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Anniversary synod for Vatican II is to hear Dr Williams

05 October 2012


Historic scene: in St Peter's Basilica, Pope John XXIII opens the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962

Historic scene: in St Peter's Basilica, Pope John XXIII opens the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962

FIFTY years after Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, one of whose aims was to restore unity among all Christians, the Archbishop of Canterbury will address the Synod of Bishops in Rome. It is said to be the first time that an Anglican has delivered a substantial address to the synod.

The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Most Revd Brian Farrell, said that the invitations to "fraternal delegates" to address the synod demonstrated the Pope's recognition that the "challenges facing religious belief itself and church life are common - no Church, no religion, is an island - and we need one another, and can learn from one another."

Dr Williams will address the synod on Wednesday, and attend a celebration of the anniversary of the opening of the Council. The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, will represent Dr Williams at the synod, which has been called by the Pope to explore evangelisation.

The synod also marks the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI's "Year of Faith", and the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Dr Croft, who will arrive at the Vatican on Sunday, said on Monday that it was a "fantastic privilege" and a "wonderful opportunity to attend to the way the Roman Catholic Church is thinking about a key subject". As a fraternal delegate, he will give a short address to the synod.

The RC Church was "grappling with many of the issues the Church of England and the Anglican Communion are grappling with", he said. Parallels could also be drawn between the Fresh Expressions movement and the synod's search for new means of evangelism.

The briefing that he had received talked, Dr Croft said, about "the importance of engaging with a culture and the economy and civic life and communications and new media, and also the changing nature of what it calls 'the religious sector' through migration and awareness of other faiths, decline in the observance of religion, and an increase in certain forms of spirituality.

"I think the synod is aiming to build on the legacy of Vatican II, and is definitely outward-facing, seeking to engage with the world as it is, and the questions people encounter in living out their faith."

He expects similarities to the Lambeth Conference, but also "significant differences, because there is a much stronger sense within the Roman Catholic Church of the Pope's authority and the Magisterium of the whole Church being structurally and legally bound together". He would be "alert. . . to good models of the Church gathering to listen".

There had been "very significant progress" in building Christian unity since 1962, he said. In his diocese, he had "very good, close relationships" with his Methodist and Roman Catholic counterparts. This was "absolutely critical for our wider witness across the city and beyond".

50 Years Ago



POPE JOHN XXIII took the Roman Catholic Church by surprise when he announced his intention to summon a council in 1959, just months after his appointment.

Convened by a pontiff who wanted to "open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air", the Council was given the task of renewing the life of the Church and modernising its teaching, discipline, and organisation. It was to seek to restore unity among all Christians, and seek pardon for RC contributions to separation.

The Council closed in 1965, after four sessions, having continued at the behest of Pope Paul VI after Pope John's death in 1963. Its legacy, while far-reaching, remains contested in the RC Church between those who seek to play down its significance, and those who seek to maximise it. What, precisely, can be said to reflect the "spirit of Vatican II" remains a subject of debate.

On Wednesday of last week, Cardinal William J. Levada, who has served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the current Pope, said that the teachings of the Council were "not optional", but could be misinterpreted, by, among others, those who sought to modernise the Church. For example, the ordination of women and married men was "contrary to church teaching, and even heretical".

The President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who is Ghanaian, spoke at Duquesne University in the United States on Saturday about the impact of the Council on Africa. While the general population of Africa has quadrupled since 1962, the number of RCs has risen from 29 million to 186 million.

The material consequences of Vatican II include the use of vernacular liturgy, more frequent communion by the laity, and new avenues for ecumenism.

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