By Gina Christian | OSV News
(OSV News) — Catholics and Anglicans in the U.S. are continuing to discern “the Spirit at work” in each other, ecumenical expert Father James Puglisi, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement, told OSV News.
Back in October 2022, Father Puglisi headed to Chicago with a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to meet with members of the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA, on ecumenical dialogue between the two Christian communions.
On Jan. 23, both the USCCB and ACNA announced the October dialogue, and shared two papers from the theological exchange: Catholic teaching on apostolic succession and episcopacy in the Anglican tradition.
Among those participating in the theological exchange — the second exchange between the two groups — were Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis, Tennessee; Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown, Pennsylvania; retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee; Romanian Catholic Bishop John-Michael Botean of the Eparchy of St. George in Canton, Ohio; and Father Walter Kedjierski, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
ACNA Bishop Eric Menees told OSV News that the USCCB and ACNA have been in conversations since 2009, when ACNA was founded in response to differences with both the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church of Canada over the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who was living publicly in a homosexual relationship.
Although not formally part of the global Anglican Communion, ACNA is recognized by most of the world’s Anglicans, said Bishop Menees, who oversees the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, California.
Once established, ACNA “quickly formed relations with Roman Catholic parishes and bishops,” said Bishop Menees. “We saw how much we had in common, particularly regarding moral theology … the uniqueness of Christ for salvation and the authority of Scripture.”
Father Kedjierski told OSV News the USCCB dialogue with ACNA is “a wonderful new step” from an initial “meet and greet … to really looking at theology together.” The USCCB currently has 23 ecumenical and interfaith conversations, including with the Episcopal Church.
Father Puglisi, who at the October 2022 ACNA-USCCB gathering presented a paper describing Catholic teaching on apostolic succession, told OSV News that both Catholics and Anglicans “need to look at each other to see” where they have “a lived reality” in which “the Word is proclaimed, the sacraments are celebrated, and (faithful are) living a life of charity and service in the world.”
The path of Anglican-Catholic dialogue has taken a number of twists and turns over the centuries since the Church of England’s 1534 split with Rome under King Henry VIII, said Father James Loughran, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement and director of that order’s Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute in New York.
Anglican-Catholic relations “didn’t look very good until the end of the 19th century,” Father Loughran told OSV News. Even then, he said, they were strained by Pope Leo XIII’s 1896 apostolic letter “Apostolicae Curae,” which “declared Anglican orders absolutely, utterly null and void.”
Throughout the 20th century, however, dialogue — significantly initiated by the Anglican Communion — began to gain momentum. The Second Vatican Council, along with the establishment of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, continued the ecumenical conversations.
Bishop Menees said ACNA’s vision for Anglican-Catholic ecumenism includes fulfilling the goals of the 1968 Malta Report. The document — the fruit of a yearlong series of Anglican-Catholic exchanges overseen by St. Paul VI and then Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey — stressed the many core similarities between the two confessions, while calling for close collaboration and mutual respect in resolving differences.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic constitution, “Anglicanorum Coetibus,” which created “personal ordinariates,” diocesan-like structures to allow groups of Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church, while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage. The Houston-based Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, one such diocese for the Anglican tradition, was established in 2012 and has approximately 40 parishes and communities in the U.S. and Canada.
Speaking on his own behalf rather than that of ACNA, Bishop Menees — who attended the ordination of the ordinariate’s Bishop Steven J. Lopes — said he “was grateful to Pope Benedict XVI for having opened the door” to enhanced Anglican-Catholic relations by establishing the ordinariate.
At the same time, Bishop Menees noted the ordinariate is “problematic for Anglicans” since it is a ‘one-generation event.'” Similar to the Eastern Catholic tradition, the Anglican tradition allows for both married and celibate priests. However the ordinariate ultimately follows the long-standing practice of the Latin Church, allowing Anglican married clergy to request ordination to the Catholic priesthood as an exception, eventually leading to a celibate-only priesthood as the norm.
The ordinariate itself did not participate in the ACNA-USCCB October 2022 dialogue, and contacts for the ordinariate were unavailable before OSV News’ deadline.
Yet Bishop Menees said above all he “rejoices” at efforts to further dialogue, and described the October 2022 meeting between ACNA and the USCCB as “grace-filled.”
Both Anglicans and Catholics in North America can actively cooperate in a number of ways, “including on social justice issues,” Bishop Schlert told OSV News. “We can participate in each others’ liturgies as far as is allowed, and there are many spiritual writers in both faiths who offer beautiful reflections that we would all agree upon.”
But ACNA also can provide Catholics valuable and creative perspectives on evangelization, Sherry Weddell, Catholic author of “Forming Intentional Disciples” and executive director of the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Catherine of Siena Institute, told OSV News. As “a truly missional group that simultaneously takes the sacraments and creeds very seriously,” Weddell said ACNA is a “fellow traveler and kindred spirit” with Catholics in the mission of evangelization.
Weddell pointed in particular to ACNA’s Always Forward (formerly “Anglican 1000”) initiative. Launched in 2009 under ACNA’s then-Archbishop Bob Duncan, the project aimed establish 1,000 new churches within ACNA’s first five years through “church planting” — a strategy that has been “the primary evangelization tool for the past 40 years” among non-Catholic Christian denominations, particularly evangelical ones, said Weddell.
“The goal is to plant small, permeable, intentional evangelization communities within easy access of everyone in the neighborhood,” Weddell told OSV News. “They start quite small, in the hope that over time they will grow into full-blown congregations, who will send out other teams to plant churches.”
As of June 2022, ACNA has so far succeeded in establishing 974 parishes. In contrast, Weddell said, “our Catholic approach, at the practical level, has been to consolidate lots of our parishes into clusters.” This approach in turn produces larger, more complex and “more distant (faith) communities” into which many believers “never make the transition,” said Weddell, adding that evangelization studies support the church-planting approach.
Ultimately, Anglicans and Catholics “have so much more in common than what divides us,” said Father Loughran. “Yet we know that we are separated at the Lord’s table … and that’s something we want to heal.”