THERE is “every indication” that the recently canonised former Anglican St John Henry Newman (News, 18 October) will be declared a Doctor of the Church, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle, the Rt Revd Robert Byrne CO, told the National Assembly of Forward in Faith (FiF) in London last Saturday.
“If this is the case, it will be for three reasons: his teaching on the primacy of conscience, on the role of the laity in the Church, and, of course, on the development of Christian doctrine.
“If St John Henry is declared a Doctor for any of these reasons, this will greatly help the cause of ecumenical dialogue in our islands, because it will give us a deeper understanding of his teaching and that of the Christian Church. His ideas will mature and advance our conversation.”
Bishop Byrne, who is the RC co-chair of the English and Welsh Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee (EWARC, formerly ARC before the Welsh became involved), spoke of Newman as a prophetic thinker, with a great gift of friendship, but by no means alone in his witness. “There are those in the Anglican and Roman Catholic tradition who point us to a greater unity: not only St John Henry Newman, but also the other members of the Oxford Movement, great divines of the Church of England, who did much to witness to our common faith.”
He suggested that Anglicans and Roman Catholics could be of help to one another over the seal of the confessional. “As Anglicans, you have a unique role, but also a unique privilege, in being able, through the General Synod, to enact legislation. The seal of the confessional is something in which we might be able to help each other. Cardinal Nichols only last week said that any priest would rather die than in any way way break the seal of the confessional,” he said, to applause from the Assembly. “I can only say that the Roman Catholic Church will never change its stance on that. We can help you by giving that witness. You can help us in maintaining it in English law and reminding the Government of that very important part of our faith.”
Alan MartinThe RC Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle, the Rt Revd Robert Byrne, addresses the Forward in Faith National Assembly in St Alban’s, Holborn, in London
In his report to the Assembly from the Catholic Group in the General Synod, the Revd Paul Benfield said that IICSA (the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) might have something to say on it; but “in the mean time, we monitor all developments.”
The director of FiF for the past seven years, Dr Colin Podmore, in his farewell address, urged its members to focus on mission and unity. “We are a movement that has things to fight against and things to fight for. We are something of an insurgent movement. A fundamental principle of any insurgent movement is the need for discipline and unity. . . What is essential now is that we use the opportunities we have won, and been given, in order to bring people to Christ, to build up Christ’s Church in our parishes, and build up the sees of each of our Society bishops spiritually, but, yes, also numerically.”
Tom Middleton, the Greater London Authority’s Assistant Director of Finance and Governance, will succeed Dr Podmore when he retires in February. Mr Middleton was previously on the staff of the Audit Commission. He worships at St Silas’s, Kentish Town, and is treasurer of the Society of Mary and clerk to the trustees of the Cleaver Ordination Candidates Fund.
There was a vote of thanks to Dr Podmore. The chairman, the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, paid tribute to the part that Dr Podmore had played in establishing the Society, and his work as secretary to its Council of Bishops. He had given the movement confidence, he said, while remaining committed to the welfare of the whole Church of England. The Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, said: “Possibly one of the best days’ work I’ve ever done in my entire life was extracting [Dr Podmore] from Church House and bringing him to us here.”
In a report from the Revd Edward Martin and the Revd Paul Noble on the parishes that receive episcopal ministry from the Bishop of Richborough, the Assembly was told that the number of confirmation services had exceeded 40, and would be 44 by the end of the year. “It is something that is becoming rarer across the rest of the Church of England, where in many dioceses diocesan and suffragan bishops between them are only doing around 15 to 18 confirmations a year.”
The Assembly was held in St Alban’s, Holborn.