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
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
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
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
"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".
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
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
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.