Vatican stop NSW joint confirmation service

12 Mar 2009

By The Record

THE Vatican has stopped a proposed joint Catholic-Anglican celebration of the sacrament of confirmation from going ahead in New South Wales as it would “send confusing messages”.


By Anthony Barich

The service, to be held at Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral in Hamilton, Maitland on May 31, stemmed from a ‘covenant’ signed jointly in April 2008 by Catholic Bishops Michael Malone of Maitland-Newcastle and David Walker of Broken Bay with Anglican Bishop Brian Farran of Newcastle.
The event, to be celebrated at Pentecost, was cancelled at the request of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Under the April covenant, the dioceses committed to a series of joint initiatives ranging from the sharing of church resources to an annual Bishops’ Dialogue.
The Newcastle-based Herald newspaper reported that parishes in the region had been encouraging church members to consider being confirmed on the day, though it is understood the Catholic diocese of Maitland had not yet begun publicizing the event to its parishes.
In a joint statement released Feb. 12, Bishop Malone, whose diocese is home to 150,000 Catholics and Bishop Farran said that the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Sacraments had “expressed concern about a simultaneous celebration and the possibility of confusing messages being given to the people”.
Bishop Malone, who represents the NSW/Australian Capital Territory Catholic bishops on the NSW Ecumenical Council, also said in the statement that he believed that as a similar celebration had been held in England in 1989, a precedent had been established, and he apologized to those who would have been involved.
Bishop Farran said in the statement: “I am disappointed that this simple expression of a liturgical aspect of the Tri-Diocesan Covenant cannot be celebrated.
“I appreciate the difficulties faced by Bishop Malone and fully understand his situation.”
An official at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments told Catholic News Service March 5, “It is absolutely true that we asked that this not take place because it could send confusing messages.”
Because Catholics and Anglicans are committed to increasing cooperation and occasions of joint prayer, “this is one of those things that seemed like a good idea” but probably should have been thought out more carefully because it directly involves a sacrament, he said.
“Such a practice is not foreseen in our liturgical books,” he said.
“The (Catholic) Church works according to the principles of Roman law and one of the consequences is that if a thing is not allowed, it is banned,” while in most other Western legal traditions, “if something  is not banned, it is allowed.”
The fact that the Vatican does not explicitly allow such joint services effectively means it is not permitted, he said.
- Additional reporting by Catholic News Service