Top-level talks between the Roman Catholic Church and Anglicans collapsed yesterday due to the U.S. Episcopal Church’s consecration of the world’s first openly homosexual bishop last month.
The Vatican, which teaches that homosexual acts are “intrinsically evil,” announced it was canceling a February meeting in Seattle of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, a 2-year-old ecumenical organization.
Instead of talks on unity, the Vatican did agree to a new committee to “reflect jointly” on the implications of the Nov. 2 consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
The decision was reached in meetings Nov. 24 and 25 at the Vatican that included Frank Griswold, the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
In a dramatic move designed to salvage ecumenical relations, Bishop Griswold then resigned as the co-chairman of a sister organization, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), last weekend. ARCIC is a 33-year-old organization that issues statements on theological areas where Anglican and Catholic teachings differ.
In a letter to Archbishop Williams, he said he was stepping down “in the interest of not jeopardizing the present and future life and work of the Commission.”
His office had no immediate comment on yesterday’s announcement.
Bishop Griswold was the main consecrator at the ceremony in Durham, N.H., where Mr. Robinson, a divorced priest living with a male lover, was made a bishop.
His co-chairman, Roman Catholic Archbishop Alex Brunett of Seattle, last month publicly criticized the Episcopal Church for consecrating Bishop Robinson, saying this made ecumenical relations “very difficult,” but that “the Holy Father has said we must keep dialoguing.”
Archbishop Brunett released a statement yesterday saying the Catholic Church remains committed to dialogue with the Episcopalians.
“But we must acknowledge this is a serious problem,” he said. “If we’ve agreed on moral values and moral statements that are not being observed, that is a problem for our ongoing dialogue and we need to deal with that issue.”
However, an already scheduled January meeting of ARCIC on the Virgin Mary will go ahead if a replacement for Bishop Griswold is found, the Catholic bishop said.
In the weeks before Bishop Robinson’s consecration, Pope John Paul II warned Archbishop Williams personally in Rome that an openly homosexual bishop would chill relations between the two churches.
The Catholics aren’t the only ones pulling away from the Episcopal Church, which is part of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion. Several Orthodox bodies, including the Russian, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic and Ethiopian churches, have suspended ties.
The Russian Orthodox Church in a Nov. 17 statement said that “the ‘consecration’ of a gay priest has made any communications with him and with those who consecrated him impossible.”
“We shall not be able to cooperate with these people not only in the theological dialogue, but also in the humanitarian and religious and public spheres. We have no right to allow even a particle of agreement with their position, which we consider to be profoundly anti-Christian and blasphemous,” the Russians said.
They added the church had not broken ties “with those members of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. who clearly declared their loyalty to the moral teaching of the Holy Gospel and the Ancient Undivided Church.”
The evangelical magazine Christianity Today declared: “The Episcopal Church’s election of a gay bishop has done what the Cold War could not do: sever ties between ECUSA and the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Rome’s statement shows it “is very, very serious on how they view this obstacle,” said the Rev. David Moyer, president of the Dallas-based Forward in Faith, a traditional organization of Anglo-Catholics, which are Episcopalians that value Catholic tradition and teaching.
“The Episcopal Church has thumbed its nose at the Catholic Church and caused a major ecumenical crisis,” he said. “Moscow has also thrown us out. Praise God for the discernment and wisdom of the Vatican that realizes they cannot talk with these pirates. They will be sorting out who they can talk to.”
The Vatican already has made overtures to Episcopalians who disagree with the Robinson consecration.
On Oct. 8, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the most powerful Vatican cleric after the pope, sent a letter to 2,700 dissident Episcopalians meeting in Dallas, assuring them of his “heartfelt prayers.”
He added: “The significance of our meeting is sensed far beyond [Texas]. … In the Church of Christ, there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation.”
The Episcopalians at the meeting, who opposed Bishop Robinson’s consecration, greeted the letter with a standing ovation.