The news is that Bishop Joe Grech of Sandhurst has reconsidered his original offer to the local Anglicans of the use of St Kilian’s for their upcoming ordinations while their own Cathedral is unsafe for use.
I think all readers will agree that it is an unfortunate situtation, especially as the offer had already been made and had to be withdrawn. Nevertheless we will also agree that it was the right decision to make. To have gone ahead with the planned ceremony would simply have caused even more hurt and confusion.
That being said, I would like to point out that Bishop Grech – in originally making the offer of the use of a Catholic church building to the Anglicans in their time of need – was simply acting in accordance with the protocols of the DIRECTORY FOR THE APPLICATION OF PRINCIPLES AND NORMS ON ECUMENISM, which states:
137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship. However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services. Under similar circumstances, permission may be given to them for interment or for the celebration of services at Catholic cemeteries.
He was also acting in accord with an ecumenical protocol to which the Catholic Church in Australia is a signatory, namely, the National Council of Churches in Australia agreement “Australian Churches Covenanting Together”. This “Covenant” contains a number of clauses, and the member churches of the NCCA (which includes, through the Bishops Conference, all dioceses of the Catholic Church in Australia) had the option of signing up to those clauses to which they could assent.
The clause in question is “Dimension Two” of “Part B” which reads:
b. Shared Use of Physical Resources
We AGREE together to support initiatives for sharing physical resources, such as buildings, and to encourage consultation between the appropriate governing bodies of our churches before new major developments are undertaken
This clause has been agreed to by the following:
Anglican Church of Australia
Assyrian Church of the East
Churches of Christ in Australia
Congregational Federation of Australia
Coptic Orthodox Church
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
Lutheran Church of Australia
Religious Society of Friends
Roman Catholic Church in Australia
The Salvation Army
Uniting Church in Australia
There is certainly precedent in other parts of Australia, where non-Catholic Christian communities have used Catholic churches for worship with the permission of the local bishop when they have not had a building of their own to use.
What are the provisos? None are spelled out either in the Covenant or in the Ecumenical Directory, except that the latter says:
140. Before making plans for a shared building [or by extension, I guess, sharing a building], the authorities of the communities concerned should first reach agreement as to how their various disciplines will be observed, particularly in regard to the sacraments [my emphasis].
The fact that the sacraments are singled out for mention is significant. One could not imagine there being any problem with another community such as the Anglicans using our church buildings for baptism or marriages (or funeralsfor that matter), because we recognise the validity of these sacraments in the Anglican Church. Problems would arise however with those protestant sacraments whose validity we do not recognise: namely confirmations or ordinations, and perhaps even the Eucharist.
I guess the proviso therefore is that nothing take place in the Catholic building which could reasonably be supposed to give scandal to the Catholic faithful. And, in the current climate, an ordination ceremony involving women held in a Catholic church would definitely cause a great deal of misunderstanding.
I think that St Paul’s advice about eating meat offered to idols (1 Cor 8 ) would have to come in to play here.