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 tempting argument.”
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.