-ARCIC's third on authority-will be released after the next meeting, scheduled for next summer in Virginia.
Bishop Baycroft, one of nine Anglicans worldwide involved in the talks, said the document would then need to be presented to the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth conference of bishops before going to all the provinces in the Anglican Communion.
The bishops of both churches in Canada were scheduled to meet at the end of last month to discuss the latest meeting of ARCIC II and marriage guidelines, which were drafted about 10 years ago. The bishops will also hear from couples in mixed marriages who are involved in interfaith issues.
Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, meets with Pope John Paul II early this month.
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