THE ANGLICAN Communion’s divisions over sexual ethics have harmed its ecumenical dialogue with Rome, the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has claimed.
Speaking to the Pope and 123 cardinals in a private meeting at the Vatican on Nov 23, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that while relations with the Orthodox and some Evangelical groups were improving, talks with the Anglicans had stalled.
“What we held to be our common heritage has begun to melt here and there like the glaciers in the Alps.”
Cardinal Kasper’s address, published in L’Osservatore Romano, noted that recent years had seen openness to dialogue with Rome from the ‘ecclesial Communities born from the Reformation.’
“A certain agreement has been reached in the realm of the truths of faith and in many places, there is fruitful collaboration in the social and humanitarian sphere.” This was characterized by ‘mutual trust and friendship,’ motivated by a ‘profound desire for unity.’
Cardinal Kasper stated the July 10 statement by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith that the Church of England was not a ‘proper’ church had ‘raised perplexity’ and ‘occasioned a certain discontent.’ However this Anglican ‘agitation’ was ‘unjustified’ because the statement had not affirmed ‘anything new, but restates Catholic doctrine.’
“Nonetheless, it is to be hoped that the form, language, and public presentation of such declarations could be reviewed,” he said. While progress was being made on theological divisions, ‘new divergences are emerging in the ethical field,’ Cardinal Kasper said. “These concern in particular the questions related to the defence of life, to marriage, to the family, and to human sexuality. Because of these new divisions that are being created, common public witness is significantly weakened, if not impossible,” he said.
“The crisis taking place within the respective Communities is clearly exemplified by the situation that has arisen in the Anglican Communion, which is not an isolated case,” Cardinal Kasper noted. There had also been a doctrinal shift within Anglican/Protestant thought that had presented a challenged to ecumenical dialogue.
“Protestant theology, marked during the first years of dialogue by the ‘Lutheran Renaissance’ and by Karl Barth’s theology of the Word of God, has now returned to the motifs of liberal theology. As a result, we are seeing that, on the Protestant side, the Christological and Trinitarian foundations that were until now common presuppositions are sometimes diluted.”
At there same time there were ‘strong countercurrents’ that were moving closer to Rome. “All over the world there is the strong growth of evangelical groups, whose positions mostly coincide with ours on the fundamental dogmatic questions, especially in the ethical field, but are often very divergent on ecclesiology, the theology of the sacraments, biblical exegesis, and the understanding of tradition,” he said.
There were also ‘high Church organisations that want to bring into Anglicanism and Lutheranism elements from the Catholic tradition, in regard to the liturgy and the ecclesial ministry,’ Cardinal Kasper said.
The ‘ecumenical landscape’ was ‘very uneven and confused’ he concluded, and reflected ‘the pluralist situation of so-called “postmodern” society, which often leads to religious relativism.’ +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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