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05 May 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

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Froth, bubbles and hot air. No, it’s not a new form of soap but what is often described as going on when ­senior church figures meet for ­ecumenical dialogue. But let’s not get cynical. Inter-church discussion has the potential to make history, particularly for Catholics and Anglicans, where there is more that unites than divides.

One area where progress might be made is over Pope Leo XIII’s 1896 declaration that Anglican orders are “null and void”. Do Catholics really still believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury is simply a layman dressing up? Such a position seems increasingly anachronistic given Pope Francis’ recent joint blessing with Anglican Archbishop David Moxon in St Paul’s Outside the Walls, one of the four major papal basilicas in Rome. And it is now half a century since Pope Paul VI gave his episcopal ring to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey.  

Fr Tony Currer, an official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said last week that theology now needs to “catch up with gestures”. He was asked for his comments after a gathering in Rome of Anglican and Catholic theologians who are part of the Malines Group, a long-running ecumenical dialogue which has the blessing of both Churches. On their agenda was Leo XIII’s “null and void” teaching and they received input from top canon lawyer and curial official Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.


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