Anglicans and Christian unity: progress report

Anglicans and Christian unity: progress report

Bishop David Robarts

Bishop David Robarts is the National Chairman of Forward in Faith Australia, and Bishop of the Southern Apostolic District in the Anglican Catholic Church of Australia - the Australian manifestation of the Traditional Anglican Communion.

The recovery of unity has become an increasingly important priority for mainstream Christians over the best part of a century or more, and important progress towards unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics was made during the late 19th to the mid 20th century. However, it was successive meetings between Archbishops of Canterbury and the Pope, most notably that of Archbishop Ramsay and Pope Paul VI in 1966, that heralded a new era in relationships.

But progress in this direction has been set back more recently with the ordination of women and other issues of the 'gender agenda' which have become a source of deep division within the Anglican Communion. Since it is composed of 39 autonomous provinces in which bishops, and provinces, are not in full communion with each other - or the Archbishop of Canterbury - can it still properly be called a Communion?

This picture is further complicated by the creation of traditionalist bodies seeking to uphold and preserve historic Anglican Faith and Order. In 1977, and in the face of emerging innovative doctrines and practices in the USA, most notably the illegal ordination of 11 women priests, a Congress of Concerned Churchmen was held in St Louis. It produced an Affirmation which became the charter for groups of 'Continuing Anglicans', the most substantial being the world-wide Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC).

In response to the ordination of women in 1992 Forward in Faith (FiF) was established as a substantial minority within the Church of England. Legislation provided a means of survival with the provision of Provincial Episcopal Visitors (Flying Bishops) for those unable to accept this innovation.

Forward in Faith was embraced as a possible lifeline and rallying point in North America (FiFNA) and Australia (FiFA), but in spite of pleas to bishops and Synodical bodies, no provision has been made in these two countries to satisfy the consciences of traditionalists with appropriate episcopal oversight.

In more recent times there has been a deteriorating situation facing FiF with the prospect of women bishops looming and General Synod unlikely to make further provision for Traditionalists. Some 40% of clergy in England are now female.

Such circumstances have led increasing numbers of Anglicans to give serious thought to 'swimming the Tiber'. Indeed, since 1992 there has been a continuous movement in that direction, with the better part of 500 C of E priests departing at that time in the wake of the vote.

There have been numbers of petitions and enquiries over the last two or three years to the Vatican. Most notable has been the letter sent to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) by the bishops of the worldwide TAC following its meeting in Portsmouth in October 2007 seeking 'a communal and ecclesial way of being Anglican Catholics in communion with the Holy See'.

Generous response

The generous response of the Holy Father to the plight of traditional Anglicans was made in the form of an Apostolic Constitution with Complementary Norms in November last year. These provide a structure and a process for the setting up of Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans in full communion with the Catholic Church.

While there has been a good deal of excitement and conjecture as to which, and how many, Anglicans will take advantage of this offer, it is far too early to tell. Certainly the setting up of Ordinariates within particular countries will take some time.

So far as the TAC is concerned, letters have gone off to the CDF from the Canadian, American, and English bishops and an Australian one will go shortly, requesting Ordinariates. When a response has been received from the CDF, or perhaps even before, TAC National Synods will be held with the matter then considered further by parishes and individual members. A similar pattern is likely to follow in other countries.

Matters will take a different course for FiF in its various constituencies, and it must be born in mind that the organisation is not an ecclesial body. It has, however, had an international concordat of communion with the TAC for many years. In England an Ordinariate is being given thoughtful consideration as a real option by numbers of its members. No formal application has as yet been made to the CDF by its National Council - or elements within FiF in the UK, so far as I know.

FiFNA for its part is actively involved in the processes of establishing a new orthodox province - the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) - in the USA and Canada as an alternative to the two radical Anglican provinces driving their agenda in these countries. However, FiFNA is not showing any interest in the prospect of setting up an Ordinariate.

FiFA has already declared its hand in welcoming the prospect of an Ordinariate in Australia at a Special General Meeting in February through a series of Resolutions. It will be sending off a letter to the CDF shortly. Anyone interested in becoming a Friend of the Ordinariate - it does not commit a person to joining the Ordinariate - should contact:

While the TAC is certainly represented in numbers of countries in Africa, along with India, and elsewhere, I have not heard of any serious interest being shown in the Pope's invitation by any of the conservative Anglican provinces in Africa, many of which are dynamic and populous, such as Nigeria - over 17 million members - and are strongly opposed to homosexual practice. A competitive Islam exploits this issue espoused in parts of the Anglican West to denigrate local Christian endeavour.

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