The Catholic League is an ecumenical movement, for building bridges from all sides towards reconciliation through the Catholic faith, from the perspective of Catholic principles of ecumenism. Its work is the realisation in the world of the Unity of the Church for which Christ prayed on the night before his Passion. Historically this focussed on the corporate reunion of the Anglican Church "united not absorbed" with the Catholic Church, especially in the context of English life and society.
Unity of faith and communion of life are essential to making the Christian faith known in the present day. In the light of the Second Vatican Council, especially the Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium and the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, the League promotes the visible realisation of communion among Christians. From its beginning in our common Baptism in Christ, through sharing and thus understanding the Catholic faith more clearly, communion grows by exchanges of the riches of the spiritual life and the different traditions of worship within the Church. In a process of ecumenical learning, too, the distinctive traditions and denominational structures learn much from each others' experience in striving to live faithfullly as the one Church of the Apostles, looking towards the completion of unity. Essential to this forward vision is re-integrated union as the one Church of Christ and perfect participation at his Eucharist. The League's witness is to the unique role and vocation of the office of Pope as the guardian and means of Catholicity and unity for the whole of Christianity. As Bishop of Rome and successor to St Peter the apostle, the Pope is charged by Christ with a special pastoral ministry to nourish and 'strengthen his brothers', all Christians, their churches and leaders.
And as the first among the bishops of the Church, the Pope serves an historical role as guardian of orthodox Christianity. The League therefore promotes the reconciliation of all Christians and the recovery of union with the Holy See, in the spirit of the late Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter On Ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint.
Anglican-Roman Catholic Ecumenism
Drawn from various Christian communities within the one Church of Christ represented in the contemporary United Kingdom, many of the League's members are English Anglicans or Roman Catholics. So it has long supported moves to bring the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church into closer relationship and unity. Its founders were active in the Malines Conversations and commending the Church Unity Octave, the Catholic prototype for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the 1930s its leaders invited Paul Couturier, the French priest who founded the modern-day Week of Prayer, for a direct encounter between the wider Catholic Church and fractured Christianity in Britain.
With a view to 'spiritual ecumenism' between different Christian traditions, from the 1960s and 1970s it has encouraged Vatican II's pastoral, liturgical and theological renewal to be embraced beyond the bounds of the Roman Catholic community, for wider ecumenical growth and development. It has worked throughout to support ARCIC, the ongoing dialogue conducted by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission originally established by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, and IARCCUM, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission, more recently founded by Pope John Paul II and Archbishop George Carey to take forward collaboration on mission and social development concerns.
In the changed situation caused by the Church of England's General Synod resolution to proceed with the admission of women to the episcopate, the See of Peter regards the former pathway to fulness of communion through the review of recognition of Anglican church structures, and thus the reconciliation of the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, as finally blocked. Nevertheless, in a clearer light and at a new level, now that Anglicanism is decisively oriented by the perspective of its Reformation tradition, Catholic efforts and aspirations towards recovering communion with Anglicans will be intensified, alongside a more trusting friendship and active collaboration pastorally and in mission.
Thus the Catholic League, from uncertain beginning in 1913, has seen its objectives become the mainstream policy of the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion in the second half of the twentieth century. It has always been keen to support the work of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Recently, we have given grants to the Anglican Centre to create two online presentations of the exhibition in 2002, to celebrate half a century of formal ecumenical links between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, that toured Norwich and other English Cathedrals following its initial showing at the Vatican Museums. The first charts the setting for Anglicanism within the Western Christian Tradition, demonstrating its "communion of origins" with the wider Latin Catholic Church. The second, covers the work of common witness and service in friendship and collaboration, Moving Together in Unity and Mission, that marks the present steps towards the fullness of communion between us.
The League continues to support the Anglican-Catholic dialogue, especially in its new phase of ARCI III to which Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams have committed their Churches in the new situation, as well as all efforts towards greater understanding, mutual enrichment, and closer work together locally on the ground and in wider society.
