Latest News on Traditional Anglican Communion and Rome

Prydain has brought attention to new statements coming from two bishops of the TAC about their ecumenical talks with Rome. The first is from a Canadian bishop in the TAC, Bishop Peter Wilkinson, and the second from Archbishop John Hepworth, the Primate of the TAC. The following is from Bishop Wilkinson:

Dear Brethren:

Over the course of this year many of you have asked for information on the progress of our talks with Rome. I have told you what I know. So, as a further help to all of us, I have asked the Primate for a letter that would bring us up to date. It follows my introductory comments.


After about 450 years of attempts of varying seriousness, Anglicans and Roman Catholics really began talking to one another after the joint decision by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey, expressed in a Common Declaration during their meeting in Rome in March 1966 –39 years ago. Within a year the Commission they established had produced a report that proclaimed “penitence for the past, thankfulness for the graces of the present, urgency and resolve for a future in which our common aim would be the restoration of full organic unity.” In April 1977 Archbishop Ramsey’s successor in the See of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, and Pope Paul VI, made a further Common Declaration declaring their desire for “the restoration of complete communion in faith and sacramental life.” In the same year, The Affirmation of St Louis, so deeply embedded in our ACCC Constitution and the Concordat, also declared “our intention to seek and achieve full sacramental communion and visible unity with other Christians who ‘worship the Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity,’ and who hold the Catholic and Apostolic Faith in accordance with the foregoing principles.” This should not be news to anyone in the ACCC.

Since those days a lot of water has flowed down the Thames and the Tiber, and a big log jam — the purported ordination of women to the priesthood. Rome reacted immediately with both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II stating in letters to the Archbishop(s) of the day that this act would create a stumbling block to unity. Anglican Synods paid no heed either to the pleas of their own constituency, to Roman Catholics, or to the Orthodox Churches of the East some of whose Synods had declared Anglican Orders valid (Constantinople, Jerusalem and Cyprus). The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission [ARCIC] talks continued and some good progress was made to which Rome did not react.

With the advent of the real possibility of the purported consecration of woman to the Episcopate in England, a Roman Catholic Bishops’ response to the Rochester Report (which recommends the Church of England proceed to consecrate women) has stated that, “if the Church of England consecrates women bishops its relations with Roman Catholicism could suffer ‘irreparable damage’ and warns that women bishops would ‘radically’ impair relations between the two Churches. They also said that the reform was at odds with the ecumenical steps taken between the two Churches. The source of this statement goes on to comment that “the long-hoped for reunion between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism remains the pipe dream of a few ecumenical specialists.”

Sad to say, in the Canterbury Communion the situation is still deteriorating. A report says that Archbishop Ellison Pogo told over 100 delegates to the 11th General Synod of the Church of Melanesia, that the Anglican Church in the Central Pacific should permit the ordination of women to the priesthood. Archbishop Pogo urged the recusants [Anglo-Catholics] to rethink their stance.

Another report has it that “the Anglican Churches of the Global South are as divided over the issue of women’s orders as is the Church of England. Evangelical provinces such as Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda ordain women — while Nigeria and Southeast Asia do not. Anglo-Catholic Provinces are equally divided with Central Africa opposed and the West Indies in favour of ordaining women.

“The leader of the Ugandan Church, Archbishop Henry Orombi argued that women priests were not a universal panacea for the church’s ills and would not work in some places he cautioned, but he believed this was not an issue that should divide the Church.”

Dissident groups that have left the ACC [note – ed: Anglican Church of Canada] and PECUSA and are bound up with these Provinces and Dioceses, already have some women in major orders.

In light of such a massive defection from Anglican (and therefore Catholic) faith and practice [see the Preface to the Ordinal and the Solemn Declaration in our BCP, which declare that we have no Ministry of our own but only that of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church], who is there for Rome to talk to — only the TAC, and those few remaining faithful dioceses and provinces of the Canterbury Communion? It is a dialogue Anglicans began in good faith 39 years ago, and it is a dialogue that we are bound to continue, “that”, as our Lord Jesus Christ said, “they may be one, even as We are one, I in them and Thou in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me and hast loved them even as Thou hast loved Me [St John 17:22b, 23]; who livest and reignest with the same Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

+Peter Wilkinson, OSG

And here is the statement from Archbishop Hepworth, which is most interesting:

The Primate Responds to Reports and Speculation about the TAC and Rome.

