THE Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who resigns on 1 September, spoke last week of the part the Roman Catholic Church might play in healing splits in the Anglican Communion (News, 3 April).
The Pope could still provide a focus of unity for the Anglican Church, he said, speaking after an address to the Newman Society in Oxford on Friday. “To some extent it depends on how the Bishop of Rome and other Vatican officers behave.”
Dr Nazir-Ali (above) is a former member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). The Pope had “a right” to such a unifying role; but it would have to be in “strict fidelity to scripture”, he said. The goal of ARCIC was to find unity “in which all that we value is respected”. People wished to be “united but not absorbed”.
Speaking of the cool relations between Rome and Canterbury since the ordination of women, Dr Nazir- Ali said: “I do not want to let the hard labour of the last 50 years go to waste.” He said that a new ARCIC, expected to reconvene later this year, would address the central issue of the relationship between the local churches and the worldwide Church.
Last year’s Synod of Bishops in Rome had said that all churches and all Christian families should own and read the Bible. “Tom Wright [the Bishop of Durham] said that, if this had been said in 1523, there would never have been a Reformation”, said Dr Nazir-Ali.
Anglicans had never claimed to be the one true Church. Several Lambeth Conferences had said that Anglicans stood ready to disappear in the cause of greater Catholic unity, he said.
However, there were certain things that they brought to the worldwide Church: the vernacular liturgy, the formation and discipline of clergy, and moral reflection. He recalled that the question of how the Roman Catholic Church could receive “these gifts” had been of concern to Pope Paul VI when he had canonised the English martyrs in the 1970s. He had spoken of a time when “the Roman Catholic Church is able to embrace its ever-beloved sister”.
Recalling the reasons why John Henry Newman had left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, he said: “It had to do with the ecclesial deficit. I think Anglicans have not addressed this ecclesial deficit properly yet.”
There was in the Anglican Communion “the logic of fragmentation” and “the logic of catholicity”. “The question now is: Which will prevail?”