A Leading Anglican on Christian Unity

Is Church of England Nostalgic for Central Authority?

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LONDON, JAN. 29, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Influential circles of the Anglican Church “readily admit that on many questions it is important to have a central authority that decides,” says the president of the Anglican Council for Christian Unity, Bishop Ian Cundy of Peterborough.

The Anglican leader, whose prominent diocese embraces 760,000 residents, 356 parishes and 170 pastors, is one of the leaders in the dialogue with Rome. Last week, an important step was taken when the Vatican Press Office announced the creation of an Anglo-Catholic working group “to consolidate the results of more than 30 years of contact and ecumenical dialogue, and plan a course for the future.”

This idea emerged during an international meeting of Anglican and Catholic bishops, held in Mississauga, Ontario, last May, and presided over by Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury, and Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

In this interview, the Anglican bishop acknowledges that the September publication of “Dominus Iesus” was like a cold shower for the Church of England, “although as an Anglican, I must say it repeats things of the past.”

He hastened to add: “We will stay, however, with the important work of the Anglo-Roman Catholic International Commission [ARCIC] for dialogue between the two churches.”

–Q: This commission has published the document “The Gift of Authority,” a crucial topic.

–Bishop Cundy: Yes, the text has not yet been officially debated by the General Synod of the Anglican Church, but it will be soon, together with the document “Salvation and the Church.”

The document on authority is very interesting because it highlights the central point of the ecumenical dialogue. The evangelical groups in the Anglican Church are distrustful of the agreement reached, because they believe that Anglicans have ended up by accepting the Catholic vision of a central authority incarnated by the Pope. Other circles, however, readily admit that on many questions, it is important to have a central authority that decides.

Anglicans attribute a position of respect to the archbishop of Canterbury, but he does not have jurisdiction on each one of the dioceses. We, bishops, present consultations to him if we have need for counsel, but we later make our own decision. The Anglican Communion recognizes that there are situations in which there is need for a stronger authority than that represented by the archbishop of Canterbury. The problem is that Anglicans would like that authority to be exercised in a collegial way, and that it not be concentrated in a single person. It will be very interesting to hear the response to this argument of the Anglican Synod.

–Q: Sometimes it seems the ecumenical dialogue moves faster at the base. What do you think?

–Bishop Cundy: That this is true, without a doubt. The Jubilee initiatives have reinforced relations that were good already. The leaders of the two churches have worked, elbow to elbow, and I would say that the separation is virtually not perceived in the parishes and dioceses: Progress toward unity is evident to all.

Thirty years ago, when I was ordained, the things we do today were unthinkable. For example, the fact that new churches can be used indistinctly by different Christian communities, Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals and Reformed. At times we feel we share all aspects of daily life — social initiatives, volunteer work, common prayer — but, sadly, we do not share the Eucharist. Above all, we think of mixed marriages; it would be very important to receive Communion together.

–Q: There is also much common ground in the field of ethics, for example, in the progress of science.

–Bishop Cundy: Of course, we coincide in opposition to human cloning.

–Q: However, it seems that the Anglican Church is going through difficult times.

–Bishop Cundy: It is true that attendance at the Eucharist is diminishing, but one must not trust everything that English newspapers write. Our society is very secularized and everything that sounds religious is criticized.

Then, statistics are interpreted in an arbitrary way. In our diocese, for example, in the year 2000 the number of faithful who frequented the Eucharist has increased. It is the way of going to church that must be changed. On Sundays, many families leave the city and, therefore, do not frequent the Eucharist but they come to the church every 15 days or during the week. We do not lose them from sight altogether.

Many of the problems of the Anglican Church are the same that the Catholic Church and other Christians must address. We are all children of our day and, as the same time, pilgrims towards heaven. The same churches to which we belong reflect, in part, today´s customs but they also try to surmount them.
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