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History of Roman Catholic / Anglican relations:

The Anglican church split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 CE. The main cause was a dispute between King Henry VIII of England and the pope over the king's need to annul his marriage. The Anglican Church became the state church of England. It now consists of many affiliated provinces (national churches) across the world, such as the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. During the past two centuries, there have been efforts made to reunify the two churches:
bullet The Roman Catholic Church's historical position was that reunion with Protestants would take the form of individual members converting to Catholicism.
bullet In the 18th century, William Wake (the Archbishop of Canterbury) tried to promote a reunion of two churches. He was unsuccessful.
bullet In 1870, the First Vatican Council declared the primacy and infallibility of the pope. This increased significantly the division between the two churches. Other points of conflict were:
bullet The developing Protestant world-wide missionary movement
bullet The increasing role of Mary in the Roman Catholic church, as evidenced by dogmas that she was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven at the time of her death, and that she was conceived without sin.
bullet In 1908, the Roman Catholic Church started an annual practice of setting aside a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each year to pray for unity through "the return of heretics and schismatics to the Church of Rome."
bullet At their Lambeth conference of 1920, Anglicans called for unity between the two churches.
bullet In 1928, Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical "Mortalium animos" (On fostering true religious unity). It dealt a crushing blow to the emerging ecumenical movement. It stated that the Roman Catholic Church cannot become involved in the movement towards unity. It "also contained a clear warning that Catholic support of interfaith assemblies and moves by non-Catholics to bring about Christian unity would be considered subversive." 6 As always, non-Catholics would be welcome if they individually left their church of origin and returned to "the one true Church of Christ."
bullet In 1948, Pope Pius XII did not accept the invitation from the World Council of Churches for the Roman Catholic Church to become a member.
bullet In 1950, the Holy Office recognized for the first time that the ecumenical movement is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Individual Roman Catholics were given permission to attend ecumenical meetings as long as church dogma is not discussed. For the first time in centuries, Anglicans and Roman Catholics were able to recite the Lord's Prayer together.
bullet Christian theologians and pastors from Protestant denominations were given active observer status at the four official sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). 2
bullet Circa 1965, Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI met in Rome to initiate an earnest search for unity. They agree to set up the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). 
bullet The 1968 Malta Report of the ARCIC recognized that one of the "urgent and important tasks" would be to examine the question of authority within the churches. 3
bullet The Final Report of the ARCIC was published in 1981. "Half of it was devoted to the dialogue about authority in the Church, with two agreed statements and an elucidation." 3
bullet In 1994, American Roman Catholic and Episcopal bishops made a joint ecumenical pilgrimage to the Vatican at Rome, and to Canterbury in England.
bullet In 1996, the "Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and Pope John Paul II stated very frankly the need for this work on authority...: 'Without agreement in this area we shall not reach the full, visible unity to which we are both committed'."
bullet In 1999, the ARCIC issued a further statement and commentary on union.
bullet In 2000, bishops from the two churches met in Mississauga, ON, Canada, near Toronto.

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The gaps between the Roman Catholic & Anglican churches:

The two churches have gradually drifted apart on theological grounds. During the 20th century, the churches have also adopted different policies on various matters -- particularly tose related to human sexuality. Some points of conflict between the two churches are:
bullet The Roman Catholic Church refuses to recognize that Anglican priests have been legitimately ordained and that their bishops have been legally consecrated. This means, for example, Roman Catholics and Anglicans cannot receive the communion elements together.
bullet Catholics believe in the existence of Purgatory as a place and state after death. Anglicans do not.
bullet Catholics believe that the wine and wafer become the actual blood and body of Christ during the Eucharist. Anglicans do not.
bullet Catholics believe that the pope has authority over all of Christianity. Anglican Archbishop George Cary says that he has no problem with the idea of a "universal" primate. It is the nature, jurisdiction and authority of that primacy that must be settled.
bullet The Catholic church, alone, believes that certain of the the pope's pronouncements, when he speaks ex cathedra (officially) on matters of faith and morals, are infallible. 
bullet The pope is the ultimate authority in the Roman Catholic Church. Decisions in the Anglican churches require separate affirmative votes by the laity, clergy and bishops.
bullet Anglicans do not believe in the Immaculate Conception (the dogma that Mary was without sin when she was conceived circa 20 BCE.) They do not believe that she was transferred bodily to heaven at her death. There is a growing belief in the Catholic Church that Mary has the status, with Jesus, of co-redemptrix. That concept is quite foreign to Protestant and Anglican denominations.
bullet Very few Catholic priests and bishops are allowed to marry.
bullet Catholic women are not eligible for ordination to the priesthood. The pope considers the matter a closed subject and has forbidden discussion on it. In 1971, two Anglican women in Hong Kong became the first female regularly ordained women in the Anglican Communion. This was followed by female ordination in many other Anglican churches and finally --in 1992 -- in the Church of England.
bullet Women have been consecrated as bishops in some Anglican jurisdictions.
bullet Catholics do not allow Divorce and remarriage; Anglicans do.
bullet Birth control is forbidden for Catholics, although most North Americans use it routinely. To Anglicans, it is a private, not a religious, issue.
bullet Roman Catholic women are forbidden to have an an abortion. The Anglican church takes a more liberal view.
bullet Roman Catholic couples who are infertile are forbidden to start pregnancies through in vitro fertilization. To Anglicans, it is not a religious issue.
bullet In 2001, the New Westminster, British Columbia diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada voted in favor of blessing gay and lesbian unions. In 2003-JAN, Rowan Williams was installed as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He brings with him a strong desire to promote equality of persons of all sexual orientations within the Anglican Communion. During the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, USA, the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire was confirmed. He was divorced and is now in a long term, committed relationship with another man. Any movement towards the ordination of homosexual priests who are in committed relationships, and/or the blessing of gay and lesbian unions will increase the divisions between the Anglican Communion and Roman Catholic Church.

