Anglican scholars respond to Vespers address
by James Thrall
A top official of the Roman Catholic church has offered a positive but cautionary assessment of the relationship between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, according to ecumenical consultants assisting at the Lambeth Conference.
The homily at Monday night's ecumenical vesper service by Edward Iris Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, reasserted that the two churches "share a real, but imperfect communion," said Professor William Franklin, dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. "He categorically reaffirmed the
The Rev Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director of Faith, Worship and Ministry for the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, observed, however, that Cardinal Cassidy's words were "more cautious than enthusiastic." Like Franklin, Canon Barnett-Cowan is an advisor to the Section Four group of bishops considering ecumenical issues. Cardinal Cassidy in particular raised difficult but important questions about the role of authority for the two churches, questions "the Anglican Communion wrestles with all the time," she said.
He also warned that "our internal disunity leads to an increasing disunity with the Roman Catholic Church," Dean Franklin noted. "When Cardinal Cassidy refers to new interpretations of the Gospel creating new problems, he seems to imply something, but he doesn't name it, so it is difficult to know just he means," Canon Barnett-Cowan said. The Cardinal's homily mentions the issue of homosexuality, but did not name any other topics being considered by the conference.
While Cardinal Cassidy was not explicit in his references to the need for a universal authority as an instrument of unity, he seemed to be "offering the papacy as that author-ity," Dean Franklin said."I think he's giving us that, as if to say, would you like to use this?" Dean Franklin sug- gested, however, that "our bishops may come up with other forms of universal authority which are not focused on one person or a single office."
A key benefit of the homily, Dean Franklin said, is that it offers a "useful context" for the discussion of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations by the Section Four subgroup chaired by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the United States. "What the cardinal has done is to let us know what their understanding is of what our relationship should be for the next decade--which is real but imperfect communion, with cautions about ways that communion can be improved but also weakened."
As the conference pursues all the topics on its agenda, the homily is a reminder that "one of the important issues on the table is how important do Anglican bishops feel is the rela-tionship with the Roman Church at this time," Dean Franklin said."They should make that evaluation." In response, and picking up on language Cardinal Cassidy used, "we might want to express, with Christian love, the concerns of the Anglican Communion about the relationship," Dean Franklin said. "The spirit of the Conference ought to be: he has laid out a con-text; we should respond with our interpretation of what it means."
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