The Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States (ARC-USA) has concluded a six-year round of dialogue with the release of “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness,” approved at the most recent meeting February 24-25, 2014, at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.
The meeting was chaired by Bishop John Bauerschmidt of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee; the Roman Catholic co-chairman, Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, Louisiana, was unable to attend for health reasons.
In 2008 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, asked the ARC-USA to address questions of ethics and the Christian life in the context of ecclesiology, in an effort to achieve greater clarity regarding areas of agreement and disagreement. They were aware that dialogue on these issues was also taking place between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion at the international level, and also in other bilateral dialogues between churches of various traditions.
The statement reflects on the way the two churches pursue the work of teaching and learning within the Christian moral life. It examines the extent to which their respective church structures influence the way they teach and what they teach on moral questions. Inquiries and discussions about moral formation and the teaching charism of the churches guided them in addressing this topic.
With a focus on two case studies concerning migration/immigration and same sex relations, the dialogue concluded that even if the moral teachings of Anglicans and Catholics diverge on some questions, they also share important common features.
The statement delves into these differences and similarities and represents progress toward a more unified Gospel witness capable of addressing contemporary concerns in ways that are useful and attractive to all Christians, as well as larger society.
As Bishop Bauerschmidt said, “ARC-USA has produced some important statements in the past. This statement represents the latest landmark in our journey together as churches, and is a valuable contribution to an important topic.” The full text is available online here:www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/ecumenical/anglican/upload/arcusa-2014-statement.pdf
In the preface the co-chairmen explain the authority of the statement: “Although the members of the dialogue do not speak officially for either of our churches,” they state, “we have been asked to represent them in this dialogue, and it is in that capacity that we submit this statement to the leadership of our churches and to all their faithful for their prayerful consideration as a means of hastening progress along the path to full, visible unity.”
Hard to see
The document notes “how differently our two communions structure and exercise authority, not only with respect to moral teaching but all forms of teaching. Our teachings do differ in content, specificity, and detail.”
“The absence of an authoritative universal magisterium among the churches of the Anglican Communion marks a signal difference in the structure of teaching authority,” the statement says. “Without such a universal teaching authority it is difficult to state definitively the teaching Anglicans hold on many specific matters, beyond the governing documents and prayer book of each particular church. This fact marks a signal difference in the structure of teaching authority from the Roman Catholic Church and helps to explain a significant tension in the relationship between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.”
With regard to same-sex unions, the statement says: “the teaching of the Episcopal Church on same-sex sexuality may be said to accept an unresolved tension between primary textual authorities on the one hand and local councils (both General Convention and diocesan conventions) on the other.”
The statement concluded: “It is hard to see how our differences in moral theology and ecclesiology will be resolved, and it is not clear to many whether they should be,” adding: “The ecumenical movement teaches that legitimate diversity has its place in the Church, and history demonstrates that this is true.”