REMARKS made by Pope Francis during his visit to All Saints’, Rome (News, 3 March) are being interpreted as an endorsement of intercommunion between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
During a question-and-answer session, the Pope was asked what might be learnt from the Churches in the global South, where ecumenical relations were often much more advanced. He spoke of the “courage” of younger Churches, particularly in relation to the Anglican and Roman Catholic martyrs in Uganda, and the possibility of a joint visit to South Sudan with Archbishop Welby, at the specific request of the Roman Catholic Church there.
He went on: “And then, there is my experience. I was very friendly with the Anglicans at Buenos Aires, because the back of the parish of Merced was connected with the Anglican Cathedral. I was very friendly with Bishop Gregory Venables, very friendly.
“But there’s another experience: In the north of Argentina there are the Anglican missions with the aborigines, and the Anglican Bishop and the Catholic Bishop there work together and teach. And when people can’t go on Sunday to the Catholic celebration they go to the Anglican, and the Anglicans go to the Catholic, because they don’t want to spend Sunday without a celebration; and they work together.
“And here [in Rome], the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith knows this. And they engage in charity together. And the two Bishops are friends and the two communities are friends” (Translation courtesy of Zenit).
In the Pope’s view, this approach was an example to the Churches in Europe:
”I think this is a richness that our young Churches can bring to Europe and to the Churches that have a great tradition. . . Ecumenism is perhaps more solid in theological research in a more mature Church, older in research, in the study of history, of theology, of the liturgy, as the Church in Europe is. And I think it would do us good, to both Churches: from here, from Europe to send some seminarians to have pastoral experience in the young Churches, so much is learned.
“We know [that] they come, from the young Churches, to study at Rome, at least the Catholics [do]. But to send them to see, to learn from the young Churches would be a great richness in the sense you said.
“Ecumenism is easier there, it’s easier, something that does not mean [it’s] more superficial, no, no, it’s not superficial. They don’t negotiate the faith and [their] identity. In the north of Argentina, an aborigine says to you: “I’m Anglican. But the bishop is not here, the Pastor is not here, the Reverend is not here. . . I want to praise God on Sunday and so I go to the Catholic Cathedral,” and vice versa.
“They are riches of the young Churches. I don’t know, this is what comes to me to say to you.”
The suffragan Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, who is also the co-chair of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), said on Wednesday that Pope Francis had recognised “that in many places in the developing world, the contacts between our Churches are already very deep and very close. Perhaps deeper and closer than we experience here in Europe. . .
“This stems [in Argentina] from their profound engagement in common witness and service to their people, which inspires them to manifest that common life of service in worship and teaching together. I agree with the Pope that those of us in Europe could benefit from such an experience of deep common life which could give us renewed energy and commitment for the re-establishment of communion.
“In IARCCUM, we already recognise that the level of agreement we have reached through our theological dialogue compels us to joint action and mission. The Pope’s story from northern Argentina in a way tells the other side of this same journey, that common mission and service can help to reveal the deep unity we have in faith. I myself experienced that deep communion between the Churches in El Salvador and Guatemala, during the years of civil war in the 1980s and 90s.”
But the Archbishop of the RC Archdiocese of Regina, the Most Revd David Bolen, who is also a co-chair of IARCCUM, said on Thursday: “I don't think Pope Francis was suggesting we draw universal principles from these contexts, but rather, that their experience is genuine, positive, and faithful to the Spirit in their particular locations.”
The director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Archbishop David Moxon, who is the co-chair of the third phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), said that the dialogue at All Saints’ was “ground breaking”. Pope Francis was “teach[ing] us to be less anxious over our differences and unresolved doctrinal issues, while still working hard on them, but to commit ourselves more and more to sharing and partnership”.