The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Anglican Communion Office have announced that the most recent report of the Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), entitled Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, will be presented to the public on May 16th, 2005. The official launch of the document will take place in Seattle, USA, where the Commission last met and completed its work on the document. The text is not an authoritative declaration by the Catholic Church or by the Anglican Communion, who will further study and evaluate the document in due course. The statement on the role of Mary in the doctrine and life of the Church brings to completion the second phase of Anglican - Catholic theological dialogue on an international level.

The presentation of this report should be seen in the context of relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. Over the past two years, the Pontifical Council has been concerned by the impact of recent developments in Anglicanism in North America on our relations. The publication of The Windsor Report and the communiqué issued by the Anglican Primates on February 24th have sought to clarify the direction the Anglican Communion wishes to move. In doing so, they have offered new hope that our dialogue can continue to make progress towards the full communion which has been its aim since it was first conceived in March of 1966, when Pope Paul VI and then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey expressed their intent to inaugurate a dialogue “founded on the Gospels and the ancient common traditions”.

Overview of recent developments

In 2003, the decision of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America to ordain as bishop a priest in an active homosexual relationship, as well as the introduction of a rite of blessing for same sex couples in the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada, created new obstacles for relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. As a result of these actions and the uncertainty they created, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity agreed with representatives of the Anglican Communion to put on hold the plenary meetings of the International Anglican - Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), while maintaining close communication with the Anglican Communion Office and with Lambeth Palace. Established in 2001, IARCCUM is an episcopally led body aimed at fostering practical initiatives that would give expression to the degree of faith shared by Anglicans and Catholics.

Faced with major tensions within the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, established the ‘Lambeth Commission’, mandating it to prepare a report -eventually entitled The Windsor Report - on possible future directions for the Anglican Communion. As part of the Anglican discernment process, Archbishop Williams asked Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to join him in setting up a joint ad hoc sub-commission made up of IARCCUM and ARCIC members, to reflect, in light of the work of ARCIC over the past 35 years, on the ecclesiological issues facing Anglicans.

When the Lambeth Commission published The Windsor Report in October, 2004, once again the Anglican Communion sought a response from its ecumenical partners. Cardinal Kasper was asked by Archbishop Williams to write a letter offering reflections on The Windsor Report (this letter can be read at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/card-kasper-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20041217_kasper-arch-canterbury_en.html) and, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, travelled to London for conversations with him and staff of the Anglican Communion Office in early February. On both occasions Cardinal Kasper emphasised the importance of clarifying both ecclesiological and moral issues related to the current situation.

The Windsor Report presents an ecclesiology which has broad similarities with that set forward in ARCIC’s agreed statements, and proposes various practical steps to situate the autonomy of Anglican provinces more clearly within the interdependence of the Anglican Communion. In February of 2005, the Anglican Primates endorsed The Windsor Report, and reiterated that the Anglican Communion’s teaching about human sexuality remains that stated at the Lambeth Conference of 1998, which affirmed the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and human sexuality.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is of the opinion that these developments affirm the general thrust and conclusions of the understanding of the nature of the Church put forward in the ARCIC dialogue to this point, and that this provides a foundation for continued dialogue and ecumenical co-operation.

Next steps

Following the publication of Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, the next stage in relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion will consist in IARCCUM resuming its review of the work of ARCIC II in an attempt to identify and articulate the degree of faith we share. Upon its completion, this synthesis of ARCIC II’s work will be presented to respective Anglican and Catholic authorities. Beyond that, it is hoped that the way may be open to initiate a third phase of work for ARCIC in due course.