What the Catholic and Anglican Churches can learn from each other . . .

The National Catholic Reporter’s Josh McElwee reports on the latest document to come out of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s dialogue.

Among the considerations in the 68-page report, released July 2, are questions of how the Catholic Church might learn from the Anglican experience to empower local church leaders to act more independently from Rome at times, and to give more governing authority to consultative bodies such as the Synod of Bishops.

“The Roman Catholic Church can learn from the culture of open and frank debate that exists at all levels of the Anglican Communion,” the members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission state in one of the conclusions of their document, titled: “Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church — Local, Regional, Universal.”

“The Anglican practice of granting a deliberative role to synods and of investing authority in regional instruments of communion indicates that the Synod of Bishops could be granted a deliberative role and further suggests the need for the Roman Catholic Church to articulate more clearly the authority of episcopal conferences,” the document continues.

It adds that the Catholic Church can also “fruitfully learn from the inclusion of laity in decision-making structures at every level of Anglican life.”

What could possibly go wrong?

The deliberative approach to doctrine brought us contraception at the Lambeth Conference in 1930.  Thus the Anglican Communion was the first Christian body to do so.

The deliberative role of synods brought us women priests, and later women bishops in many Anglican jurisdictions, one of the reasons why the original founders of my parish left the Anglican Church of Canada in the late 1970s.   The ordination of women meant democracy trumped the God-given nature of the sacrament of Holy Orders in a revealed religion.  Our parish founders thought. “What sacrament will be changed next?  Marriage?  We’re getting off this bus because it is veering into apostasy!”

They also believed making such a change undermined the hopes of Christian unity that had inspired the beginnings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).

As for the “culture of free and open debate,” many former Anglican priests who became Catholic could tell you the debate was free and open until the progressives won, and then anyone who held to orthodox Anglo-Catholic views found himself marginalized, or worse, persecuted.  Some of the most heterodox bishops proved to be the most willing to exercise their authority in a dictatorial fashion.

Already,  however, this latest document from ARCIC is behind the times.  Within the Catholic Church, local bishops and national bishops’ conferences  are following in a direction of asserting the autonomy of the local church over the universal, and the idea that experience and history temper revelation and not the other way around. Whether it’s inter-communion with Protestants in Germany; communion for the divorced and remarried; or support for the ordination of women deacons or even priests, you can find Catholic bishops, regional assemblies of bishops and national bishops’ conferences taking varying positions on these issues, with some asserting what the Catechism says and others saying we have new scientific knowledge, new experiences through which to interpret revelation.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s prophetic document Humanae Vitae, and there are many news reports that some in the Catholic Church want to revisit it,   in line with perhaps a more Lambeth approach.

I do not know anyone in the Ordinariates who wanted to bring Anglicanisms’ de-centralizing, synodal approach that basically allows a vote on aspects of the faith once-delivered to the Apostles with us into the Catholic Church.  We wanted to escape the progressive devolution of “do-your-own-thing” and “be-your-own-pope” into the certainty of the Catholic Church and her magisterium.

We came to see that ecumenism fully realized is “You-come in-ism,” even though I first heard it put that way by someone using it pejoratively.

Years before I became Catholic, I thrilled at the confidence in the document Dominus Iesus by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

With the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf. Acts 17:30-31).90 This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another’”.91 If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.92  However, “all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be more severely judged”.93 One understands then that, following the Lord’s command (cf. Mt 28:19-20) and as a requirement of her love for all people, the Church “proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life”.94


8 thoughts on “What the Catholic and Anglican Churches can learn from each other . . .

  1. I seriously doubt that the Catholic Church will ever go the route of democracy because that would be entirely contrary to the Catholic doctrine of the magisterium as articulated infallibly by the Second Vatican Council in the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium. The first key is the clear distinction between doctrine and discipline that exists in the Catholic Church: doctrinal agreement is absolutely necessary for unity. Indeed, this is precisely why the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus stipulates that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative expression of faith to which all members of each ordinariate must adhere (Article I, §5). Also, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the motu proprio Ecclesiae unitatem reorganizing the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei established for the reconciliation of those who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) to align it more closely with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “[p]recisely because the problems that must now be addressed with the Society are essentially doctrinal in nature….” Unity in doctrine, however, does not require uniformity in discipline — that is, the manner in which we practice our faith.

    With respect to the authority of Catholic episcopal conferences, Canons 447-459 of the Codex Juris Canonici (Code of Canon Law) are very clear. In particular, Canon 455 governs the manner in which a conference of bishops may legislate for its territory.

    Can. 455 §1. A conference of bishops can only issue general decrees in cases where universal law has prescribed it or a special mandate of the Apostolic See has established it either motu proprio or at the request of the conference itself.

    §2. The decrees mentioned in §1, in order to be enacted validly in a plenary meeting, must be passed by at least a two thirds vote of the prelates who belong to the conference and possess a deliberative vote. They do not obtain binding force unless they have been legitimately promulgated after having been reviewed by the Apostolic See.

    §3. The conference of bishops itself determines the manner of promulgation and the time when the decrees take effect.

    Here, two requirements stand out. First, an episcopal conference must have a broad consensus, manifest by 2/3 majority vote, to legislate. And, second, the Apostolic See must approve the legislation before the episcopal conference can promulgate it and thus give it effect.

    As to lay participation in the leadership of the church, Canons 228-231 of the Codex Juris Canonici make adequate provision.

    Can. 228 §1. Lay persons who are found suitable are qualified to be admitted by the sacred pastors to those ecclesiastical offices and functions which they are able to exercise according to the precepts of the law.

    §2. Lay persons who excel in necessary knowledge, prudence, and integrity are qualified to assist the pastors of the Church as experts and advisors, even in councils according to the norm of law.

