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October 1982

ARCIC and its Critics


In April, 1982, the Anglican-Roman-Catholic International Commission published its Final Report, a glossy brochure of 122 pages expensively priced at 1.95. It contained the ARCIC Statements on Eucharistic Doctrine (1971); Ministry and Ordination (1973); Authority in the Church I & II (1976 & 1981); and the two Elucidations (1979 & 1981), purporting to clarify the meaning of the earlier statements. The Co-Chairman of ARCIC, Bishop Alan Clark representing the Catholic Church and Archbishop H. R. McAdoo representing the Anglican Communion, wrote an "Introduction" in which they referred to prefaces of earlier Statements in which they had claimed that, "substantial agreement" had been reached, and that "in what we have said here both Anglicans and Roman Catholics will recognize their own faith." These two statements are contradictory. It is impossible that the Commission, could have reached a substantial agreement in which Catholics and Anglicans could both recognize their own faith, the reason being that Catholic and Anglican teaching on all the topics dealt with are totally contradictory. Therefore, if a substantial agreement had been reached, it meant that one side or the other must have agreed to abandon what it had hitherto believed, and had accepted the position of the other.

There is, of course, a way in which a number of Catholics and Anglicans could be given the impression that they recognized their respective faiths in the Agreements. This would be by phrasing them in ambiguous terminology which could be interpreted in a Catholic or Protestant sense. "How had the Arians drawn up their creeds"? asked Cardinal Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua: "Was it not on the principle of using vague ambiguous language, which to the subscribers would seem to bear a Catholic sense, but which, when worked out in the long run, would prove to be heterodox"? From the moment the first of the Agreed Statements appeared there has been a striking manifestation of the sensus fidei : learned theologians, parish priests, and laymen alike have denounced them precisely on the grounds that they are, at the best, ambiguous, and totally unacceptable as an expression of Catholic teaching. Some have gone further. Father Edward Holloway, the Editor of Faith, has spoken of "a betrayal of the Catholic Faith, and hence also a betrayal to our Anglican brothers of that sincere portrayal of the essential Eucharistic Faith of the Roman Catholic Church which the Catholic delegates, and especially the bishops concerned, were accredited to present". Father Holloway has raised a most important point here. These Statements constitute a great disservice to true ecumemsm as they have raised among our Anglican brethren considerable optimism of impending reunion. Yet, there is no possibility whatsoever of the ARCIC Statements ever being ratified by the Vatican and, when this is made clear, deep and bitter dissillusionment is bound to arise among Anglicans.

Considerable efforts have been made by the ecumenical establishment to suppress criticism of the Statements rather than answer the criticisms themselves. Many of the ARCIC ambiguities were exposed in the highly successful Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Meeting at the Porchester Hall, London, on February 20th, 1982. Bishop Hugh Lindsay wrote to The Universe on 9 April, 1982 denouncing these criticisms as "lacking in reverence and charity towards the Holy Father who is the Vicar of Christ" because he was "certain that Pope John Paul has not, and would not, allow the circulation of Reports if they clearly obfuscated the central doctrine of the Catholic Faith".

The significant point here is that Bishop Lindsay makes no attempt to answer the criticisms of the Statements. He simply claims that, if they were valid, the Pope would not have allowed the Reports to circulate. But as the article that follows (to say nothing of Observations of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) proves conclusively, the Statements do obfuscate some central doctrines of the Catholic Faith. This is absolutely indisputable. The Pope, therefore, must have his own reasons for allowing the Statements to circulate. These are probably that the views expressed in them represent no more than the personal opinions of the signatories and do commit the Church in any way; and that, as the Statements have been produced as a result of a decision made by his Predecessor, he would have been unable to forbid their publication without implicitly criticising Pope Paul VI. It is an unwritten law in the Vatican that popes do not criticise their predecessors, they just quietly shelve projects and policies they wish to change.

Fortunately, the implicit charge of disloyalty directed by Bishop Lindsay at critics of the ARCIC Statements backfired upon him almost immediately when, on 10 May, 1982, L'Osservatore Romano (English edition) published the full text of the official critique of the Statements published by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It repeated in almost identical terms many of the criticisms of ARCIC which have appeared in Christian Order, making it clear that it is the critics rather than the defenders of the Statements who think with the mind of the Church. The SCDF critique, after a few polite preliminaries, points out that the texts admit of a twofold interpretation and that:

"This possibility of contrasting and ultimately incompatible readings of formulations, which are apparently satisfactory to both sides, gives rise to a question about the real consensus of the two Communions, pastors and faithful alike. In effect, if a formulation which has received the agreement of the experts can be diversely interpreted, how could it serve as a basis for reconciliation on the level of church life and practice"?

It notes that there are difficulties concerning doctrinal formulations "some of which touch the very substance of the faith", which is precisely what Bishop Lindsay said could not be the case. Will he now accuse the SCDF of being lacking in reverence to the Holy Father? And, in striking contrast to the conclusions of the Co-Chairmen of ARCIC in their "Introduction", the SCDF affirms that the ARCIC Final Report "does not yet constitute a substantial and explicit agreement on some essential elements of Catholic faith".

The article which follows by Michael Davies bears a striking similarity to the SCDF critique, which follows it. In places, Davies makes the same criticism as the SCDF and in virtually identical terms. Yet, his critique was completed several weeks before that by the SCDF was published. There could hardly be a more authoritative endorsement of the criticisms made by Mr. Davies. Readers are urged not merely to read but to study his article and the Observations of the Sacred Congregation with the utmost attention and care.


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