The Anglican Communion has been shaken by events and issues, from lay presidency in Sydney to openly gay and lesbian bishops in the USA, that reveal not only deep division but a lack of means for central intervention. There have also been recent cases in the Anglican Church of Australia, notably Ballarat and The Murray in South Australia, where the lack of a mechanism to remove an elected bishop from a dysfunctional situation has been damaging.
No one system of ecclesial leadership is ideal, to be sure. The fruits of ecumenical dialogue should include deeper understanding of characteristic problems in each system, but also the prospect of calling one another to faithful exercise of the Church’s tradition. ‘Catholicity’ refers not merely to present Vatican practice, but to a tradition that extends across time as well as space.
Anglicans, who also lay claim to this tradition, should listen to the possibilities as well as pitfalls of a Petrine ministry as exercised in the Roman Catholic Church. They may also be able to share the strengths and weaknesses of their custodianship of a tradition just as ancient as Peter’s, wherein the local church itself is the place where the authenticity of a bishop’s ministry must be judged, at the beginning and at the end.
It’s a fine ideal, but the Roman Catholic Church is singularly unprepared for local churches to make such discernments. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s a more effective, fruitful, or traditional way to go. Too many dioceses lack a practical unity to make this work in a climate of trust and serenity.
The curia has poisoned this in many ways. They actively encourage lay subterfuge against bishops. And the secrecy of the clerical culture drives another few nails into any notion of spiritual discernment.
Still, I’d say that the Orthodox and the Anglicans may have much to teach us about how their systems work. Needless to say, any human system will have flaws. Ours just seems to have more than its share these days.