I will quote portions, and make a few comments.
Seventeen years ago, just after a group of Anglican refugees had banded together as the “Traditional Anglican Communion”, its leaders met in Rome to talk unity with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. Their dreams and expectations that the meetings between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the establishing of an International Commission, the pledges of goodwill on both sides, would lead to unity had just been dashed. The long disintegration of the Anglican Communion – bitterly divided over the most fundamental issues of the Christian faith – had begun.
In those seventeen years the Traditional Anglican Communion has responded to many calls from those whose churches have been drawn into the upheaval. We have provided havens of peace and healing as people struggled to maintain the faith and rebuild. Churches, schools, seminaries and orphanages have all been started from scratch. Now we are 41 countries strong, and a force to be reckoned with, and our dreams of a united church, of the churches of Rome and Canterbury reunited after five centuries of hurtful division, have never faltered.
For those who may not know, efforts between the See of Canterbury and the See of Rome seemed to have real substance after the famous occasion when Pope Paul VI gave his ring to the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey in 1966. Archbishop Ramsey always wore it after that. In the years that followed serious efforts got underway, culminating in ARCIC. As some sort of gesture I fail to understand, Archbishop Rowan Williams gave the same ring back, so to speak, by presenting it to Pope John Paul II a few months before his death.
Two important facts must be taken into account. First of all, the initial effort was to achieve real unity, but after 1976 and the "ordination" of women in certain churches of the Anglican Communion, the talks were less promising. In 1992 the Church of England itself began to practice this innovation of women's "ordination" also, despite urging from the See of Rome not to do so. Since then, all ecumenism between Rome and Canterbury has been a mere formality.
That may sound too big to have been substantive. However, consider that at the same time that the See of Canterbury was talking seriously with Rome, they were engaged in an equally serious effort with the Orthodox Patriarchates to establish unity, that the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Church would become "one Church." In those days it was normal practice for Orthodox bishops to allow the faithful of their communion to receive the sacraments in Anglican churches, giving them letters granting this permission as long as no Orthodox church was available within a reasonable distance to where they resided. This hope for unity was dashed also, and by the same heresy, namely women's "ordination." In 1978, after it became clear that churches within the Anglican Communion were “ordaining” women and intent on spreading this practice, Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras remarked: “…the theological dialogue [between the Orthodox and the Anglicans] will continue, although now simply as an academic and informative exercise, and no longer as an ecclesial endeavor aiming at the union of the two churches.”2
The similarity between what the TAC seeks now, and what was sought before the women's "ordination" error, is obvious. But, the difference is, evidently, that no corresponding effort is taking place between them and Orthodoxy. Therefore, it is not entirely accurate to invoke that history as something completely parallel. My own hope is to see the "Eastern lung" considered as well. The real hope of unity in which the Anglican Communion once played a unique role, extended to the potential healing of the Great Schism itself, over the London Bridge, so to speak. But, just as the London Bridge now sits in the Arizona desert, this hope of unity is no longer over the Thames. Nonetheless, to see that hope restored will require a larger vision than unity with the See of Rome.
Here is more from Archbishop Hepworth's letter:
On 9th October last I returned to Rome with Bishops Mercer and Wilkinson. Bishop Mercer is a monk of the famous community in Mirfield, England, and was Anglican Bishop of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe. The late Pope attended Evensong in his Cathedral. Bishop Wilkinson has corresponded with the then Cardinal Ratzinger about the content of a revived Anglican Divine Office. This time we met with the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body appointed by the Holy See to receive applications for “Corporate Reunion” from churches that are not in Communion with the Holy See, and we carried a letter solemnly signed by the Bishops and Vicars General of the Traditional Anglican Communion during a Votive Mass for Unity in the venerable church of Saint Agatha in Portsmouth, England, where we had just completed a powerful Plenary Meeting.
Between these two visits to Rome a great work of teaching, building communities, developing leadership and guiding the growing trust between our Communion and the Roman Catholic Church has been maintained against the almost impossible odds of meagre resources and fierce opposition. Our letter rehearses the long and frustrating history of attempts to unite (in the words of Paul VI) the “church of Rome and the church of Canterbury”. It dwells on the reaction of those who dreamed that at last Anglicans were to become “Anglican Catholics” as the Anglican Communion took step after step to distance itself from the unity that had been promised.
More from Archbishop Hepworth:
May I share with you some of the letter’s content and promise …
On our Communion:
“a worldwide community of Anglican Christians has united under the name of The Traditional Anglican Communion for three main purposes:
To identify, reaffirm and consolidate in its community the elements… conduct that mark the Church of Christ…
To seek as a body full and visible communion, particularly eucharistic communion, in Christ, with the Roman Catholic Church …
To achieve such communion while maintaining those revered traditions … that constitute the cherished and centuries-old heritage of Anglican communities throughout the world.
On our acceptance of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome:
We accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, which is a ministry of teaching and discerning the faith and a “perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity” and understand this ministry is essential to the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
More from the letter:
On our acceptance of the catholic faith:
“We accept that the most complete and authentic expression and application of the catholic faith in this moment of time is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church…”
Here is more of Archbishop Hepworth's letter:
The bishops affirmed their faith in matters that have until now divided them from the Catholic Church, and finally, for the first time, they made an unambiguous appeal to the Holy See: “Driven by these realizations, which we must now in good conscience bring to the attention of the Holy See, we seek a communal and ecclesial way of being Anglican Catholics in communion with the Holy See, at once treasuring the full expression of catholic faith and treasuring our tradition within which we have come to this moment. We seek the guidance of the Holy See as to the fulfillment of these our desires and those of the churches in which we have been called to serve.”
After presenting these dreams and desires to the Holy See, I was authorized to release this statement:
“The College of Bishops of the TAC met in Plenary Session in Portsmouth, England, in the first week of October 2007. The Bishops and Vicars-General unanimously agreed to the text of a letter to the See of Rome seeking full, corporate, sacramental union. The letter was signed solemnly by all the College and entrusted to the Primate and two bishops chosen by the College to be presented to the Holy See. The letter was cordially received at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primate of the TAC has agreed that no member of the College will give interviews until the Holy See has considered the letter and responded.”
Archbishop Hepworth appears to be using the term "The Catholic Church" with ecumenical sensitivity, that is, as the official name of that Communion. Used that way, it is no more offensive than the term "the Orthodox Church," or frankly, as the Scots and Americans called Anglican churches, "the Episcopal Church." After all, that last one might seem to imply that no one else has bishops.
These words, "The bishops affirmed their faith in matters that have until now divided them from the Catholic Church..." state that they are not throwing the Anglican baby out with the bathwater. They make it clear that Anglicans have differences with the teaching of Rome, and that these differences require discussion. This is absolutely necessary. Anglicanism is not English culture (not to an American like me), and it is not simply married clergy and well constructed liturgy. We do have doctrinal standards and a few differences with the See of Rome.
This letter does not answer every question, nor lay to rest the potential for continued speculation. But, it helps to shed a bit more light for those of us who are not privy to these proceedings. In any case, we have this prayer in our BCP:
O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly, union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
2. As quoted in Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue: The Dublin Agreed Statement, (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), p.3
3. I am prepared to be proved wrong. I could ask Bishop Florenza, but I have too much respect for him to bother him with a question about such a thing, in light of their commitment not to give interviews at this time.