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Archbishop and Pope try to mend fences in Vatican

by Bill Bowder

THE Vatican described the meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury — the first since the Apostolic Constitution was announced — as “cordial” on Saturday.

The Pope’s gift to Dr Williams was a pectoral cross, a bishop’s in­signia. Dr Williams wore the ring that Pope Paul VI gave to Arch­bishop Michael Ramsey.

After the meeting, the Vatican said that the two leaders had discussed “the need to promote forms of col­lab­oration and shared witness” in the face of the challenges Christian­ity faced.

“The discussions also focused on recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion,” a brief statement said. The leaders had reiterated “their shared will to con­tinue and consolidate the ecumen­ical relationship between Catholics and Anglicans”, and referred to plans for a third phase of the international theological dialogue between the two Churches, ARCIC III.

In an interview immediately after the meeting, broadcast on the BBC’s Sunday, Dr Williams said that the meet­ing had gone “as well as I could have hoped. . .

“I was able to express the con­cerns which many Anglicans feel in the way the Apostolic Constitution was handled, in the way that it was made public, but we moved from there to talk about more positive matters of co-operation, and he was extremely enthusiastic about the next stage of official dialogue between our two Churches.”

Dr Williams also rejected the suggestion that the Pope’s move had damaged ecumenical relations. “I think not. I think it’s a pastoral meas­ure for certain people, certain group­ings. It is not a new ecumen­ism, as some people are saying. It is not a new departure replacing the continu­ing dialogue of the two Churches as Churches. The sugges­tion that there is a new track in ecumenism in the Apostolic Constitution is not the case.”

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Dr Williams said that the messages given out by the way the announcement of the Pope’s move had been made had left “many Anglicans, myself included” in “an awkward position for a time”. He had “needed to share with the Pope some of these concerns. I think those were expressed and heard in a very friendly spirit.”

Dr Williams told the Financial Times in an earlier interview that, although he had been given “very short notice” before the Pope’s announcement, and been left with “a sore ego”, it was not “a deadly blow, by any means”.

On Thursday of last week, Dr Williams argued strongly that the continued differences between the Churches were no longer enough to justify the continued separation of the two Communions (see separate story).

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, revealed to L’Osservatore Romano that he had received a late-night phone call from Dr Williams during the week in October when the Pope’s offer was announced. “We talked about the meaning of the new Apostolic Constitution, and I reassured him about the continuation of our direct dialogue.” The visit to Rome showed that there was no break in the ecumen­ical dialogue.

Cardinal Kasper praised the Arch­bishop for maintaining a “balanced attitude”. “He is a man of spiritual­ity, a theologian.” The Apostolic Constitution was not an obstacle to unity. “Actually, today the only obstacles to ecumenical dialogue come from internal tensions in the Anglican world.”


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Charles Sherlock is disturbed by the language of Anglicanorum Coetibus

I came to this document looking for signs of a provisional approach. The language of the intro­duction, which sets out “ecclesiological principles”, dashed my hopes.

The Anglican Communion accepts that in a re-united Church the distinctive ministry of the Bishop of Rome will be needed. Yet the language of Anglicanorum Coetibus presents such a blatant view of the papacy, and such a quantitative view of the unity of the visible Church Catholic, as to make dialogue near pointless.

In particular, key Roman documents on the Church such as Lumen Gentium (LG) are not cited from the official English texts, but re-translated from the Latin in ways that shift their meaning — a disturbing trend.

The most disturbing retranslation [is] that of the famous subsistit clause of LG 8. The official English version reads:

“This is the one (unica) Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resur­rection, commissioned Peter to shepherd. . . This Church, constituted and organised in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the suc­cessor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside its visible structure (compaginem). These ele­ments, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impe­lling toward catholic unity.”

Anglicanorum Coetibus abbrevi­ates, rearranges, and retrans­lates this as follows:

“This single Church, which we pro­fess in the Creed as one, holy, cath­olic and apostolic, subsists in the Catholic Church which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in com­munion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanc­tification and truth are found outside her visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging properly to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling toward Catholic unity.”

If a student cited a primary text with such mean­ing shifts in an essay, questions would be raised about academic integrity.

This Constitution moves the pastoral openness of Lumen Gentium . . . towards a “Rome is right” mentality that is disturbing and dan­gerous, not only for Anglicans, but for Roman Catholics.

For a text seeking to set forward unity in Christ, Anglicanorum Coetibus is mind-bogglingly un­diplomatic, disrespectful, and un-Catholic.

Charles Sherlock, an Anglican theologian, is Assist­ant Curate to the Bishop of Bendigo. He was an ARCIC member, 1991–2005. A fuller version of this article appeared on

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