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Mary Document Advances Anglican-Catholic Unity

5/19/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Co-secretary of Joint Commission

SEATTLE, Washington, MAY 19, 2005 (Zenit) - The statement on Mary released by the Catholic-Anglican commission marks a step forward in unity between the two churches, according to the Roman Catholic co-secretary of the commission.

Father Donald Bolen, Roman Catholic co-secretary of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and assistant for the Western section of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, released the following answers to some common questions regarding the joint statement entitled "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ."

Q: Who are the authors of this document?

Father Bolen: The text "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ," also known as the Seattle Statement, is the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which is the official instrument of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

The dialogue, which was first called for by Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury in 1966, was established in 1970. The first phase of ARCIC's work (1970-1981) resulted in statements on the Eucharist, ministry and two statements on authority in the Church. ARCIC's second phase of work (1983 to the present) included statements on salvation and justification, the nature of the Church, morals, further work on authority in the Church, and now, on the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the doctrine and life of the Church. The commission that prepared the Mary document was constituted of 18 members. ARCIC began its work on Mary at its 1999 meeting, and completed the text in 2004.

The Anglican members are appointed by the archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Anglican Communion Office, while the Roman Catholic members are appointed by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The co-chairs of ARCIC are Roman Catholic Bishop Alexander Brunett of Seattle, and Anglican Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth, who is also the primate of Australia. The document on Mary brings to completion the second phase of ARCIC's work. It is anticipated that a third phase of work for ARCIC will be initiated in due course.

Q: What authority does the text carry?

Father Bolen: "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" is the work of ARCIC, and is published under the commission's authority with the permission of the Anglican Communion Office and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It is not an authoritative declaration by the Catholic Church or by the Anglican Communion, who will study and evaluate the document. The authorities who appointed the commission have allowed the statement to be published so that it may be reflected upon and discussed.

Q: Why was the place of Mary in the Church chosen as a topic to be studied?

Father Bolen: The Seattle Statement is the first international bilateral dialogue to take up the subject of the role of Mary in the Church. The opening paragraph of the document indicates that ARCIC was asked to prepare a study of Mary by Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders. While Mary has held an important place in the life and liturgy of Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike, the two Marian dogmas and Marian devotion within the Catholic Church have been seen as points which have separated the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

Q: What were Anglicans and Catholics able to say together about Mary prior to the present document?

Father Bolen: ARCIC had briefly addressed the subject of Mary once before, in the 1981 statement "Authority in the Church II." Paragraph 2 of the Seattle Statement outlines the significant degree of agreement about Mary in 1981, then proceeds to quote the earlier text in pointing to remaining differences which the present document sets out to address, focusing in particular on the Marian dogmas: "The dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption raise a special problem for those Anglicans who do not consider that the precise definitions given by these dogmas are sufficiently supported by Scripture."

Q: How does "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" set forth foundations from which to address the two Marian dogmas?

Father Bolen: Since its inception, ARCIC has sought to carry out a dialogue "founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions" ("Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury," 1966), thus attempting to "discover and develop our common inheritance of faith" (4). This attentiveness to our common foundations gives shape to the first two sections of the document.

The first major section of the document (6-30) traces the place of Mary in the Scriptures. Constituting almost one-third of the entire statement, this section could be used independently of the ...

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