Catholics, Anglicans discuss reuniting

Sydney, Australia - Issues surrounding a possible reuniting of the Catholic and Anglican churches under the pope are discussed in a 42-page statement currently being prepared, church leaders said on Tuesday.

The statement, titled "Growing Together In Unity and Mission. Building on 40 years of Anglican and Roman Catholic Dialogue", looks at common ground and differences between the two churches and is expected to be published later this year.

"Our ultimate desire is to achieve full visible unity," said Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby, co-chair of the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) which is preparing the statement.

"The statement is put forward to foster discussion and reflection," Bathersby told Reuters.

Bathersby said the statement, which was leaked by British media on Monday, does not offer a conclusion on unity.

He said it was still incomplete and was awaiting a formal response from the Catholic Church and was being discussed by the Anglican Church meeting in Tanzania.

Bathersby said the discussion on reuniting the churches under a universal primate, the Pope, has been going on for 35 years.

"The separation that exists at the present time is a scandal to people outside the church who say why can't these Christians get together," Bathersby said.

"These things cause difficulties for the mission of both Christian churches. We realise we need to seek some agreement, some common ground so that we give a better witness to people."

The Anglican co-chair of IARCCUM, South African Bishop David Beetge, said unity was desired by both churches, but was a long-term vision.

"All we have said are there are certain areas, after 40 years of theological study, where we believe we have a degree of compatibility and agreement," Beetge told Australian radio.

"I think unity is a long, long, long, long, long journey. Of course we pray for it, of course we long for it. I would be surprised if I saw anything in my lifetime," he said.


Bathersby said areas where the churches differed included the ordination of homosexuals and women, which has occurred in the Anglican Church, and their authority structures.

The Catholic Church has a hierarchical system with Pope Benedict the ultimate authority. In the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the focal point but each province has autonomy.

"They have a system of divested authority ... within that structure they sometimes find it difficult at times to hold together," said Bathersby, refering to the split in the Anglican Church over the ordination of homosexuals.

Bathersby said the issue of a universal primate also attracted differing opinions, with some Anglicans believing only Jesus Christ can be the head of the church.

If the Catholics and Anglicans could agree on the issue of a universal primate, Bathersby believed that the Pope would become the head of a united church.

"That would seem to be the idea because the Pope is the leader of a billion Roman Catholic Christians and the Anglican community ... is a much smaller church, I think it’s about 80 million," he said.

"If they were thinking were would they find this universal primate, it has been recognised in the old statement that all roads lead to Rome."