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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
The Pope taking radical steps to bring
all sheep back into fold.
Churches back plan to unite under Pope
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church
under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The
Times has learnt.
The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.
In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both
churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they
might reunite under the Pope.
The statement, leaked to The Times, is being considered by the Vatican,
where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response.
It comes as the archbishops who lead the 38 provinces of the Anglican
Communion meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in an attempt to avoid schism
over gay ordination and other liberal doctrines that have taken hold in
parts of the Western Church.
The 36 primates at the gathering will be aware that the Pope, while
still a cardinal, sent a message of support to the orthodox wing of the
Episcopal Church of the US as it struggled to cope with the fallout
after the ordination of the gay bishop Gene Robinson.
Were this week’s discussions to lead to a split between liberals and
conservatives, many of the former objections in Rome to a reunion with
Anglican conservatives would disappear. Many of those Anglicans who
object most strongly to gay ordination also oppose the ordination of
Rome has already shown itself willing to be flexible on the subject of
celibacywhen it received dozens of married priests from the Church of
England into the Catholic priesthood after they left over the issue of
There are about 78 million Anglicans, compared with a billion Roman
Catholics, worldwide. In England and Wales, the Catholic Church is set
to overtake Anglicanism as the predominant Christian denomination for
the first time since the Reformation, thanks to immigration from
As the Anglicans’ squabbles over the fundamentals of Christian doctrine
continue — with seven of the conservative primates twice refusing to
share Communion with the other Anglican leaders at their meeting in
Tanzania — the Church’s credibility is being increasingly undermined in
a world that is looking for strong witness from its international
The Anglicans will attempt to resolve their differences today by
publishing a new Anglican Covenant, an attempt to provide a doctrinal
statement under which they can unite.
But many fear that the divisions have gone too far to be bridged and
that, if they cannot even share Communion with each other, there is
little hope that they will agree on a statement of common doctrine.
The latest Anglican-Catholic report could hardly come at a more
sensitive time. It has been drawn up by the International Anglican-Roman
Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, which is chaired by the Right
Rev David Beetge, an Anglican bishop from South Africa, and the Most Rev
John Bathersby, the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Australia.
The commission was set up in 2000 by the former Archbishop of
Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then
head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity. Its aim was to find a
way of moving towards unity through “common life and mission”.
The document leaked to The Times is the commission’s first statement,
Growing Together in Unity and Mission. The report acknowledges the
“imperfect communion” between the two churches but says that there is
enough common ground to make its “call for action” about the Pope and
In one significant passage the report notes: “The Roman Catholic Church
teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal
primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an
essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth.” Anglicans
rejected the Bishop of Rome as universal primate in the 16th century.
Today, however, some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value
of a ministry of universal primacy, which would be exercised by the
Bishop of Rome, as a sign and focus of unity within a reunited Church.
In another paragraph the report goes even further: “We urge Anglicans
and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop
of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions
to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”
Other recommendations include inviting lay and ordained members of both
denominations to attend each other’s synodical and collegial gatherings
and conferences. Anglican bishops could be invited to accompany Catholic
ones on visits to Rome.
The report adds that special “protocols” should also be drawn up to
handle the movement of clergy from one Church to the other. Other
proposals include common teaching resources for children in Sunday
schools and attendance at each other’s services, pilgrimages and
Anglicans are also urged to begin praying for the Pope during the
intercessionary prayers in church services, and Catholics are asked also
to pray publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In today’s Anglican Church, it is unlikely that a majority of
parishioners would wish to heal the centuries-old rift and return to
However, the stance of the Archbishop of Canterbury over the present
dispute dividing his Church gives an indication of how priorities could
be changing in light of the gospel imperative towards church unity.
Dr Rowan Williams, who as Primate of the Church of England is its “focus
for unity”, has in the past supported a liberal interpretation of
Scripture on the gay issue. But he has made it clear that church unity
must come before provincial autonomy. A logical extension of that, once
this crisis is overcome either by agreement or schism, would be to seek
reunion with the Church of England's own mother Church.