2016-04-26 18:03:00

Anglicans and Catholics discuss recognition of ministry

(Vatican Radio) Catholic and Anglican theologians have been meeting together near Rome to discuss ordination rites within the two communions, as well as the significant ecumenical implications of Pope Francis’ recent document ‘Amoris Laetitia’.

A meeting of the Malines Conversation group took place from April 17th to 22nd at Rocca di Papa, south of Rome, culminating in an ecumenical evensong celebrated by Archbishop Arthur Roche of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

A communique issued after the encounter said the theologians from seven different countries discussed “contemporary and historic ordination rites” and the developments that have taken place in both communions since Pope Leo XIII declared Anglican orders to be “null and void”.

To find out more about the conversation and about prospects for progress in the dialogue, Philippa Hitchen spoke to one of the Catholic participants, Fr Tony Currer of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.


Fr Tony notes the original Malines group started around 20 years after the publication of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “to see how things could be taken forward”. He describes it as “a remarkable development” given the position of the Catholic Church which was not involved in the new ecumenical endeavours that were taking shape at the start of the 20th century.

In a similar way today, he says, Anglicans and Catholics are facing major obstacles which require “a lot of exploration in an atmosphere of friendship, honesty and frankness to see where progress might be made”.

Fr Tony recalls that the documents of the Second Vatican Council recognized those elements of the Church which exist beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church, adding that recent ecumenical efforts have been looking at the implications of that statement in the search for reciprocal recognition of ministry.

Theology needs to 'catch up' with gestures

While he notes that such recognition is still not fully possible, he cites many gestures to show a growing respect and recognition of the ministry exercised by Anglican bishops. In particular he recalls the gesture of Pope Paul VI, 50 years ago, of giving his own episcopal ring to the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. Theology, Fr Tony says, “needs to catch up” and find the “theological underpinnings to these gestures”.

He adds “I think it’s true to say we don’t use the language of ‘null and void’ any more” as that’s “clearly not what is spoken by the gestures, generosity, and warmth which we see time and time again”.

Please find below the full text of the communique:


The fourth international meeting of the Malines Conversations Group took place in Rome and at the Villa Palazzola, Rocca di Papa, between Sunday 17th April and Friday 22nd April. Under the patronage of Cardinal Godfried Danneels (Archbishop Emeritus of Malines-Brussels) and The Right Reverend and Right Honourable The Lord Williams of Oystermouth (former Archbishop of Canterbury), this informal group comprises Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians from seven different countries and meets with the blessing and support of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and Lambeth Palace, and keeps in close contact with the official mandated ecumenical bodies in both communions. It includes members of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Last year’s meeting at Boston College,  Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA, considered questions of sacramentality and ordination, whilst this year’s gathering continued to develop these themes. 

The Group was welcomed to the Vatican, and greatly benefited from discussion with Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and with Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Additionally, they were warmly received by the British Ambassador to the Holy See, at the Anglican Centre in Rome (currently celebrating its Golden Jubilee year), and by the Prior of the monastic community at the Basilica of San Gregorio al Celio from which St Augustine was sent to England by Pope St Gregory the Great. 

During seminars and conversations at Palazzola, the group reflected on the first fifty years of the ARCIC dialogue and the harvesting of its many fruits, the sacramentality of life and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the relationship between the local and the universal Church, and explored the dynamics of theological thinking about the sanctity and future of the Church. The group continued its exploration of contemporary and historic ordination rites, considered more deeply questions arising from Apostolicae Curae and Saepius Officio (both in relationship to the context of the original Malines Conversations, and within the framework of subsequent developments in both communions), reflected on the riches to be shared in future thinking about the life of the Church, and discerned mutual learning about priesthood and ministry in a shared late modern context. Additionally, the Group reflected on some ecclesiological and ecumenical implications of Pope Francis’ recent Post Synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. 

This year the group was joined by several invited guests, including The Right Reverend Dr Geoffrey Rowell (former Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe and noted scholar of the nineteenth century), The Right Reverend David Hamid (co-Chair of IARCCUM and suffragan bishop in the Church of England Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe) and Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, former Dean of Theology at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., USA.

The meeting took place within the context of prayer, and culminated in a beautiful Ecumenical Evensong at the Oratory of S Francis Xavier del Caravita in Rome celebrated by Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and sung by the choir of St James, King Street, Sydney, Australia, at which the preacher was Bishop David Hamid. 

The Group’s steering committee is chaired by Fr Thomas Pott OSB of the Monastery of Chevetogne, and includes The Revd Dr Jamie Hawkey, Dean of Clare College, Cambridge, and The Revd Professor Keith Pecklers SJ, of the Gregorian University. The Group is grateful to all its supporters and sponsors. A fifth meeting is planned for next Spring, in Cambridge, UK.  

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