Theological and personal reflections
Lecturer in Church History and Doctrine at Oak Hill College
Author & Senior Manager with Harringey Council
July 2001 York University
Garry Williams' paper
Report of the meeting
In July the Society held a fringe meeting at the York General Synod. The meeting preceded a presentation by the Council for Christian Unity on the current status of ecumenical relations. Addressing the meeting were Dr Garry Williams and Dr Billy Foley, both members of Church Society Council.
Garry Williams drew attention to the comments of senior members of the Church of England following the recent Roman Catholic statement on unity entitled Dominus Iesus. Some bishops had expressed anger at the document but Garry explained how this was naïve and surprising given the stance of Rome.
Dominus Iesus called into question the status of the Church of England and of its clergy. However, the meeting was told that Dominus Iesus had done no more than repeat the well known teaching of the Pope and the Second Vatican Council.
Garry Williams told the meeting that the Roman Catholic Church had not changed its views on the key issues which divided Christians nearly 500 years ago. The Second Vatican Council had, he said, added ideas such as 'collegiality' and given new importance to the laity. However, these things had not altered the old teaching on salvation, the authority of the Pope and on Mary.
The Bishop of Bristol, Barry Rogerson, attending the meeting, argued that
unity already exists because of common baptism. Garry Williams countered that
there is no common understanding of baptism and that true union can only be
based on a shared faith in the biblical gospel.
The second presentation, by Billy Foley, was deliberately more 'experiental'. Often in discussions when the underlying teaching position of Roman Catholics is explained the retort is made that in practice Catholics are very different. Billy therefore explained to the meeting about his own upbringing in a Catholic family in southern Ireland and his later conversion when he at last heard and understood the gospel.
During the course of his talk Garry Williams stated that "Anglicans should pray for the Roman Catholic Church to change her mind. That is the true path toward reunion."
The presentation about ecumenical on the Sunday afternoon of the General Synod was very unsatisfactory. This approach is being used increasingly to present topics without giving the Synod any chance of a formal debate and members are limited to questions rather than speeches (though some get away with more). The response of the Council for Christian Unity to several questioners showed that they are currently in a quandry with the Roman Catholic Church. The recent restatements of the Roman Catholic position have made it plain that the only form of unity they will accept is full surrender. However, it is clear that within the Vatican there are definite differences of opinion (some would say war) between Cardinal Ratzinger at he Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Cardinal Cassidy at the Congregation for Christian Unity. What is clear is that the hopes of many in the ecumenical movement now hinge on the battle being won by Cassidy and the appointment of a less conservative pope. What people do not seem prepared to admit is that in order to change its approach the Roman Catholic Church must change some of its fundamental doctrines and that this will necessarily undermine the whole essence and authority of the papacy and the vatican.