And since the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, the League is supporting efforts to enable who treasure and seek to conserve their historic religious and cultural patrimony in fullness of communion with the Catholic Church and the See of Peter to be able to do so, in a way that both leads to its greater development and to closer ecumenical bonds between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church.
As important has been the encouragement of greater unity between the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Apostolic Churches of the East and Christians of the Latin tradition in the West, following Pope John Paul's orientation of Catholic ecumenism towards healing the most ancient and deep-seated divisions within Christianity. The East-West Meetings, supported by the League and its collaborators, take up the challenge in his Letter Orientale Lumen and his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, in which he called for the reconciliation of East and West and initiated a re-imagining of the pope's Petrine ministry so as to be of service in the one Church, even beyond the immediate bounds of the Catholic Church itself.
In England the growing presence of Eastern Christians makes the unity of the Catholic Church with the Orthodox Church a pressing pastoral and evangelistic priority. For the Catholic Church as a whole, too, it is the principal ecumenical task. Increasingly the Catholic League will endeavour to serve these objectives, especially through our links with the Society of St John Chrysostom.
Ecumenical Learning - Receptive Ecumenism
At Vatican II the Catholic Church recognised how traditions and developments rightly belonging to the whole of the Church were not available universally, owing to the sinful fact of separation between Christians. Thus Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Christians alike were failing to benefit from the riches of each others' heritage and discipleship. Receptive Ecumenism enables each tradition with integrity to learn and receive from the belief and organisation, the worship and spirituality of the others. In this spirit, there are historic, informal links with some of the societies in the Church of England promoting Catholic faith, spirituality and discipleship, such as the Society of Mary and the Church Union. Unitas is also linked with other ecumenical societies, such as the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Society of St John Chrysostom.
And in furtherance of the future re-integration of Christians in the one Church, the League also warmly supports greater mutual understanding of faith and order between Catholics and Christians in the Reformed, Evangelical and other Protestant Church traditions.
But the primary work of the Catholic League is spiritual. Each member shares in a daily Apostleship of Prayer for Christian Unity, including intercession daily in unity with the intentions of the Pope. There are also regular opportunities for pilgrimage, retreats and meetings. These encourage encounter between Christians of different backgrounds, and their richness of tradition, along the road to unity. From the outset, the League has also worked to popularise the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, with its Catholic origins and history.
Thanks to the renewal of Vatican II, and converging moves in the lives of Orthodox, Anglican and Reformation families of Christians, the call to the Unity of all humanity and all creation in Christ has been placed at the heart of the life and hope of the whole pilgrim Church as it journeys through the world. The Catholic League has wholeheartedly embraced this vocation for the separate Churches and groups of Christians to grow ever more closely together, through discovering more deeply the riches of the Catholic Faith they share and the diverse gifts entrusted to each different tradition for the benefit of all. As they make this journey into Unity, witnessing to the Churches to which they belong, the members of the Catholic League - Roman Catholic, Anglicans and others - are already united in a truly ecumenical endeavour.
Week of Prayer Intercession Leaflets - Click here to download.
The Catholic League occasionally makes small grants towards projects in furtherance of its four objects:
- Closer fellowship and friendship among Christians who believe the Catholic faith
- The visible Unity of the Church and the reconciliation of all Christians through the ministry of the Apostolic See of Peter at Rome
- The spread of the Catholic faith
- The deepening of the spiritual life
Grants are not available for ecclesiastical furnishings, personal expeditions, or causes which are not directed toward spiritual ecumenism. Grants are available to those preparing for the ordained ministry in a recognised Church towards books in connection with a course of ecumenical study on the Unity of Christians in accordance with the four objects of the Catholic League. Applications, showing how a grant would further the Unitas objects and including a detailed budget, must be sent in writing to the General Secretary. Proposals will then be considered by the League's Executive.