2016-10-04 07:00:00

Anglican, Catholic bishops seeking closer partnership in mission

(Vatican Radio) Closer practical cooperation between Anglicans and Catholics in countries across the globe: that’s the primary goal of a two day visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to Rome this week. The Anglican leader arrives on Wednesday and is scheduled to join Pope Francis for Vespers at the church of San Gregorio al Celio in the afternoon. Also present will be pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops from around the world who’ll be symbolically sent out on mission together.

On Thursday morning the leader of the Anglican Communion will have an audience with the Pope in the Vatican, together with the heads of about half of the world’s 38 Anglican provinces. The two day programme  of events, which includes a colloquium on Anglican-Catholic dialogue at the Pontifical Gregorian University, is marking the 50th anniversary of the first official contacts between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, followed by the setting up of Rome’s Anglican Centre. 

New Zealand Archbishop David Moxon is the current director of the Centre – he sat down with Philippa Hitchen to talk about these celebrations and the about the most significant progress of the past half century…


Archbishop Moxon says there are three elements of progress to celebrate: firstly the official dialogues which have produced “about 85% agreement over basic core doctrine”, including agreements on Baptism and Eucharist, on missiology and on how we use the bible to discern moral issues.

Secondly, he says, “we now enjoy a practical partnership in mission" between Catholic and Anglican bishops around the world, with the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) “encouraging local people to lead together on justice and peace”.

Thirdly, we’re celebrating the Anglican Centre which is “an embassy to the Pope” and a way of being local, friendly and collaborative with the Vatican.

Breakthrough in relations

Asked about hopes for progress in the relations between the two Churches, Archbishop Moxon says “one breakthrough we can hope for”  is a much more obvious form of collaboration on justice and peace issues including development, refugees, trafficking and climate change. What we are looking for, he insists, is a “Don’t just tell me, show me” approach in terms of partnership, because if we’re “capable of holding hands” in the face of evil, oppression, agony and suffering, “that would be a breakthrough indeed for the kingdom of God”.

Communion through Baptism

The archbishop discusses the issue of Eucharistic sharing, noting that the Catholic Church “has a very helpful concept of degrees of communion”. This means that we share “a high degree of communion” through Baptism, when we collaborate and respond to peoples’ needs together, or when we pray together in ministries of the Word, he says. Though Eucharistic communion is not yet something we can share, he says, we pray and work towards it as Pope John Paul II’s encyclical ‘Ut Unum Sint’ invited us to do. 

Agreeing to disagree well

Asked about the obstacle of women’s ordination for the Catholic Church, Archbishop Moxon says the obstacle is real yet “we agree to disagree well” and we agree to collaborate in every other way we can. “Only God knows how that obstacle will be rolled away” from the pathway, he says, but we know that “God is capable of finding ways where there doesn’t appear to be one”.

Extroverted ecumenism

Speaking about the Pope’s personal outreach to Christians of other denominations, the Anglican leader says “It has been a most welcome form of extroverted ecumenism” which is encouraging and ground breaking. Alongside that he says, the official dialogues serve as “a planning room or blueprint” to work on improving levels of agreement. The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) which he co-chairs, is encouraged by “the degree to which we can inch forward” on questions of euthanasia, biology and technology, that are currently on the agenda.

Mission driving ecumenism

Looking to the future, the Archbishop says he’d like to see real movement forward to occupy “the potential inside us”. If mission starts to drive ecumenism, he says, we would “find God drawing us together”. And as other Church leaders have noted, he concludes, “the closer you get to the top of a peak, the harder it gets”, so we mustn’t be surprised if the gradient of the climb “leaves us  a little breathless”, but “we are aiming for the top”. 

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