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A Decade of Ecumenical Dialogue on Canon Law: A Report on the Proceedings of the Colloquium of Anglican and Roman Catholic Canon Lawyers 1999–20091


In the decades that followed the close of the Second Vatican Council, great progress was made in the dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. During that period, the Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was founded in 1967 by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Michael Ramsey). The rich and common heritage shared by Anglicans and Roman Catholics found expression in the work and statements of ARCIC. In the background was the work of theologians, historians, liturgists and Scripture scholars, and many relationships were being cultivated locally in dioceses and parishes around the world. While the possible significance of Church law had been recognised in the 1974 World Council of Churches Report, Christian Unity and Church Law, there has been no sustained discussion of canon law in the work of ARCIC.



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2 In this document, the term ‘Anglican’ is used to refer to one of the constituent Churches of the Anglican Communion, while ‘Roman Catholic’ or ‘Catholic’ is used to refer to the Catholic Church in communion with the See of Rome. For the sake of brevity, sometimes the terms ‘two Churches’ and ‘two Communions’ are used. In doing so, no theological position is being adopted.

3 See eg ‘Eucharist doctrine’ (1971), ‘Elucidations on the Eucharist’ (1979), ‘Ministry and ordination’ (1973), ‘Elucidations on ministry and ordination’ (1979), ‘Authority in the Church I and II’ (1976 and 1981), ‘Salvation and the Church’ (1986), ‘The Church as Communion’ (1991), ‘ife in Christ: morals, Communion and the Church’ (1993), ‘The gift of authority’ (1999), and ‘Mary: grace and hope in Christ’ (2005).

4 Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Ecumenical Directory 1967, published in English in Flannery, A (ed), Vatican Council II: the Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents (Dublin, 1975), pp 483501; subsequent documents were also published in English in Flannery, pp 502–507, 554–559, 560–563. The Ecumenical Directory was revised and published in 1993 by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

5 See eg Doe, N, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion (Oxford, 1998).

6 The other four being: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. See ‘Report of the Meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, Canterbury, 10–17 April 2002’, para 6, available at <>, accessed 16 June 2009.

7 A report on each of these proceedings may be found, respectively at: (1999) 5 Ecc LJ 281, (2001) 6 Ecc LJ 61, (2002) 6 Ecc LJ 403, (2003) 7 Ecc LJ 225, (2005) 8 Ecc LJ 99, (2006) 8 Ecc LJ 358, (2006) 8 Ecc LJ 484, (2007) 9 Ecc LJ 321, (2008) 10 Ecc LJ 357.

8 A complete list of all participants is available from Professor Norman Doe at Cardiff University.

9 This contribution is based on a very great volume of legal evidence, but to favour accessibility we have kept references to a minimum. The following works, however, are essential. For the Anglican material: Doe, N, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion (Oxford, 1998); N Doe, ‘The contribution of common principles of canon law to ecclesial communion in Anglicanism’, (2008) 10 Ecc LJ 71–91; and Doe, N, An Anglican Covenant: theological and legal considerations for a global debate (London, 2008). As for Roman Catholicism, the 1983 Code of Canon Law has been used as the basic legislative text and is available in English translation (London, 1997); other texts of importance include R Ombres, ‘Faith, doctrine and Roman Catholic canon law’, (1988) 1 Ecc LJ 33–41; and Ombres, R, ‘National churches and the Roman Catholic Church’, (2002) Law & Justice 92104.

10 Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion, Anglican Communion Legal Advisers Network (London, 2008), p 17: ‘(1) There are principles of canon law common to the churches of the Anglican Communion; (2) Their existence can be factually established; (3) Each province or church contributes through its own legal system to the principles of canon law; (4) These principles have strong persuasive authority and are fundamental to the self-understanding of each of the member churches; (5) These principles have a living force, and contain within themselves the possibility for further development; and (6) The existence of the principles both demonstrates and promotes unity in the Communion.’

11 Limitations of space mean that the 1990 Code cannot be discussed here. It would be of significant interest in the light of the Anglican Principles of Canon Law and the possibility of a binding Covenant, in that the one Code governs a plurality of sui iuris churches in full communion. An initial task would be the exploration of the methodology used to draw out from a variety of sources a ius commune; cf Canon 1493 of the 1990 Code.

