VATICAN CITY -- The Anglican Communion's Lambeth Conference began a process for addressing issues that divide Anglicans and pose challenges for dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, said a Vatican official.
"The dialogue will continue," said Canadian Msgr. Donald Bolen, who deals with Catholic-Anglican issues at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and who attended the entire conference.
In an Aug. 7 interview, he said that the shape the future dialogue will take depends on how the Anglican Communion eventually implements suggestions that garnered support at the Lambeth Conference, which is held every 10 years.
The suggestions included the development of a formal covenant agreement by which individual Anglican provinces would promise to act in union with the Anglican Communion as a whole on fundamental matters of faith and morals; the establishment of a "faith and order commission" that would provide guidance on matters of doctrine and morality; and the establishment of a "pastoral council" to address conflicts between provinces.
The outcome of the July 16-Aug. 3 Lambeth Conference "in many respects was positive," Msgr. Bolen said. "A sense of direction emerged which was largely, but not universally agreed, and which should translate into greater cohesion within the Anglican Communion, giving it stronger boundaries and a stronger sense of identity."
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In addition, he said, the Catholic participants at Lambeth were encouraged by the "strong support" shown for the call for moratoriums on blessing same-sex unions, on ordaining openly gay bishops and on violating the structure of the Anglican Communion by naming bishops outside one's own jurisdiction.
The practice has occurred when conservative Anglican provinces have named bishops for traditionalist Anglicans in the United States, where the U.S. Episcopal Church has shown greater openness to homosexuals and has ordained women priests and bishops.
Because the Anglican Communion has no strong central authority like the pope, because the Lambeth Conference does not have legislative powers and because the jurisdictional authority of the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury is limited, "at best the conference indicates a direction," Msgr. Bolen said.
"We went into the Lambeth Conference in a wait-and-see mode and we came out of it with some encouragement, but still waiting," he said.
But in addition to dealing with current issues of tension, he said, the Lambeth Conference was an opportunity to look back at developments that occurred over the past 10 years and, as the head of the unity council told the Anglican bishops, one development was a greater acceptance of women priests and indications that more and more Anglican provinces will ordain women bishops.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the unity council president, told the Anglicans that ordaining women, especially as bishops, creates an obstacle to the Roman Catholic Church recognizing Anglican ordinations, a key step toward full unity. The Catholic Church believes that because Jesus chose only men to be his apostles, the church has no authority to ordain women.
The inability to recognize Anglican priests and bishops as priests and bishops means that full unity is no longer something the Catholic Church can see a clear path to, the cardinal said.
While full unity is still the long-term goal because Christ himself prayed for the unity of his disciples, the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue will have to focus on intermediate goals of greater cooperation and building on areas of faith the two hold in common, the cardinal said.
The Second Vatican Council recognized that Anglicans held a special place among the Christian communities formed at the time of the Reformation because they maintained the three-fold ministry of deacon, priest and bishop and recognized the bishop's role as a guardian of faith and the point of unity between the universal and local church.
But, observers have said, the more the Anglicans adopt Protestant church structures and attitudes toward authority, the further they move from the special position Vatican II recognized them as having.
In addition, internal disputes over homosexuality within the Anglican Communion have created a situation in which some bishops no longer recognize other bishops, which Cardinal Kasper said raises questions about the reality of the communion itself.
However, Msgr. Bolen said, "there was a significant thrust in this Lambeth Conference for the Anglican Communion to deepen its sense of communion, of church, to strengthen the bonds of unity."
A group of representatives who coordinate Anglican-Roman Catholic relations will meet in November and likely will be asked to assess the results of the Lambeth Conference and what they mean for the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, Msgr. Bolen said.
In his talk at the Lambeth Conference, Cardinal Kasper also suggested that the Anglicans try to launch "a new Oxford movement," a reference to efforts within the Church of England in the mid-1800s to reaffirm an orthodox vision of the church by highlighting the importance of the practice of the early Christian community and the teachings of the early church theologians.
A new Oxford movement, Msgr. Bolen said, could lead to a greater recognition of "the importance of the role of the episcopacy, the need for authority in the church and a concern for fidelity with the church's tradition throughout the ages."
While one of the movement's leading members, John Henry Newman, later became a Roman Catholic and a cardinal, Msgr. Bolen said Cardinal Kasper "was not subtly suggesting that we bring individuals into the Catholic Church -- some may come -- but what he was asking was that Anglicans be attentive to the treasures that lie within their tradition as well as ours."