From July 26 to August 8, 2022, the 15th Lambeth Conference took place at the University of Kent (England). More than 650 Anglican bishops, together with their spouses, representing about 165 countries and about 85 million faithful, gathered near the historic seat of Anglicanism, Canterbury Cathedral, with the intention of responding to the challenges that the local circumstances of the 42 provincial churches of the Communion pose to Christian faith and witness in the 21st century.
The first Lambeth Conference was held in 1867, and about every 10 years since then the bishops of the Communion have met at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. They come to pray together, study the Bible and discuss the most pressing issues within their local communities. With the exception of 2018, when Archbishop Justin Welby first had to postpone the Conference and then because of Covid-19 relegate it to 2022, the 10-year assemblies provide a regular opportunity for bishops from around the world to meet and learn from one another.
Approximately 1,000 Anglican bishops were invited to the recent Conference, but, as mentioned, only 650 attended. As was already the case at the Lambeth Conference in 2008, a significant number of bishops belonging to the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) were reluctant to participate, because of their disagreement with the majority view that exists among the bishops of the Anglican Communion on issues of gender and sexual orientation.
The theme of the Conference was God’s Church for God’s World. There were three phases to the Conference. The first phase, which began in 2021, took place online because of Covid-19. It was a preparatory phase to explore the issues to be discussed at the assembly of bishops. In the second phase, at Canterbury from July 26 to August 8, the results of the consultation that took place in the previous “listening” phase were presented to the assembly of bishops for assembly approval. Unlike the practice in recent conferences, Archbishop Welby preferred to use the term “call” rather than “resolution to indicate the documents to be approved. In this way he wished to avoid giving legal force to such declarations, as if they were binding on the constituent Churches. It should be remembered, in fact, that the Lambeth Conference has no legislative function, but serves only in a consultative and moral role for the Anglican Communion. The Lambeth Calls covered 10 areas of interest: Mission and Evangelism; Safe Church; Anglican Identity; Reconciliation; Human Dignity; Environment and Sustainable Development; Christian Unity; Interfaith Relations; Discipleship; Science and Faith. After the approval of these documents the third phase began, that of reception through ratification in the local Churches.
The appeal to human dignity
The attention of the bishops, as well as that of the various ecumenical observers present at this year’s Conference, was directed to global issues (ecology, immigration, refugees, racism, war and peace), ecclesial issues (religious persecution, questions of faith and order, the ordained ministry of women) and ethical issues (marriage, the family, human sexuality). It was this third area of interest that aroused most debate and tension, both before discussion began and during the sessions of the Conference. On July 24, in fact, the text of the Call for Human Dignity was circulated, which read: “It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the ‘legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions cannot be advised’.”
This wording immediately provoked critical reactions from Anglican bishops in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, leading to the text of the statement being modified as follows: “Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that ‘all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ’ and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (Lambeth Resolution I.10 ). Many Provinces continue to affirm that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 states that the ‘legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions’ cannot be advised. Other Provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex unions/marriages after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”
The text of the call makes explicit reference to Resolution 1.10, which was approved at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 with an 82 percent majority of the 641 bishops present. Like the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, Archbishop Welby also wished to reiterate that Anglicanism does not recognize as based on Scripture and Christian Tradition the exercise of human sexuality outside marriage between a man and a woman. In the letter written to all the bishops of the Anglican Communion prior to the discussion on the appeal to human dignity, Welby invited the bishops present at the discussion to be frank in expressing their thoughts, but at the same time willing to listen to each other.
Resolution 1.10 is not in question, said the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, it is necessary for each province of the Communion to know and accept the position of the others so that together we may arrive at truth and unity in Christ. This objective is not achieved through a legal instrument or by applying sanctions, as was proposed at the Lambeth Conference (2008) through the introduction of the Anglican Communion Covenant, but through an ongoing process of discernment and listening between Anglicans, bishops and provincial Churches. Welby concluded: “I am very conscious that the Archbishop of Canterbury must be a center of unity and an instrument of communion. This is a priority. Truth and unity must be held together, but the history of the Church also says that this sometimes takes a long time for the moment to be reached when different teaching is rejected or received. I do not have, nor do I seek the authority to discipline or exclude any Church from the Anglican Communion. I will not. […] We are a Communion of Churches, not a single Church. […] I want to repeat a sentence from the Call: ‘As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues’.”