Of these, the most serious point of dispute appears to be the authority of the Pope and the Vatican. On a positive note, the two churches have retained similar internal organizational structures; that might simplify an eventual reunion.

Tom Harpur, religion editor for the Toronto Star commented on the Mississauga meeting: "Don't expect too much from the week-long the Queen of the Apostles Retreat Centre." He believes that union will not "happen in any of our lifetimes" for two reasons:

bullet All of the discussions to date have not produced any practical changes.
bullet The "few issues outstanding -- the ordination of women priests and especially the consecration of women bishops by some Anglican dioceses, plus the nature of the authority of a Pope in a reunited church are huge."

Rather than come together, these two churches appear to be drifting even farther apart. The pope, it is rumored, may soon declare the Virgin Mary to be a co-redemptrix. Some of the newly consecrated female bishops in the Anglican Church may soon start ordaining male and female candidates to the priesthood. 

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The 2000 conference in Mississauga:

"Thirty-five years ago, the first major step towards reconciliation were taken. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who heads the Anglican church, decided the faiths should come together again." 1

Thirteen pairs of bishops -- one Anglican and one Roman Catholic -- from each of 13 countries of the world took part in a conference in Mississauga ON Canada, near Toronto. They came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Southern Africa, Uganda, United States,  and the West Indies. They stayed at the Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre. Joint chairpersons were the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, President of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Father Peter Cross, a Roman Catholic priest commented: "The Christian message of reconciliation is a bit hollow if Christians are disagreeing or even fighting with each other." Anglican Bishop John Baycroft said: "You wouldn't believe how many people I've heard from who are telling me that they're praying for us Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

On APR-17 The Most Reverend George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered a sermon at ecumenical vespers. He said, in part:

"...our two Churches have traveled a long way together during the last forty or so years and we have much in common. This evening gives us an opportunity to celebrate that fact.

Nevertheless we know that some Protestant Christians object to this theological dialogue. They fear that Reformation principles are being abandoned and gospel faith is being traduced. I reply that the journey the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have taken since the Second Vatican Council has not been a journey away from the Christian faith but a pilgrimage together into its heart. Polemics lead to hatred and division. Partnership leads to the promise of mutual service and eventual union

"The crisis of Christian division is the sad legacy of the past and our continuing failure to heal it. Although we personally are not to blame for those historical circumstances which have lead to today's divided Church we are accountable to the degree that we are unwilling to work for resolution of the results of past conflicts." 4

According to the Toronto Star: "While the bishops attend services together, they do not walk up to the altar to receive communion together. The Catholics take communion only in their services, the Anglicans only in theirs. And that, as much as anything, captures the reason for the meeting." 5

The bishops issued a statement "Communion in mission" which was published by ACNS -- the Anglican news service -- on MAY-23. It said, in part:

"We appreciate that there are as yet unresolved differences and challenges which affect both Communions.  These have to do with such matters as: the understanding of authority in the Church, including the way it is exercised, and the precise nature of the future role of the universal primate; Anglican Orders; the ordination of women; moral and ethical questions.  Though interchurch families can be signs of unity and hope, one pressing concern has to do with addressing the need to provide joint pastoral care for them. Sometimes those in interchurch families experience great pain particularly in the area of eucharistic life...However, we believe these challenges are not to be compared with all that we hold in common." 6

The statement on interchurch families apparently refers to the fact that Anglicans and Roman Catholics are still not permitted to take communion together.

The report continues: "We believe that now is the appropriate time for the authorities of our two Communions to recognise and endorse this new stage through the signing of a Joint Declaration of Agreement. This Agreement would set out: our shared goal of visible unity; an acknowledgment of the consensus in faith that we have reached, and a fresh commitment to share together in common life and witness.  Our two Communions would be invited to celebrate this Agreement around the world."

They propose establishing a Joint Unity Commission which will "oversee the preparation of the Joint Declaration of  Agreement, and promote and monitor the reception of ARCIC agreements, as well as facilitate the development of strategies for translating the degree of spiritual communion that has been achieved into visible and practical outcomes."

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Author's comments:

The problem of union may be exacerbated by the relative sizes of the two churches. There are about 1 billion Roman Catholics but only about 70 million Anglicans -- a ratio of about 14 to 1: If they had roughly equal numbers of members, then the Roman Catholic church might be more motivated to compromise. But if they only stand to gain an extra 7% of followers, one wonders whether they would be willing to make major changes to their organization. theology and practices. Beliefs relating to human sexuality appear to be a major source of difficulty. Further, they seem to be diverging. They include abortion access, equal rights for gays and lesbians in the churches and the rest of society, recognition of same-sex unions, ordination of married priests, ordination of female priests, in-vitro fertilization, divorce, remarriage, contraception, etc. The other major area of conflict is authority within the churches.

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  1. "Catholics, Anglicans hold reunion talks in Canada," CBC News, 2000-MAY-15, at:
  2. J.M. Tillard, "Rome and Ecumenism," at: 
  3. "The Gift of Authority: An Agreed Statement by the Second
    Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission,
    " at:
  4. "Archbishop of Canterbury's Sermon at Ecumenical Vespers," delivered 2000-MAY-17 at 18:00 hrs. ACNS mailing list; Anglican Communion Office, London.
  5. Leslie Schrivener, "Bishops meeting in seclusion in Mississauga," Toronto Star, 2000-MAY-18, Pages A1 & A26.
  6. Michael McAteer, "So near and yet so far...," Toronto Star, 2000-MAY-27, Page J16

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Copyright 2000 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAY-15
Latest update: 2004-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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