ARCIC III sounds like a lot of hot air

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham (Mazur/

Today is, or should be, Ascension Day. Even though my cheap and completely secular diary, bought at Tesco’s in the January sale, actually says “Ascension Day” in its heading (as well as telling me that Saturday is Constitution Day in Denmark), when I went to Mass this morning we celebrated the Feast of SS Marcellinus and Peter instead. An Anglican friend, who has spent the last five weeks hiking around Shropshire, has emailed me to say that she is deliberately planning to return home today for the Ascension – one of her favourite feast days, apparently. I understand our bishops are in the process of considering returning the Ascension and the Epiphany back to their proper days in the liturgical calendar. I hope they will come to a speedy and positive conclusion.

I didn’t mean to start off with this thought or indeed mention it at all in this blog; it was simply triggered by the date. I wanted to blog about ARCIC III, having just read an interview about it conducted by Peter Jennings with Archbishop Bernard Longley. (Archbishop Longley is co-chairman of ARCIC III and Mr Jennings is his press secretary).

In case some readers don’t know, ARCIC III is the third phase of the international dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. According to Archbishop Longley we have reached “a new stage in the development of fraternal relations” between the two Communions and dialogue is on-going. But, ever since the vote to ordain women priests (and now bishops) in the Anglican Church, what is there to talk about? That vote was a huge historic event and must have caused an enormous fissure in these fraternal relations – even an earthquake. I was going to add the word “permanent” to “fissure” but that would preclude the action of the Holy Spirit to change the situation. Yet the only change that the Catholic Church could countenance would be a return of the Anglican Communion to the all-male priesthood – something that is extremely unlikely. How can there be “dialogue” over this?

Apparently ARCIC III is addressing “the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey [towards union] more difficult and arduous”. Does this mean they are working out a way of calling the whole enterprise off as politely as possible? Jennings did ask: what was the point of the talks since the ordination of women priests and bishops “has put an insurmountable block in the way of full unity”? The archbishop agreed that “ecumenical dialogue has been going through a difficult period” but still insisted that we are still searching for a deeper and fuller communion, bearing in mind Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “That they all may be one…”

Surely the advent of the Personal Ordinariate will now have caused more problems for the fraternal atmosphere of poor ARCIC III? That phrase “ecumenical dialogue” was so fashionable in the 1970s and 80s; in the 1990s it began to ring hollow; and now that many serious and historically minded Anglicans have come to the only conclusion possible, made easier by the Holy Father’s initiative, to come over to Rome, what is there left to talk about, apart from pleasantries and the duty of charity?

I hesitate to say it, but ARCIC III sounds like a lot of hot air. One thing we could learn from the Anglicans though: to celebrate the Ascension on its proper day.