Thomas Seville CR, Synod religious member, recounts the less than encouraging debate but ultimately safe outcome of the debate on international Anglican and Roman Catholic relations

The sessions of Synod in February showed the Synod capable of maturity, of good sense; sadly it also showed its inveterate tendency, when the scent of Rome enters the church, to do a ‘Linus’ (remember Peanuts?). It grabs the comfort blanket, withdrawing into the safe and warm environment of ‘not doing that’.

This happened when the Synod welcomed the report from the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARC-CUM), Growing Together in Unity and Mission. Originally, the plan had been to discuss this report in these sessions as well as Mary, Grace and Hope. The latter report has been delayed to a later session of Synod, not least because of disagreements among the House of Bishops over how to respond. Whatever the nature of the disagreements, it did seem a good idea to separate what are two very different documents, from two different bodies.

The IARCCUM document, intended at the first as something like a ‘common declaration’, is proposed as an agreed statement on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations. It notices agreements and differences, but, on the basis of what has been agreed, proposes a series of practical measures on which the two churches can embark if they are to make the agreements their own and to further the process of reconciliation.

In his introduction to the debate, John Hind, Bishop of Chichester, painted a sombre background to the state of relations between the two communions. He gave Anglicans a good wigging. The work of IARCCUM had been derailed by events in the Anglican Communion and that meant that Anglican-RC relations were at a ‘standstill’ – this was a quotation from Kasper. The Bishop did note that the fault was not all ours, but it was an observation the purport of which was that, although fault might also lie with Peter and Paul, we needed to be aware of the greater measure of blame which fell to Augustine (my words). It is worth noting that Roman utterances with respect to ecumenism are often inconsistent with earlier utterances.

The measure of agreement is considerable, on Eucharist and ministry in particular, but also areas of the doctrine of the Church, authority, morals and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was good to see the recording of agreement on most of these areas and the welcome this received; there was little dissent voiced, although there were areas which were signalled as needing attention.

These were signalled in the amendment which made reference to the Faith and Order Advisory Group paper (GS1673) with which the debate was resourced. This document noted that there was little reference to justification in the IARCCUM document and that it tended to assume that Mary, Grace and Hope had already been received. The former is certainly a puzzle – there has never been the same intricacy of dissent between the churches as obtained between the Catholic Church and Lutheranism. Salvation and the Church (1985), on justification, has been welcomed by the Lambeth Conference (1988) and commended for study across the Anglican Communion, and was discussed in some Church of England dioceses. As a result of the amendment, documents of ARCIC II will – at last – come to Synod. Howsoever, no member of Synod, no observer can repose confidence in its capacity to deal with teaching with due sensitivity.

Although the vote of welcome was overwhelming, the debate was less than warm. As far as the content of contributions was concerned, those made by Mgr Andrew Faley and by Paul Fiddes, the RC and Baptist representatives respectively, were among the finest. Mgr Faley spoke, gently disagreeing with John Hind, of how things were alive as never before among parishes and the laity, and that Baptist among Baptists spoke with appreciation of the teaching agreed about Christian initiation. A laywoman spoke movingly and hopefully from her experience in a mixed marriage. What I missed was any sign of that desire for repentance and conversion among us which must attend the experience of the fissures of Christ’s Body – it is a scandal that we should be content to remain estranged from those who are in Christ, whether Roman or Baptist.

To accept the idea that it is all right to remain in a variety of colours, not really matching, in patches which are neither capable of stretching nor of mending, is to be lukewarm. Sadly, there was little welcome for some of the lesser riches of the report, e.g. that effective preaching is indispensable to feeding the church, or that war as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There was little about the second section, though commended in the motion as passed, on things to do. Yet what was depressing, and what is from our side shameful, was a lack of generosity and hope, a nursing of prejudice and an avoidance of depth, which it would be unfair to attribute to the Evangelical source of the amendment, nor even to the failure of the chair to call a single Anglo-Catholic to speak. We forget that for centuries the Church of England has treated RCs with intolerance and with worse, which no suffering on the part of the Marian martyrs can attenuate.

Evangelicals are of course right to voice their concerns. It is worth noting that many Evangelicals were enthusiastic about the ARCIC II statement on Salvation and the Church, but this is not a matter concerning just Evangelicals. All Anglicans have much to do in repenting of their prejudice about Roman Catholics. It is strange that we can be ever so warm with the Eastern Orthodox, on the other side of the building, whose teachings and practices concerning salvation and the Mother of God do not differ hugely from those of Rome; but when we meet someone in the next room, then how easy we find it to blow hot and cold.