by Christopher Howse THE VATICAN has denied that the final report of the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission on church unity (Arcic) has reached any essential or fundamental agreement on doctrinal differences.
In a letter to all the bishops of the world, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (SCDF) welcomes the dialogue instituted by Arcic but gives warning that a wide range of issues presented in its report are incompatible with Catholic belief.
It has taken the bishops of England and Wales more than a month to make the Congregation's warnings public, but it has been known for some time that it would have serious reservations. On March 5, the Catholic Herald predicted a firm response from the SCDF, but the catalogue of issues under dispute is more clearly condemnatory than some ecumenists had hoped.
The SCDF says that the Arcic final report "does not yet constitute a substantial and explicit agreement on some essential element of Catholic faith," particularly on doctrines about the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, the priesthood, the office of the Papacy, and Our Lady.
Bishop Hugh Lindsay hinted two weeks tgo that the letter from the SCDF would be their contribution to the debate. The head of the Congregation, Cardinal Ratzinger, words it a little differently, describing it as its own contribution to the
dialogue", and gives permission for its publication "so that the faithful might be able to evaluate more easily the final report of Arcic in the light of the principles of Catholic teaching."
In its conclusions, the SCDF puts the categories of the final report's differences with Catholic doctrine under five heads: "The final report, which represents a notable ecumenical endeavour and a useful basis for further steps on the road to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, does not yet constitute a substantial and explicit agreement on some essential elements of Catholic faith because:
I) The report explicitly recognises that one or another Catholic dogma is not accepted by our Anglican brethren (for example, Eucharistic adoration, infallibility, the Marian dogmas);
2) One or another Catholic News Analysis, page 3 doctrine is only accepted in part by our Anglican brethren (for example, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome);
3) Certain fcmuTations in thi report are not explicit enough to ensure that they exclude interpretations not in harmony with the Catholic faith (for example, that which concerns the Eucharist as sacrifice, the Real Presence, the nature of the priesthood);
4) Certain affirmations in the report are inexact and not acceptable as Catholic doctrine (for example, the relationship between the primacy and the structure of the Church, the doctrine of 'reception'); 5) Finally, some important aspects of the teaching of the Catholic Church have either not been dealt with or have been only in an indirect way (for example, apostolic succession, the 'regula fide, moral teaching)."
The question of 'reception' which the Congregation referred to was the issue of what role the reception of a teaching by the faithful plays in assuring or determining that it is authentic Christian teaching. It was an issue which both Catholic and Anglican theologians on the dialogue commission termed "inherently difficult".
The "regula fidei" (rule of faith) mentioned in the last point of the congregation's summary referred to questions it raised at several points in the full critique concerning the role the theologians attributed to authoritative church teaching in determining what it is that Christians must believe.
Despite its criticisms, the Congregation recommends that the dialogue should be continued, with_concentratioa on the points which have not yet been satisfactorarily dealt with, and extension to those themes necessary to establish full unity between the two communions.
The bishops of England and Wales are confident, according to Bishop Alan Clark, President of their Ecumenism Commission and co-chairman of Arcic, that study of the report and the Congregation's observations on it will help promote unity in faith and love.