The call for human dignity, as well as the other calls, were not subject to a vote, but simply discussed and further refined. At the end of the discussion of a call the bishops had the opportunity to indicate verbally their agreement and to express objections. Welby’s speech at the conclusion of the discussion of the call for human dignity received a standing ovation from the Conference. However 102 bishops, from the Episcopal Church in America, the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Wales, in favor of the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the Church, issued a statement of disagreement. So did the bishops of GSFA. In a statement submitted on July 29, they noted that their provincial churches now represent 75 percent of the entire Anglican Communion. The president of GSFA, Justin Badi Arama, archbishop and primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, said: “The West had the gospel and took it to us in Africa. We may have to bring it back.” In the text of their statement, the GSFA bishops reaffirmed that Resolution 1.10 represents the official teaching of Anglicanism on human sexuality and that therefore the Communion must impose sanctions on those Churches that continue to ordain bishops in same-sex unions and bless people of the same sex. These bishops then refused to receive communion in celebrations where homosexual bishops and promoters of blessings were present. Badi Arama concluded by declaring that “at Canterbury we can be ‘gathered together,’ but we certainly cannot ‘walk together’ until the provincial Churches repent and return to orthodoxy.”
Ecumenical Relations: Learning from one another
As has been repeatedly stated, the Lambeth Conference, as well as other instruments of communion within Anglicanism (Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglican Consultative Council, and Primates’ Committee), is not a legislative institution, but only a consultative and moral one. The interdependence between the Churches in Anglicanism has never had a legal basis. In Anglican ecclesiology all authority resides in provincial synods.
As the recent bilateral document of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission III (ARCIC III) Walking Together on the Way reminded us, “These [Lambeth] conferences are not intended to exercise judicial responsibility over the provinces through their deliberations or to give the Archbishop of Canterbury authority over any particular provincial or national level” (No. 130).
The disagreement between the provincial Churches of the Anglican Communion that was clearly manifested in the last Lambeth Conferences (1988, 1998 and 2008) makes it clear how fragile, if not impossible, is the relationship between the juridical autonomy of the provinces and the moral vocation to interdependence between them: “When the needs of mission in one province lead to changes that are neither understood nor approved by other provinces, there is strain on the bonds of affection and the capacity of the instruments of communion to respond. There is a reluctance among Anglicans to surrender provincial autonomy, particularly when a change in teaching or discipline is widely acknowledged within a given province to be necessary for its mission” (No. 137).
The goal of the Third International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission, sponsored by the Pontifical Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and the Department for Unity, Faith and Order of the Anglican Communion, is to address this specific ecclesiological issue in the coming years. This will be done in two stages. The first is to consider the fundamental issues concerning the Church as a local and universal communion; the second is to analyze how the local and universal Church in communion come to discern the correct ethical teaching. The connection between ecclesiology and ethical discernment is the goal of ARCIC III, as expressed in the Joint Declaration of Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in November 2009. What is important to focus on is the methodology that the International Commission used for its work. Taking up the ecumenical model already adopted in other bilateral documents, ARCIC III intends to promote in these two phases not only a differentiated consensus, but a mutual listening and learning between the two traditions.
Both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, albeit in their different ecclesiologies and governance structures, are experiencing the struggles with which the universal Church walks together with the local Churches. In the light of their common faith – Sacred Scripture and Tradition – Anglicans and Catholics intend to share not only the gifts of their own tradition and governance, but the frailties to which both are exposed in facing the difficulty of maintaining together the autonomy of the local Churches and the universal communion. The analysis that the ARCIC III ecumenical document makes of the respective ecclesiological structures is intended to identify what is contested on both sides (Roman Catholic centralism and Anglican individualism), what is honored (Petrine ministry and synodality), and what each tradition can learn from the other: “The conviction is that by examining and reforming our respective instruments of communion alongside and in conversation with each other, we are also growing closer to each other and strengthening the imperfect communion that already exists between us,” in order to grow together faithful to Christ’s will for his Church.
It is significant that one of the Lambeth calls, the one dedicated to Anglican Identity, made an explicit request to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Consultative Council “to set up an independent review group on the Instruments of Communion with special attention to Anglican polity and deepening a sense of synodality for the whole people of God in the Anglican Communion,” as well as “to establish a design group to envision a new Instrument of Communion centering those voices too often marginalized: Indigenous leaders, the laity, women, and young people.” This design group is expected to complete its work and report to the Anglican Consultative Council by the end of 2025.