    Can. 229 §1. Lay persons are bound by the obligation and possess the right to acquire knowledge of Christian doctrine appropriate to the capacity and condition of each in order for them to be able to live according to this doctrine, announce it themselves, defend it if necessary, and take their part in exercising the apostolate.

    §2. They also possess the right to acquire that fuller knowledge of the sacred sciences which are taught in ecclesiastical universities and faculties or in institutes of religious sciences, by attending classes there and pursuing academic degrees.

    §3. If the prescripts regarding the requisite suitability have been observed, they are also qualified to receive from legitimate ecclesiastical authority a mandate to teach the sacred sciences.

    Can. 230 §1. Lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.

    Nevertheless, the conferral of these ministries does not grant them the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

    §2. Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation. All lay persons can also perform the functions of commentator or cantor, or other functions, according to the norm of law.

    §3. When the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply certain of their duties, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside offer liturgical prayers, to confer baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion, according to the prescripts of the law.

    Can. 231 §1. Lay persons who permanently or temporarily devote themselves to special service of the Church are obliged to acquire the appropriate formation required to fulfill their function properly and to carry out this function conscientiously, eagerly, and diligently.

    §2. Without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 230, §1 and with the prescripts of civil law having been observed, lay persons have the right to decent remuneration appropriate to their condition so that they are able to provide decently for their own needs and those of their family. They also have a right for their social provision, social security, and health benefits to be duly provided.

    These faculties are very broad, allowing qualified lay members of the church to exercise many roles even within the magisterium — for example, as advisors to the various congregations of the Roman Curia and to the various episcopal conferences, and even serving as the Administrator of parish or mission where clergy are not available. We probably will see considerable expansion of the instances of laity serving in these roles. However, councils in the Catholic Church are typically advisory rather than deliberative — meaning that the actual decision rests with the bishop, the pastor, or the administrator rather than with a vote of the body except in a few instances for which ecclesial law requires a council’s consent. Episcopal conferences have legislative power only because they are the bishops, and those equivalent in law, of the respective territory.

    I don’t foresee any this changing any time soon.



    • Here’s a great example of what’s possible within current Catholic ecclesial law from the announcement of Resignations and Appointments in today’s bulletin (boldface and underline in original) from the Vatican Information Service (VIS).

      Appointment of prefect of the Dicastery for Communication

      The Holy Father Francis has appointed as prefect of the Dicastery for Communication the Most Distinguished Dr. Paolo Ruffini, currently director of the television network of the Italian Episcopal Conference (Tv2000).

      Dr. Paolo Ruffini

      Dr. Paolo Ruffini was born in Palermo, Italy on 4 October 1956. He graduated in jurisprudence from “La Sapienza” University of Rome. He has exercised the profession of journalist since 1979. In 1986 he married Ms. Maria Argenti.

      He has worked in the press: Il Mattino of Naples (1979-1986) and Il Messaggero of Rome (1986-1996), the radio: Giornale Radio Rai (1996-2002), Canale Gr Parliamento (1998-2002), Radio 1 (1999-2002), Inblu Radio (2014-2018), and the television sector: Rai3 (2002-2011), La7 (2011-2014) and Tv2000 (2014-2018).

      He has received various journalism awards and has taken part in numerous study conventions on the role of Christians in information ,ethics of communication and the new media.

      Historically, the title of Prefect for head of a dicastery of the Roman Curia was reserved for cardinals. Others who exercised that office, usually archbishops, held the title of Pro-Prefect until they received their red hats. It is only in the last couple decades that this tradition cracked. My recollection is that Pope John Paul II was the first to confer the title of Prefect on an archbishop immediately upon his appointment to such a position. Now, however, Pope Francis has appointed a lay gentleman to lead a dicastery of the Roman Curia, granting him this title.

      Note that this is not a case of people who have an agenda contrary to scripture holding the power to abandon sound doctrine by majority vote, as has happened in several provinces of the Anglican Communion and in far too many Protestant denominations. The checks and balances of the magisterium are still secure.



  2. Concerning this pointless and staggering waste of time and money, I can only wonder why no one among these learned and brainy “dialogists” has had the thought that how “progressive” Anglican Communion churches have treated dissidents from their march into the Brave New World via WO, SS, and the like might serve as a check for the veracity of these laudatory sentiments? There are indeed lessons here for Catholics (and others) with eyes to see them, just not those feted in the report.


  3. They lost me at, “Included among the Anglican members are: Huron, Canada Bishop [sic] Linda Nicholls…”

    A colossal waste of time and money, as Bill Tighe already noted — not to mention, confusing and misleading the faithful, and dishonestly giving the impression that we’re “walking together toward full communion” and all that nonsense, when we have drifted farther apart in the last couple of decades than in the last several hundred years.


  4. I am appalled! Yes, there are definitely lessons to be learned from the Anglican Communion, lessons of what NOT to do! “The Anglican practice of granting a deliberative role to synods and of investing authority in regional instruments of communion” is exactly what has led the Communion into the mess it’s in, divided, with lawsuits over property, provinces essentially ‘excommunicating’ other provinces, individuals, congregations, and dioceses leaving, etc., etc., ad nauseam.


    • Examples of what NOT to do are nevertheless worthwhile lessons. Those who do not learn the lessons of history are inevitably doomed to repeat them.

      Personally, I have learned more than a few such lessons from the clergy of my own archdiocese — most notably, a LOT of how NOT to preach and how NOT to celebrate liturgy.



    • The lesson from Anglicanism is that the so-called “progressive” agenda leads to division rather than unity.

      And the magisterium of the Catholic Church has learned it very well.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s