Letter from Australia
Cold Climate Covenant
IN MARCH 1977 the Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops of Ballarat established the Joint Diocesan Commission to "discuss matters pertaining to the advancement of Christian reunion". Fr. Graham Walden (now the Anglican Bishop of The Murray) and Fr. George Pell (now the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne) were the first co-chairmen.
From the outset, the Commission understood the special relationship that was officially said to exist between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. It also took seriously the very real expectation, expressed at the highest level on both sides, that some momentous step on the road to reunion was just around the corner - perhaps full sacramental sharing in mixed marriages and in remote areas. Even those Anglicans who disapproved of the dialogue were more or less resigned to the fact that extraordinary progress was being made.
This is significant at a time when, in order to justify certain developments within Anglican life, some of our leaders have begun to claim that reunion was never a realistic agenda item.
Over the years, the subject matter of the Commission's dialogue has
* the ARCIC One Documents on Eucharist, Ministry, and Authority and the Elucidations,
* the response of the Holy Office to ARCIC One
* the response by evangelical Anglicans in England to ARCIC One,
* issues arising from mixed marriages,
* the views of young people from each Diocese on the matters that unite and divide us,
* the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry statement of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission together with the Vatican Response to that statement,
* the ARCIC II Documents "Salvation and the Church", and "Church as Communion",
* the new difficulties for ecumenical dialogue posed by the ordination of women to the priesthood within Anglicanism,
* the ARCIC II Document "Life in Christ - Morals, Communion and the Church".
From time to time the discussions were enriched by visiting speakers such as Dr. Edward Yarnold S.J., Dr. Harry Smythe, Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and, on a number of occasions, Dr. Peter Cross (a Melbourne theologian who is also a member of ARCIC II).
Very early in the Commission's work, members reached the view that a consequence of the agreements in the areas of Eucharist, Ministry and Ordination should be a reconsideration of the Anglican conviction that we possess valid orders in the full Catholic sense. It was thought that if this matter were settled in the affirmative, the way would be prepared for shared communion in certain circumstances as well as a more co-operative Christian witness.
Under the signatures of both co-chairmen, a letter was presented to the Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops of Ballarat on 19th April, 1979, declaring that ". . . We believe that the relationship between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches is already a special one, and that the movement for Christian unity is God's work. Obstacles on this path should be examined constantly by official and expert groups to see whether they are insurmountable, surmountable, or can be by-passed. The validity of Anglican orders is one such issue".
At that time Ballarat's Joint Diocesan Commission was regarded by Anglican and Roman Catholic authorities throughout the Australia as having made "an enormous step forward". The two page joint statement on Anglican orders was taken to the Australian Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference, which endorsed its sentiments and forwarded it to the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity in Rome. The Vice President of the Secretariat responded warmly in a letter of 22nd August, 1979. But he also said in his letter: ". . . there is no doubt that discussion of this issue (Anglican Orders) is further complicated by the fact of the ordination of women to the priesthood in several Churches of the Anglican Communion: the question is technically distinct from that of Anglican orders, but the link is an evident one."
(The absolute seriousness with which Vatican authorities were taking Anglican/ Roman Catholic dialogue at the time accounts for the almost passionate warnings regarding the ordination of women made by Pope John Paul II in the lead-up to the 1992 vote here and in England.)
The Joint Diocesan Commission produced studies on the Eucharist for use during Lent 1982 in joint Anglican/ Roman Catholic study groups in the parishes, and also adapted for use in those groups during Eastertide 1984 the study guides on Ministry and Authority produced by the Dioceses of Brisbane. These local ecumenical groups were very successful. There has been continuing dialogue between ARCIC II and the Vatican regarding the Eucharist and the Ministry, in order that some areas of those statements might be better elucidated. A milestone has been reached in that the Vatican authorities have said that now the consensus on the Eucharist and Ministry is "almost complete", and that no further work would seem necessary in these areas.
Dr Cross, however, reported on the shock waves that the Anglican Diocese of Sydney has sent around the world with the determination of a majority of its Synod to officially approve of "lay presidency" at the Eucharist. He said that coming on the heels of the Vatican's expressed satisfaction that we had in fact reached "substantial agreement" on the areas of Eucharist and Ministry, the Sydney move is like a torpedo, regretted even by the vast majority of evangelical Anglicans outside Sydney. That shock and disquiet has now been compounded by the extraordinary decision of the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia that the Fundamental Declarations of the Constitution of the Australian Church and other constitutional provisions provide no barrier to General Synod legislating to allow lay presidency.
Precisely because of the disillusionment felt by many Anglicans the Synod of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1995 decided it was time for a new local initiative. Recognising the depth of official dialogue, and the unanimity with which the Joint Commission reports had been received by Synod over the previous 18 years, the Synod resolved to encourage the Joint Diocesan Commission to explore the notion of the two Dioceses of Ballarat entering into a "Covenant" relationship.
A number of these "Covenants" between Anglican and Roman Catholic dioceses exist in Papua New Guinea, Canada and the U.S.A. (indicating that theological conservatism is not necessarily a prerequisite for such a relationship!). Just at a time when we are in what Robert Runcie described as an "ecumenical winter", a Covenant at the local diocesan level, expressing a firm commitment to unity, would provide a necessary focus for continuing dialogue, fellowship and prayer.
On Advent Sunday 1997, Bishop David Silk and Bishop Peter Connors stepped forward in an historic act of faith and ecumenism to sign the first Covenant Agreement between an Anglican diocese and a Roman Catholic diocese in Australia.
The governing principle of the Covenant is that "we should not do alone what can be done together." Realistic in its approach, the Covenant makes no pretensions that there are still some real obstacles on the road to resembling a 'full communion', but that each recognises in the other "a desire to live and promulgate the Catholic and Apostolic Faith..."
The Covenant also paves the way for the sharing of resources, a factor which could play an important role in rural areas as the maintenance and upkeep of church buildings becomes too great for small congregations.
Further details about the Covenant can be found on the Diocese of Ballarat's Homepage: http://cbl.com.au/~dilfagd/ballanglican.html
Martin Hislop is Anglican Chaplain at the University of Ballarat
in the province of Victoria.
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