Catholics and Anglicans involved in formal ecumenical dialogue might as well be “talking on the moon” because no one is listening to them, a former Anglican leader has said.
Lord Carey of Clifton said the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic
International Commission (ARCIC) was “irrelevant” to most Christians,
who were motivated by relations at grassroots level.
He suggested that
financial grounds alone might justify the abandoning of the ecumenical
project in favour of local projects underpinned by good will and a
shared commitment to charity.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury said 45 years of attempts to
bring about visible unity by bridging theological differences had “run
into the sand”. “I don’t know what is going on,” he said. “If you take
the latest ARCIC document, I think it is so irrelevant to the ordinary
Christian – Catholic, Anglican or Methodist – that it might as well be
talking on the moon.”
The comments came in an interview with the Shrewsbury Catholic Voice
just minutes before he delivered a homily in Chester Cathedral on Sunday
during a service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
He used his homily, entitled “Is Christ Divided?”, to question the
financial burden of ecumenism, particularly to the Church of England,
which spends almost £500,000 a year on ecumenical projects.
“It makes one wonder: are we really getting value for money?,” said
Lord Carey, who served for 10 years as leader of the worldwide Anglican
Communion. “If the churches had an equivalent of George Osborne that
person would, I am sure, be asking: ‘What value are we getting for such
an outlay year after year?’,” he said. “Or to change the image, no keen
football supporter (and I speak as an Arsenal fan) would be convinced by
an argument that goes: ‘Well, we spent £30 million on that striker: I
agree he hasn’t scored all season but what a lovely mover!’
“If you are not delivering, then logic suggests that we put ecumenism
on the backburner, and spend the money or more pressing things. It is a
He continued: “In the nearly 50 years I have been involved in formal
ecumenism we have witnessed amazing political events happen: we have
seen the Cold War end between West and East, the Berlin Wall removed,
Apartheid destroyed in South Africa, deepening harmony in Northern
Ireland – and, ingloriously, no substantial acts taken to bring
Christian unity about.”
But Lord Carey said the deepening of ecumenical relationships must
continue by “doing things together”, such as helping the homeless and
evangelising. “These are the stepping stones that are going to lead us
to visible unity,” he said.
His comments on ARCIC, set up in 1969 to foster ecumenical dialogue,
come three years after talks between Catholic and Anglican leaders
entered their third phase.