Fr. Robert Christian, O.P. '66, named SF's new auxiliary bishop
Posted 03/28/2018 08:33AM

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From left: Jim Christian '72, Tom Christian '78, Fr. Robert Christian, O.P. '66, and John Christian '76 -- four of seven siblings who came to the Archdiocese of San Francisco's Chancery Office on March 28 to hear Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announce that Fr. Christian would be ordained an auxiliary bishop shortly before summer.


Also, below is a story Bishop Christian wrote for the spring 2012 edition of Genesis magazine regarding his work on a Vatican commission that hopes to pave the way for a reunification of the Catholic and Episcopal churches.


E Pluribus Unum and Christian Unity

Since March 2011, Rev. Robert Christian, OP '66, based in Rome, has worked to unify the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. A member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, Fr. Christian works as part of a 20-person committee (10 from each Church) towards the goal of achieving "full, visible unity—a unity based on a shared faith, a shared government, and a shared worship—but a unity that makes due allowance for legitimate differences."

In August, he came to Oakland's Claremont Country to speak to the local chapter of the Knights of the Order of Malta, led by his brother, John Christian '76. He wrote the article, below, a few months after his talk.

By Rev. Robert Christian, OP '66

American coins bear the words e pluribus unum – from many, one. Throughout its short history, the U.S. has struggled to define – and to live – the relationship between unity and diversity. At one time, our country seemed to endorse the 'melting pot' theory: diversity fusing into unity. Now we 'celebrate' diversity, but at the same time worry whether diversity fractures unity.

Although the Catholic Church takes her mandate for promoting unity among all Christians from Jesus' prayer that all his disciples be one (cf. John 17:21), the working motto for the ecumenical endeavor could well be unum tamen plures: one while yet many.

A civil society or a Church that insists that unity demands uniformity is totalitarian, intolerant of deviations from prevailing norms and orthodoxies. In her long history, the Catholic Church has lived through periods in which Roman authorities tried to ensure unity by promoting uniformity. One only has to recall the suspicions engendered by the work of the Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci (d. 1610), and the "normative" corrections issued by the Inquisition (at that time under the control of my own Order, the Dominicans) to have an example of a mentality that sees difference as threatening.

But the Church has also lived through long periods in which diversity was seen as a positive and enriching expression of underlying unity. Until quite recently, the Latin Church (the Church directly governed by the pope) approved of many distinctive liturgical rites – the Mozarabic Rite in Spain, the Ambrosian Rite in Milan, the Gallican Rite in France, the Sarum Rite in England, as well as the rites proper to many religious Orders: the Carthusians, Cistercians, Premonstratensians, Dominicans, and Carmelites, among others. Since the Church holds that how we pray conditions how we believe (lex orandi lex credendi), approved liturgical differences indicate that even theological differences can be seen as potentially positive contributions to the human quest to know the God who is Love. While worship of false gods is incompatible with the Church's life, there are many ways of offering true worship to God, all of which trace their authority back to the Last Supper.

In recent centuries, some communities have entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, coming from the Churches we call Orthodox or Eastern. These communities are properly called churches since they have always had a hierarchy enjoying apostolic succession by means of episcopal ordinations, and have, therefore, always had the valid celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, there is the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Chaldaean Catholic Church, the Coptic Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church and so on. And from its beginning, the Maronite Church in Lebanon has been a church in its own right (sui iuris), in full communion with Rome. These churches have not only distinctive liturgies, but also distinctive legal systems and particular cultural and historical patrimonies. In many of these churches, married men can be ordained. Theological terms common in Latin Christianity, such as original sin, sacramental character and even confirmation, are expressed quite differently from, say, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For the first time since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the Catholic Church has now extended a welcome to communities of the Anglican Communion to come into full communion with the Catholic Church without renouncing their own distinctive spiritual, cultural, and historic patrimony. Although the Catholic Church does not view Anglican holy orders as valid, she does view positively many characteristics of Anglican life and sees them as indeed graced by the Holy Spirit. Since 2003, communities of Episcopalians who have entered the Catholic Church have prayed with The Book of Divine Worship¸ which contains many elements taken from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Now, under the leadership of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., these communities are being grouped together into a non-territorial diocese, or ordinariate, just as is happening in other parts of the English-speaking world. For the time being, at least, the clergy in the ordinariates can be married as has long been the practice of Anglicans.

Understandably, the phenomenon of communities of Anglicans becoming Catholics has put some strain on ecumenical relations between the two bodies. On the one hand, the provision for legitimate diversity calms any fears the participants in the dialogue may have about whether unity means absorption: The melting pot image does not pertain. On the other hand, some suspect that the Catholic Church is unfairly offering refuge to Anglican faithful who are choosing to become Catholic because of their anger with the situation in their own communion rather than because of a deliberative, calm discernment.

In March of 2011, Swiss Cardinal Robert Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, appointed me to be one of the Catholic members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), the body that conducts the dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans at the worldwide level. Led by Catholic Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England, and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon of New Zealand, the 20 participants – 10 Catholics and 10 Anglicans – come from England, the USA, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, South Africa, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

The stated goal of the dialogue is the achievement of full, visible unity – a unity based on a shared faith, a shared government and a shared worship – but a unity that makes due allowance for legitimate differences.

In the current climate, such a goal can seem remote indeed, and within the Protestant world there are examples of bilateral agreements that settle for much less, basically declaring that a recognition of many elements of sanctification and truth, without agreement on all such foundational elements, is as much as can realistically be attained. ARCIC has resisted lowering the bar, confident that the unity for which Christ can be brought about with the help of Divine Providence. Nevertheless, ARCIC is realistic enough to recognize that unity will only be achieved by taking small, sure steps. Already ARCIC has taken small steps in the form of some consensus regarding authority, ministry and the place of Mary in the Church. The current mandate of ARCIC, given it by the pope and by the archbishop of Canterbury, is to explore the notions of communion at the universal and the diocesan levels, and the way the Church arrives at moral decisions on both levels. My own task lies in the first area, and in addition to participating in the plenary meetings, I am responsible for working jointly with an Anglican theologian to formulate proposals for common consideration.

Ecumenical dialogue requires patience, candor, charity and a willingness to see one's own position through the eyes of others, along with a willingness to hazard opinions provisionally in the hope of being able to express the truth in a common language. Full unity is a long-term project. It is a privilege to try to nudge our communities a little closer to that goal, and it is spiritually rewarding to learn the timeless lesson that failures and dying to established ways of doing things are often God's way of bringing about his design.

This story appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of Genesis. (PDF)



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