George Conger

Anglicanism in the United States is functionally incoherent as an ecclesiastical system, the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States concluded in a report released last month, as there is no normative voice for doctrine and discipline in the Episcopal Church of the USA.

In a paper entitled: “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness,” approved at the ARC-USA meeting held on 24-25 Feb 2014 at the Virginia Theological Seminary, the joint commission noted “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 Episcopal co-chairman, Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt of Tennessee, (pictured) told the Episcopal News Service “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,” he said.

However, the conclusion of the report found the journey together as churches was heading nowhere.

“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 said.

“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.”

The paper focused its efforts on two issues: immigration/migration and same-sex relations. In examining same-sex unions, the joint statement said that “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.”

“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,” the statement concluded.

Following the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey’s 1966 visit to Rome to meet Pope Paul VI, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission was established to find ways of achieving a reunion of the churches. Beginning in 1970 the first round of talks focused on the authority of Scripture, producing in 1981 the report “Elucidations on Authority in the Church.” A second round of talks was held between 1983 and 2004, producing an agreed statement on Marian theology in 2004.

However, the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council saw sharp objections raised to the statement, with some delegations repudiating its conclusions. Pope John Paul II terminated talks in the wake of the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and the Anglican co-chair, the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, was forced to step down from his post, in light of his part in the Robinson consecration.

In 2011 Archbishop Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI initiated a third round of talks designed to find common ground on moral teachings. However, the enthusiasm for the enterprise appears to have abated.

Writing in the Catholic Herald, Fr. William Oddie, a former Anglican priest and convert to Catholicism asked: “Can anybody explain to me why we carry on with ARCIC? Is there any real intention, as 30 years ago there undoubtedly was, of actually achieving something? Is it a continuing self-delusion on the part of those participating? Or is ARCIC III just a PR exercise, designed to avert attention from the fact that we have now, inevitably but finally, come to the bitter end of the ecumenical road?”

“Whatever it is, we will all, finally, have to face reality: and, surely, the sooner the better,” Oddie said.

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