From the Archbishop

God's intention for church is reconciliation, unity


June 2 2019It is easy to assume that the unhappy days of religious sectarianism in Australia are over, or at least their worst impacts left long in the past. Many people of my generation know the pain of division based on Protestant or Catholic identity in our families, neighbourhoods or workplaces.

In those days the fact of “mixed marriages” between Anglicans and Catholics risked dividing families and communities. Growing grassroots engagement of our communities over recent decades has seen these sectarian forces diminish. Interestingly, the increased secularisation of Australia has prompted our ecumenical cooperation, and divisive attitudes have largely given way to increasingly cordial relationships between Catholics and Anglicans.

Around the middle of last year I was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to be the Anglican co-chair of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and I have recently come from a meeting of the Commission over six days in Jerusalem. We began what will be a conversation over several years, examining “the discernment of right ethical teaching”. The current work of ARCIC builds upon work that formally commenced in 1966 during the visit of Archbishop Michael Ramsay to Pope Paul VI. There have been a number of important agreements reached since the 1971 publication of the work on the doctrine of the Eucharist.

The foundation of the ARCIC dialogues is the “real yet imperfect communion” shared between Anglicans and Catholics. The fact and the pain of this reality is the motivation “towards deeper and fuller reconciliation”.

During our week together we participated in the celebration of the Eucharist each day. Alternating between Catholic and Anglican rites, we experienced the pain of not being in full communion and our inability to receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist when it was celebrated by the other tradition. At the same time we experienced a profound sense of our unity in Christ. For a group that was co-operative and cohesive the paradox of this reality was a real spur to the urgency of our work.

The first fruits of ARCIC III has been the publication of Walking Together on the Way, which has been published both in print and online. It bears study by Anglicans and Catholics together. If each of you who read these words invited a Catholic you know to read and discuss Walking Together on the Way with you – which contains learnings from the receptive ecumenism method – dialogue would be greatly advanced. Receptive ecumenism involves a preparedness to “discern what appears to be overlooked or underdeveloped in one’s own tradition and to ask whether such things are better developed in the other tradition”.

The claim by our Lord in John 6.39 that he should “lose nothing of all that the Father has given” to him but “raise it up on the last day” gave us hope as we worked on our task. His absolute confidence that the Father intends that “all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life” is the source of our shared commitment that, despite long centuries of separation and separate developments in ethical teaching (e.g. on contraception), God intends our reconciliation and unity. I hope that you can share this same confidence, hope and expectation. Pray for this work as it continues and study Walking Together on the Way with your Catholic friends.

Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at