It is twelve years since Archbishop Falk led a little group to Rome to explore the possibility of a closer communion with the Holy See, in continuation of the ARCIC agreement between Archbishop Ramsey and Pope Paul VI.

Since then, every meeting of the College of Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion (and we have managed to meet every two years) has endorsed the principle of the TAC seeking to be “an Anglican Church in communion with the Holy See”. Different parts of the TAC have different ways of reporting the doings of the College of Bishops, and there are still some differences in the way that the TAC Concordat (the ruling document that creates the “communion” between TAC bishops) is embedded in the Constitutional arrangements of our member churches, so some seem to know more about what happens in the TAC than others.

Some churches have managed frequent visits by the Primate to brief synods and meetings of clergy and laity, others have managed rather less. So the awareness of what is happening with the “Roman question” varies around the TAC. At this time, almost every National Synod has passed some form of resolution accepting the concept of “an Anglican Church in communion with the Holy See”, at least in principle. Some have passed very detailed and enthusiastic resolutions, and embarked on detailed activities with local Roman Catholic communities.

Why are we doing this?

Our communion with the Anglican Communion in most parts of the world was shattered by the ordination of women to Holy Orders. In this ultimate of schismatic acts, the Anglican Communion betrayed its claim to share a common Apostolic Ministry with the churches of East and West, which had undergirded its claims to be authentically catholic since the Reformation. In the same step, the great doctrines of Creation, Incarnation and Redemption are denied. The sacramental life of the Church, by which Jesus brings the saving grace of redemption to each of us, becomes an object of suspicion and uncertainty. Placing a woman priest in a diocese is always “communion breaking”, since it makes the very act of communion impossible.

At the same time, the ordination of women fractured one of the most solemn agreements ever made by an Archbishop of Canterbury. Michael Ramsey, when he signed the agreement to create “full and organic communion” with the Holy See, acted upon the urging of the Lambeth Fathers since the “Bell Resolutions” of the Lambeth Conference just before the Second World War, and the enthusiasm of the earliest Conferences for discovering a basis of unity with Rome. And the Pope, in agreeing to this unity that he described as “united but not absorbed”, determined to end five centuries of often bitter division. The Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission was created to achieve this unity. It was clearly understood that, if Anglicans ordained women to Holy Order, the unity would become almost impossible. So each Anglican Province that voted for women priests, voted to end the possibility of unity.

The TAC has simply determined to continue the process, since the impediment does not exist within our Communion. And there is another reason. Having had our communion with the Anglican Communion shattered, we cannot remain “a church on the loose”. To hold the catholic faith requires that faith be exercised in communion. Bishops cannot exist cut off from the mainstream of the church’s life. Unity is not an option. Jesus commanded it.

Will we be absorbed by Rome?

Roman Catholics (including a significant number of former Anglican clergy and laity) have urged us to value our Anglican heritage. One author has written movingly that the TAC seeks “to achieve communion (with the Holy See) while maintaining those revered traditions of spirituality, liturgy, discipline and theology that constitute the centuries old heritage of Anglican communities throughout the world”.

We seek to be “Anglican Catholics”.That is, to value our Anglicanism while being visibly united to the “whole church catholic” of which our formularies have always spoken.

What stage have we reached?

There have been no secrets up until now, and there will be none in the future. The TAC is following a traditional Anglican method of wide consultation, synodical decision-making and deep involvement of clergy and laity.

At Easter this year, I published for the whole TAC a Pastoral Letter on Unity, which set out for publication the point we had reached and pathways for the future. As with all important documents of the TAC, the Messenger carried the full text. I am presuming, perhaps rashly in the case of some countries, that the Messenger goes into every TAC home in the world. Certainly, we print enough for that!

At the moment, there are two documents in the final stages of preparation.

The first is a “Pastoral Plan”, prepared by an eminent Roman Catholic layman, which performs the joint functions of “verifying the TAC as a worthy interlocutor with the Roman Catholic Church” and of setting out the “desired levels of recognition of the TAC by Rome both before and after full communion”. This document will be delivered to every bishop early in the new year, and will be debated by a full meeting of the College of Bishops, in the presence of clerical and lay representatives of each member church, hopefully in Rome in the first half of next year. The document will then go to the synods of the member churches (even if they must have an extraordinary meeting). If the document wins the approval of the whole Communion, it will be formally presented to the Holy See, and a more formal process will be established. (At the moment, it would be fair to say that wide ranging, multi-level, international contacts between the TAC and Rome have been proceeding for some years, and have intensified in the past year, with a resultant increase in publicity. It is also true to say that a much greater awareness of the TAC still needs to be created.)