If the aim of the “differentiated consensus” was to correctly understand the other Church, as it understands itself, purifying from stereotypes its own perception of the others, the method of receptive ecumenism allows one to come to recognize one’s own tradition in the presence of the other. Through a process of self-correction in the light of the gifts of the other tradition, each Church learns something, to arrive finally “together” at the fullness of the Church of Christ.
The bilateral dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics, begun shortly after the Second Vatican Council, continues its journey: each of the two traditions, “making its own path of conversion toward a greater life,” is supported by the other. The Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church can together “discern what appears to be overlooked or underdeveloped in one’s own tradition” and ask themselves whether the means of connection between local Churches and the universal Church have been better developed in the other tradition. Understanding the Lambeth 2022 Conference in the light of the synodal journey underway in the Catholic Church, allows one to recognize that the gifts that each Church brings to ecumenical dialogue dispose the other to receive from it whatever can “help with the development and enrichment of this aspect of ecclesial life within one’s own tradition.”
. Cf. P. Gamberini, “Cattolici e anglicani dopo la Conferenza di Lambeth”, in Civ. Catt. 2008 IV 3-13; Id., “La Comunione anglicana. Un labirinto ecclesiologico”, in Rassegna di Teologia 50 (2009) 273-289.
. See www.lambethconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/LC_Human-Dignity_ENG.pdf
. The text of Resolution 1.10 reads: “This Conference: a) in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage; b) recognizes that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships, and we commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual people. We wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ; c) while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all, irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialization and commercialization of sex; d) cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions, nor the ordination of those involved in such unions.”
. “For the large majority of the Anglican Communion the traditional understanding of marriage is something that is understood, and accepted without question, not only by Bishops but their entire Church, and the societies in which they live. For them, to question this teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries would make the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For many churches, to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence. For a minority, we can say almost the same. They have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature. For them, to question this different teaching is unthinkable, and in many countries is making the church a victim of derision, contempt and even attack. For these churches not to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence. […] There is no attempt to change people’s minds in this Call. It states as a fact that the vast majority of Anglicans in the large majority of Provinces and Dioceses do not believe that a change in teaching is right. Therefore, it is the case that the whole of Lambeth 1.10 1998 still exists. This Call does not in any way question the validity of that resolution. The Call states that many Provinces – and I say again, I think we need to acknowledge it’s the majority – continue to affirm that same-gender marriage is not permissible. The Call also states that other provinces have blessed and welcomed same sex union or marriage, after careful theological reflection and a process of reception. In that way, it states the reality of life in the Communion today. As is said in the letter, and I re-emphasise, there is no mention of sanctions, or exclusion, in 1.10 1998. There is much mention of pastoral care.” (Archbishop of Canterbury, Opening Remarks to the Lambeth Conference, August 2 (https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/news/news-and-statements/bishops-lambeth-conference-discuss-lambeth-call-human-dignity)
. The Anglican Communion Covenant was suggested by the Joint Standing Committee of Bishops who were Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to resolve the doctrinal and moral controversies that had arisen in the aftermath of the blessings of homosexual unions and the election of homosexual bishops in some dioceses in North America. The initial draft of the Covenant foresaw sanctions against the provinces of Canada and the USA. These were to be excluded from the representative bodies of the Communion (the Assembly of Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council) and a moratorium was to be placed on any elections and consecrations of homosexual bishops, as well as on blessings of homosexual unions. Finally, these bishops were to express publicly their regret that their actions had broken the bonds of affection with the other Churches of the Anglican Communion. In November 2009 the Standing Committee approved the text of the Covenant, which was sent to all the provinces for their approval. At present, very few provincial Churches have done so.
