PERHAPS it is a coincidence, but we seem to be getting
complementary skill-sets in the Archbishop of Canterbury and the
Pope. Last time round, Rowan Williams and Joseph Ratzinger were
both shy scholars who were sophisticated and precise in their
theology. Today, Justin Welby and Jorge Mario Bergoglio are both
men of prayer and deed in the tradition of what Ignatius of Loyola,
the founder of the Jesuits, called "contemplatives in action".
This might reflect the selection criteria of those who appoint
or elect our church leaders; or it might have something to do with
the Holy Spirit. Either way, the result is fruitful, as the
Archbishop of Canterbury's trip to Rome showed this week.
There was no fudging on theology by the two men, who were each
installed within days of one another last year. The Pope
acknowledged that the historic divide between the Church of England
and the Roman Catholic Church was a "scandal". The Archbishop said
that Anglicans and RCs had to "get away from being quite
comfortable with the fact we live separately". The goal of full
communion should not be abandoned, the Pope said, noting that
divine help might be needed in the process.
The Archbishop's tone was bracingly self-critical. Churches
needed to reject institutional self-preservation, and instead
become inspired by the Holy Spirit to reach out to the world,
particularly to the poor, he said. He lamented the failure of the
"extremely wealthy" Established Church in the 18th century to
embrace the preaching of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. It
had chosen "power and structural integrity", instead of being
willing to take risks.
Yet the Archbishop pointedly challenged the premise of a
question from an interviewer on Vatican Radio. "Dialogue has not
come to a standstill," he said. Official Anglican-Roman Catholic
representatives were still engaged in "very serious dialogue".
Later, at the launch of a new website for Anglican-RC relations
(www.iarccum.org), he said: "Good theology is crucial to good
Theological dialogue is not enough, however. "Whoever is
familiar with the poor wants a different world," said Andrea
Riccardi, the founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, whose
refugee centre was visited by the two leaders. Translating the
degree of spiritual communion that already exists between the two
denominations requires practical outcomes.
The two men's great exemplar of that is their joint project to
combat human trafficking around the world. This seeks to persuade
50 multinational companies to render their supply chains free of
slavery by 2020 - and wants churches to establish ways of ensuring
that they "slavery-proof" their chain of suppliers.
"The more we share the pain and oppression of the poor and
suffering in the name of God," the Archbishop said, "the more God
will draw us closer to each other." To symbolise this, the
Archbishop presented the Pope with a cutting from a fig tree at
Lambeth Palace planted by the last Archbishop of Canterbury to have
been in communion with Rome, Cardinal Pole. By their fruits you
shall know them.
Paul Vallely's biography Pope Francis: Untying the
knots is published by Bloomsbury.