Anglican-Catholic dialogue examines churches’ ethical teachings

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Members of the official Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission pose for a photo during their meeting May 11-18, 2024, in Strasbourg, France. Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England, center left, is the Catholic co-chair of the commission, and Archbishop Philip Freier of Melbourne, Australia, center right, is the Anglican co-chair. (CNS photo/courtesy of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Recognizing that the Christian churches continually are called to grapple with new moral issues and that reaching different conclusions can complicate the search for Christian unity, a commission of Catholic and Anglican bishops and theologians has been studying how their traditions make decisions and what they can learn from each other.

Members of the official Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) met May 11-18 in Strasbourg, France, to continue their examination of “how the Church local, regional and universal discerns right ethical teaching,” according to a statement released May 27.

“For the first time in its work, ARCIC III has chosen to include two case studies as part of its reflection — one where Catholics and Anglicans reached broadly the same teaching, and one where they did not. These case studies, on Enslavement and Contraception, illustrate the doctrinal and structural similarities and differences between the two communions and also serve to highlight unresolved questions,” the statement said.

Diverging views on contraception

In 1930, the Anglicans’ Lambeth Conference ruled there were some cases when the use of contraception could be acceptable. In 1958, the conference commissioned a report of moral theologians and bishops to examine the reasons the church traditionally had prohibited contraception; after discussing the report, the bishops attending the conference found the use of artificial contraception morally acceptable by a married couple who decides before God that they should use contraceptives to determine the number and frequency of children they have.

The Catholic Church also had a commission studying the theological, pastoral and scientific implications of contraception.

And, in 1968, St. Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (Of Human Life), which rejected artificial contraception as the obstruction of the natural, divinely willed life-giving power of sex within marriage. According to that teaching, the only morally acceptable methods of birth regulation are abstinence or using the woman’s natural periods of infertility.

Ecumenical exploration

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams, the then-archbishop of Canterbury, England, and head of the Church of England, had identified two critical areas for ecumenical exploration: “the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous.”

The declaration came at a time when Catholic-Anglican relations were seeking a way forward after the decision in some churches of the Anglican Communion to ordain women as priests and bishops, to bless same-sex unions and to ordain openly gay clergy.

For many people, differing positions on those issues created a sense that Anglicans and Roman Catholics were growing farther apart rather than approaching unity.

ARCIC’s previous work

From 2011 to 2017 ARCIC members considered the first part of the problem posed by Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams and published, “Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church — Local, Regional, Universal.”

The ARCIC discussion of how the churches make judgments on ethical matters refers to the earlier paper since how authority is exercised in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion differs.

The statement issued after the Strasbourg meeting said members hope in the next few months to complete drafting their agreed statement on making ethical decisions so the commission can finalize the document in 2025 and present it to the authorities and faithful of the two communions.

Cindy Wooden

Cindy Wooden is a journalist with Catholic News Service.