Over the course of the coming days and weeks we will be publishing some texts from the 1990s, especially pertaining to the management of the transition of Anglican clergy and laity to the Catholic Church. Many of these, it is thought, are not available elsewhere online. There are significant differences between the circumstances of the 1990s and the current development - the difference between individual and group reconciliation being chief amongst them. Having said that, many of the texts enunciate, in a helpful way, the journey of many of Anglicans towards the full communion of the Catholic Church and the official response of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, to their requests.
First is a Pastoral Message from the Archbishops and Bishop of England & Wales to the Catholic priests and people of their dioceses. It was read in parishes on the Fourth Sunday of Easter 1993.
Last November, the General Synod of the Church of England passed a resolution authorising the ordination of women to the priesthood. Although this measure was agreed by a two-thirds majority, it left a number of Anglican clergy and laypeople not only opposed to the decision itself but also deeply troubled in conscience. As has been well-publicised, some have turned towards the Catholic Church and begin to consider whether they might seek full communion with our Church. The extent of reaction has taken many by surprise. The uncertainty about the numbers involved has helped to fuel rumour and misunderstanding.
Many different hopes and anxieties have been expressed, in the nation at large as well as within the Church of England and within our own Catholic community. As your bishops, we have listened to these and have reflected together on the sensitive pastoral and ecumenical issues which are involved. During our Low Week meeting at Westminster, we have been able to agree on certain principles which must guide our response, and we have begun to set out some practical ways forward. More detailed reports of these discussions will be available through the media, but we also wish to send this pastoral message to all our priests and people. Our purpose is to explain these principles and invite you to share with us the process of proud reflection which is needed at this time.
It is important first of all to understand that, for many of those Anglicans now looking towards the Catholic Church, the Synod vote last November brought to a head some long-felt difficulties. These people, by no means all clergy, are concerned particularly about authority. They do not believe that the General Synod has the authority to admit women to the priesthood. They believe that decisions about a matter of such doctrinal importance should not be taken by the Church of England alone. Even though much discussion focused on attitudes to women and ordination, it is the issue of the teaching authority claimed by the Church of England which is at the heart of present anxieties. It is to this that we, as Catholics, must respond.
We believe that whilst the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all Christians by virtue of their baptism, it is the bishops of the Catholic Church, together with the Pope, who have the task of teaching with authority those things which Christ has revealed to us as saving truth. It is this understanding of authority, as the sure way to truth, which in recent years led us to explain that the Anglican vote to ordain women would in fact change our relationship with the Church of England, adding a real obstacle to our hopes for unity. It is this same teaching authority, expressed especially in the ministry of the Pope, which some Anglicans now wish to recognise and adhere to.
Our response must reflect our deep pastoral concern. As a Catholic community, one of our first responsibilities is to welcome those who seek with a sincere hearts to belong to our Church. Each person’s journey into the Catholic Church is unique, but in these present circumstances, we shall wish to acknowledge the value of the ministry and life of faith, which those who now seek to join us have already experienced.
In the light of some fears which has been expressed, let it be clearly understood that this does not mean bargaining with truth, nor a wholesale abandonment of the disciplines of our Church. Nor is compromise sought in what is expected of those seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. We gladly welcome their rich devotion and personal holiness, but we look towards their eventual total integration into the life and mission of the Catholic Church. This remains true whether their approach to ask is as individuals or in groups. Our response will be generous and understanding. It will be guided by the same principles, even if in the difficult period of transition, these may be expressed in different practical forms suited to varying situations in our different dioceses.
We repeat: we shall look towards eventual total integration into the Catholic Church. But this is a new situation and we must feel our way forward sensitively, courageously, with understanding and faith. Of course it will also, in general terms, be after due consultation with the Holy See. It is communion with the one universal Catholic Church which those troubled at this time are seeking, not some negotiated change of membership at the local level.
We hope that those who join us as a result of these events will come to live happily a truly Catholic way of life, in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. But we cannot expect that the issues and concerns of the present time can be resolved quickly, not least because of the uncertainty created by the parliamentary legislation now needed by the Church of England to implement the decision of last November’s Synod. For our part, we must proceed patiently, and with prayer.
Whatever the outcomes of this process, our ecumenical relationships continue because they are central to our response to the Lord’s will for his Church. The real bond a baptism still unites us, and we must make every effort to build upon that bond, not only with our Anglican brothers and sisters but also with other Christian communities. Together we are called to serve God’s kingdom in our world. Together we have a mission to proclaim the Gospel in the circumstances of our own society in this country, as well as in the wider world. Our ecumenical commitment must always keep in mind this larger purpose.
We ask you to pray that is together we will find the right ways forward for the whole of God’s Church. Let your prayer guide your contribution to the reflection and conscientious questioning, now taking place in the whole Church. We need to have a deep reliance on the Holy Spirit, who unfailingly guides the Church in the way of truth. ‘But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part, is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.’ Eph 4:15-16.
Signed: In the name of the Bishops of their Provinces,
+George Basil Cardinal Hume, for the Province of Westminster
+Derek Worlock, for the Province of Liverpool
+Michael Bowen for the Province of Southwark
+Maurice Couve de Murville, for the Province of Birmingham
+John Aloysius Ward, for the Province of Cardiff
+Francis Walmsley, Bishop of the Forces