. Archbishop of Canterbury, Letter to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, August 2, 2022, at www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/news/news-and-statements/letter-archbishop-canterbury-bishops-anglican-communion). The See of Canterbury is the visible and moral centre of a communion of 42 autonomous provincial Churches in over 165 countries which are in interdependence with one another. As the recent document of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission III (ARCIC III) pointed out, “despite the lack of juridical authority within any province outside the Church of England of the Anglican Communion, or even outside the Southern Ecclesiastical Province of Canterbury in England, the Archbishop is the visible sign of the unity of the Communion. The voice of the Archbishop is listened to by bishops, clergy and laity across the Communion (No. 135)” (ARCIC III, “Walking Together on the Way” (2018) in iarccum.org/doc/?d=721). To better express this universality of the See of Canterbury, the General Synod of the Church of England approved, on July 12, 2022, a resolution to increase from 1 to 5 the representatives of the Anglican Communion who make up the Crown Nominations Commission, the Royal Commission that proposes to the Monarch the candidates for appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury: one from each continent (Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia; Oceania and Europe). In a statement Welby pointed out that Anglicans around the world have a deep and historic relationship with the See of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has the great privilege of serving as a center of unity for Anglican Churches around the world, and that therefore it was right that this international family of Churches be given a voice in the process of selecting the one who is primus inter pares. At the same time it should be noted that there are bishops within the GSFA who believe the time has come to “decolonize” this instrument of communion, moving Anglicanism away from its historic center at Canterbury. Canon Chris Sudden, leader of the Oxford Center for Religion in Public Life, summed up their argument this way, “Africa is now the true heart of Anglicanism” (www.christianitytoday.com/news/2022/august/lambeth-conference-anglican-church-global-south-bishops.html).
. T.C. Morgan, “Anglican Division over Scripture and Sexuality Heads South”, in Christianity Today (www.christianitytoday.com/news/2022/august/lambeth-conference-anglican-church-global-south-bishops.html), August 9, 2022.
. ARCIC III, “Walking Together on the Way”, op.cit., 55.
. Ibid., 57.
. The method of “differentiated consensus” inspired the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999): cf. P. Gamberini, “La Dichiarazione congiunta tra cattolici e luterani sulla giustificazione”, in Civ. Catt. 2000 II 549-563; Id., “Verso la piena comunione visibile. I frutti del consenso differenziato nel dialogo luterano-romano cattolico”, ibid., 2019 III 408-420. In this document, the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation declared that doctrinal differences between Catholics and Lutherans no longer fell under the condemnations of the Council of Trent. This approach was also adopted by later documents of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue, in particular by the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Commission of Finland (Growing Communion. Statement on Church, Eucharist and Ministry, 2017) and by the Lutheran-Catholic Commission’s international document on unity and common commemoration of the Reformation (1517-2017), entitled From Conflict to Communion (2013).
. The Catholic Church is developing its synodal journey in three successive phases: the first phase at the level of the local, diocesan Churches (October 2021-October 2022); the second phase at the continental level (November 2022-September 2023); the third at the universal level, with the convocation of the Synod of Bishops in Rome (October 2023). In these phases, Catholics, local Churches and the universal Church are engaged in a process of discernment. Already, however, some tensions have been noted in this first phase of the synodal journey, similar to those that occurred during the Amazon Synod (2019), on the question of viri probati and optional celibacy for Latin Rite priests. A similar discussion is taking place in the German Church Synod regarding the issue of human sexuality and the ordination of women to ordained ministry. In a letter to the German Synod (June 29, 2019), Pope Francis called on the bishops to be vigilant about possible tendencies to reform the Church in a way that is not always enlightening and not to follow the spirit of the times. The Flemish bishops of Belgium have also made clear their opposition and disagreement with what the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith declared in February 2021. The Responsum on the blessing of unions of persons of the same sex declared, with the explicit assent of the pope, that while “blessings are possible for individuals with homosexual inclinations who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by the teaching of the Church,” “any form of blessing that tends to recognize their unions” remains illicit, because it would mean “approving and encouraging a choice and a life practice that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God” (www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_with_cfaith_doc_20210222_responsum-dubium-unions_en.html). Inspired by the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Flemish bishops, together with the Cardinal of Malines-Brussels Jozef De Kesel, published a document in which such blessings were authorized.
. ARCIC III, “Walking Together on the Way”, op. cit., 17.
. Lambeth Conference Call, “Anglican Identity”.
. “The Church of Christ is not to be found in perfect, eschatologically completed form in the Roman Catholic Church, which is itself in need of continual reform (UR 6) and purification (LG 8). The Church of Christ is not coextensive with the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church: key elements are to be found within other traditions (cf. LG 8 and UR 3; cf. Ut Unum Sint, No. 11), sometimes even in a more developed form – in fuller bloom, as it were – than it has been in the Roman Catholic Church as it currently exists; current ecclesial divisions also diminish the Roman Catholic Church (cf. UR 4): consequently each tradition has much to learn and receive as we journey toward a reconciled Church that can at once be a more effective sacrament of and witness to the communion of the Trinity (cf. UR 4)” (ARCIC III, “Walking Together on the Way”, op. cit., 124).
. Cf. ibid., 17.
. Ibid., 18.