The second document is a formal proposal from the TAC to the Holy See for the TAC to become an “Anglican Rite Church “sui juris” in communion with the Holy See”. The first draft of this document was submitted to the Council for Christian Unity, and its response, with input from other Roman Catholic and Uniate Catholic sources, shaped the present document. It is not proposed to submit this document until the Pastoral Plan is approved by the TAC. The College as a whole has not yet approved the present draft.

A further letter is sometimes mentioned. On becoming Primate, I wrote personally to the Council for Christian Unity resuming the conversations that had been conducted by Archbishop Falk. I made the basic claim, sometimes wrongly reported, that “there are no doctrinal or moral matters of such significance that they would prevent unity between this Communion and the Holy See”.

In all of these documents matters of historic difference are canvassed. But both our own bishops and those with whom we speak emphasise the fact that we seek to create a eucharistic community, in which we can join at the altar of God, and from which all else must flow. Questions of Orders, of Liturgy, of clergy discipline, of the way in which we would experience our relationship with the See of Peter, have all been the object of our, as yet, informal conversations. We have found deep rapport in our conversations, as well as much direct speaking, but nothing is, as yet, official.

I close this summary with some words shared with me by a Cardinal who has followed this journey. “We must learn to practise the unity we already share from the action of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we ask for more. And the time will be God’s time, if we are truly prepared to place this in God’s hands.”

+John Hepworth


P.S. What Prayer Book will be used?

The Traditional Anglican Communion uses a number of national versions of the Book of Common Prayer, often incorporating the Usage of the English and Anglican Missals. These forms of Public Worship are authorised by the College of Bishops,and member churches do not act on liturgical forms without the authority of the College. English is only the seventh most-used liturgical language in the TAC, so the various English Prayer Books are not the most significant issue in our Communion, albeit they have local importance.

There is no suggestion that we would adopt the Book of Divine Worship. I have personally indicated to the Holy See that we are deeply moved — and reassured — that Rome has authorised any Anglican Liturgy at all. A vital issue for us to discuss is whether we want to attempt a Prayer Book for the TAC at some stage in the future, and then translate it into each of our languages. Bishop Mercer has written with some authority on this proposal. Since it would take all of the annual budget of the TAC for a number of years, it is not on my immediate list of things to do.”
These statements are indeed most interesting, because for one thing, it appears that the TAC at least has a goal of not simply “intercommunion”, but actually becoming a sui generis “Anglican Rite” in the Roman Catholic Church. There has apparently been much thought and prayer invested in this already–and much more is to come if I read this correctly. Note they are already thinking about the Prayer Book to be used it if this all comes about, and the foundation being laid for all of it in the “Pastoral Plan.” Note that this also refers to a “Roman Catholic layman” being involved in the planning like other reports we have seen.

Download My Book for Free
Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages
Over 15,000 copies downloaded! This is a quick and easy way to learn the basic philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Popes of the last 300 years have endorsed St Thomas Aquinas. Learn more through this accessible resources. Download it for free.

Comments Policy: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. If your comment contains a hyperlink to another site, your comment automatically goes into "Comments Purgatory" where it waits for release by way of moderation.

  • As someone who has experience with the Uniate Churches of the Eastern rites, and all of their politics and intrigue, I wish the TAC good luck, but also warn them to be ready for a long struggle. Only now are Byzantine Catholics beginning to ordain married men, and this only at the rate of a trickle. They should also be on the look-out for the “Uniate” mentality, i.e., the tendency to adopt the customs of their Roman neighbors sometimes without even thinking about it (especially if the Roman custom is easier). Also the questions: “Are you Catholic?” or “why don’t you do XYZ?” It might be easier for Anglicans since they are a Western Church, but Uniates in general can feel like they are in some sort of exotic zoo next to the Roman Catholic juggernaut. Union is a very difficult thing to acheive indeed.

  • Why no mention of the Ordinariate in all of this?

    • MP

      “Posted on Sunday, January 1, 2006”