The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, preaching last night at a vespers service in the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Assumption, called on the two churches to put aside obstacles that divide them and to continue steps that bring them closer.
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, spoke during the service marking the beginning of a three-day meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue in this country.
The meetings will be held at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park.
The dialogue between the two churches began in 1965 after the Second Vatican Council, which encouraged closer relations between Roman Catholic and other Christian churches.
In addition to the dialogue in this country, officially called the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States, an international commission meets periodically to address similar issues.
Griswold, preaching from the pulpit of the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States, noted that both churches "carry wounds and misunderstandings that are concrete and specific."
Yet the dialogue has made progress.
"To be sure, ecumenism is about very specific points of division being worked through and overcome," Griswold said. "There are very few grand leaps but rather a number of small but very precise steps to take. Thanks be to God, many of them have been taken."
In the first decades of the ecumenical meetings, the U.S. Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches addressed questions related to ministry and the Eucharist.
"Like the international dialogue [between Roman Catholics and Anglicans], we have reached an enormous amount of consensus on those issues," said John Borelli, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
For the past several sessions, the U.S. Catholic-Anglican consultation has been studying how authority is exercised in the two churches, how decisions are made and how they are received, and the role of bishops and the papacy.
In a joint statement issued two years ago, when the discussions on authority started, Griswold, then the Episcopal co-chairman, and Bishop John J. Snyder, the Catholic co-chairman of the consultation, called these questions on authority "the heart of the matter that keeps us from full communion."
Goal of full communion
That ultimate goal, full communion, would entail the ability of the members of each church to participate fully in the Eucharist of the other, and a consensus in matters of faith, understanding and belief.
The Rev. Canon David Perry, the ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church U.S.A., said members of the dialogue are trying to move from theology and ecclesiology to the reality of what is going on in the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses and churches.
"I think many of these are quite technical matters that are being investigated and we still have to look at experience, what's being lived out in parishes and diocesan life," he said. "What's the lived experience? And in some places that relationship is quite positive and in others those relationships are less developed."
Still, in both liturgy and theology, Catholics and Episcopalians share much.
"I would say one of the reasons that makes it enjoyable and easy is we do have so much in common theologically," Borelli said.
"Sometimes, because our churches are so close together, the dialogue is more difficult because it's more painful that we remain separate and can't overcome differences," he said. "There's been a real frustration among Anglicans and Catholics that it's taken this long, and maybe 30 years ago, we didn't have an understanding of just how the ecumenical movement would work and the amount of effort that would go into it."
Borelli added, "I wish we could say 10 years, but I don't think we can say that. It seems to me it's easier to the church to split apart than to come together."
Pub Date: 3/12/99