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BRAINTREE -- Episcopal vicar for the New Evangelization Bishop Arthur L. Kennedy represented the Archdiocese of Boston and the universal Church at an April 28-May 4 meeting in Rome to promote Christian unity between Catholics and Anglicans.
Bishop Kennedy participated in the fifth meeting of the third phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), "a body appointed by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion to engage in theological dialogue in order that they may come into visible unity and full ecclesial communion" according to the group's website. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Kennedy to the commission in 2010.
The recent meeting in Rome included a private audience with Pope Francis.
"There is a strong bond that already unites us which goes beyond all divisions," Pope Francis said at the time of the meeting.
Associate director of ecumenical affairs for the Archdiocese of Boston Vito Nicastro spoke about the importance of having a representative from Boston participate in the talks.
"I think that's a really important contribution that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston makes to the worldwide Catholic Church, because staffing these dialogues is not something that we have specific reserved and dedicated staff for. It comes from the Church as a whole, and what's great about that is it then brings the perspective of Boston to the Church's worldwide ministry for unity," Nicastro said.
Bishop Kennedy spoke with The Pilot June 1 about the most recent meeting.
"For 1,500 years we all had the same understanding; so now the question is what happened in the 500 years that we have been divided?" Bishop Kennedy said.
The most recent round of talks in May continued the third phase of ongoing work dating back to 1970 to produce public statements and documents related to the pursuit of Christian unity. At all phases of the work documents and public statements produced came with input and reactions from the Vatican and the See of Canterbury -- the center of the Anglican Communion since the break with Rome in the late 1500s.
The first phase of meetings lasted 11 years. ARCIC I, as it is known, produced documents on eucharistic doctrine, ministry and ordination, and authority in the Church, with a final report issued in 1981.
The second phase, ARCIC II, began two years later and produced multiple documents on the doctrine of salvation, teaching authority, and the role of Mary in the faith.
"The tasks are really set for the commission by the Holy See and Canterbury. So, that's an agreement that took place between Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams who was the Archbishop of Canterbury back in 2008," Bishop Kennedy said.
In 2011 ARCIC II ended and the third phase began.
Bishop Kennedy said ARCIC III has work before it comprised of three elements -- as the communions meet under the leadership of Pope Francis and the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
"The topics that we were called upon to address together was the Church as a 'communio' -- which is a term, really, that comes from the Second Vatican Council. The term has been around, because it's the Latin word for communion, but it becomes a prominent term for speaking about the Church in the documents of Vatican II," he said.
Bishop Kennedy said the commission took on the task of doing a study in that context of the Church as a communion both on a universal and a local scale.
"So it's catholic in the sense of worldwide and then catholic in the sense of it being a local community, which would be dioceses and parishes and so forth," he said.
Bishop Kennedy said the commission also stood charged with creating some mutual agreement on ethics and moral questions from the understanding of the Church, both universal and local. He said the commission has created case studies on subjects such as slavery and the meaning of work, but no comprehensive understanding has been reached.
"The third element however, as we work a lot on this dialogue, is that we have to go back to the documents of the second conversation, ARCIC II, which went on for 22 years. They produced five documents, and so our task is to go back to those five documents to give an overview of what they said in agreement, then to get the responses that were made by theologians, bishops, and so forth, from both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church," he said.
ARCIC II produced "Salvation and the Church" in 1986, a statement of agreement that miscommunications after the Reformation no longer represent valid reasons to maintain division; "Church as Communion" in 1990, an ecclesiological framework for all of the ARCIC statements; "Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church" in 1993, a statement of shared agreement on questions of war and peace, euthanasia, freedom and justice; "The Gift of Authority: Authority III" in 1999, a reflection on strengths and weaknesses in Catholic and Anglican structures; and "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" in 2004, a reflection on Mary in the Church and as a standard of grace and hope.
"We bring them together for the purpose of bringing into a public manner the development of agreements that were produced in those documents," he said.
Each document also generated responses from theologians on both sides, and official responses from the Vatican and See of Canterbury.
"One of the things, as you can well imagine, is that not all the theologians are going to be saying that they are in agreement with these documents. So, there are questions and we have to advert to the questions that are being raised, because it may mean that there needs to be further refinement of some of the positions," Bishop Kennedy said.
Bishop Kennedy pointed out some history of progress, citing the prior document on Mary from ARCIC II, which addresses a more longstanding divide between the two traditions derived from a common history.
"How did we take what was a unifying element, and how did we develop the understanding of Mary in the light of being the Mother of God and her place in the Church?" Bishop Kennedy asked.
He said ARCIC II and ARCIC III found that from Marian hymns, Marian piety, and the names of individual churches the Anglican Communion never set Mary aside.
He explained that Marian piety is reflected in the Catholic Church alongside dogmas of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.
"The thing that puzzles Anglicans in some way, (is that) they become frightened of the notion of a dogma. So, this document, very interestingly, says what the dogmas teach are the same realities that the piety reflects. That's the kind of breakthrough that you see the understanding is capable of recognizing that the realities are agreed upon as identical," he said.
The commission has the next meeting scheduled near Toronto in May 2016, when the commission takes up for review a draft of an ecclesiological statement comparing the instruments of communion of each tradition.