12 Principles of Canon Law, Definitions.

13 For example: Book of Common Prayer, Principle 65.10 on baptism and confirmation of mature persons; canonical tradition, Principle 24.7, nemo iudex in sua causa; divine law, Principle 48.2, on the duty to proclaim the gospel; the practice of the church universal, Principle 61.1: baptism effects incorporation into the church of Christ; theological ideas, Principle 54.1: worship is a fundamental action of the church; and for juridical formulae see eg Principles 12, 16.2, 26.6, 42.5, 83.1.

14 Principles of Canon Law, Principle 8.1–4: ‘laws should be interpreted by reference to their text and context; laws are to be understood according to the proper meaning of their words; authoritative interpretations of law may be issued by church courts or tribunals, or by commissions or other bodies designated to interpret the law, in such cases, in such manner and with such effect as may be prescribed by the law; and if in a church the meaning of laws remains in doubt recourse may be had to analogous texts, the purposes and circumstances of the law, the mind of the legislator, the jurisprudence of church courts and tribunals, the opinion of jurists, the principles of canon law and theology, the common good, and the practice and tradition of that church and of the church universal’.

15 Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum I, ‘Constitutio Dogmatica Pastor Aeternus de Ecclesia Christi’, in Denzinger, HJD and Schönmetzer, A (eds), Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, 33rd edition (Barcinone, 1965), 30503075.

16 Lumen Gentium, 4.

17 Ibid, 18.

18 Ibid, 39.

19 Ibid, 8.

20 Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2.

21 Resolution 49 of the 1930 Lambeth Conference.

22 Report of Committee IV of the 1930 Lambeth Conference.

23 Lumen Gentium, 8, emphasis added.

24 Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law, ‘Principles which govern the revision of the Code of Canon Law’, (1969) 2 Communicationes 79; English translation in Hite, JF, Sesto, GJ and Ward, DJ (eds), Readings, Cases, Materials in Canon Law: a textbook for ministerial students (Collegeville, MN, 1980), p 72.

25 Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Windsor Report 2004 (London, 2004), para 113, available at <>, accessed 17 June 2009.

26 Ibid, para 114.

27 Principles of Canon Law, Principles 1 and 2.

28 Resolution 9 from the 1920 Lambeth Conference, available at <>, accessed 17 June 2009.

30 ‘Responses of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith’, response to 2nd question.

31 IARCCUM, Growing Together in Unity and Mission: building on 30 years of Anglican–Roman Catholic dialogue, para 20, available at <>, accessed 18 February 2009. See also paras 14, 43 and 48.

32 The contents of Canon 844 would have been unthinkable at the time of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The idea of regulating – let alone permitting – communicatio in sacris would have been considered heresy.

33 Unitatis redintegratio, 9.

34 Ibid, 10.

36 See IARCCUM, Growing Together in Unity and Mission, para 6.

37 Ibid, para 8.

38 B Longley, ‘A commentary on Growing Together in Unity and Mission: an agreed statement by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (2007)’, available at <>, accessed 18 February 2009.

39 Notably Doe, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion.

40 Principles of Canon Law, statement 1.

41 IARCCUM, Growing Together in Unity and Mission, para 116.

1 Membership of the Colloquium and participation in its deliberations has varied over the decade during which it has been in existence. This Report was the product of the 2009 Colloquium, at which the Anglican participants were Norman Doe, Mark Hill, Anthony Jeremy, Gregory Cameron (in absentia) and Stephen Slack. Those from the Roman Catholic church comprised James Conn, Aidan McGrath, Robert Ombres, Michael Hilbert and Fintan Gavin. Gareth Powell was present as a Methodist observer. The drafting of the Report was undertaken by all of the members of the 2009 Colloquium and the agreed text is offered for ecumenical reflection and wider discussion.

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A Decade of Ecumenical Dialogue on Canon Law: A Report on the Proceedings of the Colloquium of Anglican and Roman Catholic Canon Lawyers 1999–20091


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