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Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, and Pope Francis attend a prayer service during a private audience at the Vatican June 14. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

Today Pope Francis received Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury at the Vatican. It was the first time the two religious leaders met. From Catholic News Service’s report on the meeting:

Meeting at the Vatican June 14, praying together in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace and eating lunch together in the papal residence, both remarked on the fact that Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass was celebrated March 19 and Archbishop Welby’s installation was March 21.

“Since we began our respective ministries within days of each other, I think we will always have a particular reason to support one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said. He also thanked the new Anglican leader for praying for him during his installation at Canterbury Cathedral.

Archbishop Welby told him, “I pray that the nearness of our two inaugurations may serve the reconciliation of the world and the church.”

The two spent more than 30 minutes meeting privately, with an interpreter, before giving their speeches, exchanging gifts and joining about 100 Catholics and Anglicans from Rome for the prayer in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel.

Catholic Herald (UK) columnist Father Alexander Lucie-Smith saw several reasons for hope about Anglican-Catholic relations after the meeting between the Holy Father and Archbishop Welby. He writes:

The Catholics and the Anglicans are now more or less singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to morality. There are several Anglican theologians (as well as some nominal Catholics) who are not doing so, but the Anglican mainstream seems sound on many of the great matters of the day, such as the rights of the unborn, and questions to do with embryonic “research”. Likewise the question of poverty. When Justin Welby says the following, it could be a Catholic speaking:

“That way forward must reflect the self-giving love of Christ, our bearing of his Cross, and our dying to ourselves so as to live with Christ, which will show itself in hospitality and love for the poor. We must love those who seek to oppose us, and love above all those tossed aside — even whole nations — by the present crises around the world. Also, even as we speak, our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer terribly from violence, oppression and war, from bad government and unjust economic systems. If we are not their advocates in the name of Christ, who will be?”

Not only is this an eloquent exposition of Catholic Social Teaching and moral theology, it goes deeper still, reflecting a lived spirituality that Catholics will recognise. The Cross is real, it is clear, and there is no genuine Christian life without the Cross. This makes a pleasant antidote to those who would give us easy answers or who would tell us that there can be social progress, or progress of any kind, without self-sacrifice.

Indeed, in his remarks, Justin Welby talks of his spiritual links with various Catholics and in particular with exponents of the new religious movements. This, I find, is immensely encouraging. It is not what ARCIC had in mind – in fact it springs from the renaissance of the Evangelical movement in the Church of England more than anything else – but it is fruit worth having all the same, perhaps more than the fruit that ARCIC envisaged. For God, in the end, loves to surprise us.

William Oddie, also writing for the Catholic Herald, is much less optimistic:

The danger is not that the visit is happening at all: it is that because of the way in which it is taking place, and because of the very dodgy way the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is handling it, the impression is being given that in some way the Pope and the archbishop are equivalent figures, and that Welby’s beliefs about his Church and his office are understood AND RECOGNISED by the Holy See.

It’s essential to remember what those claims actually are. Catholics believe that Henry VIII invented a new church called the Church of England. But that’s not what Anglicanism claims at all. Anglicanism claims that it is continuous with what came before, that it is THE SAME CHURCH as the Ecclesia Anglicana of the Middle Ages and that Archbishop Welby is the direct successor of St Augustine of Canterbury: the Wikipedia article on him begins with the words “Justin Portal Welby … is the 105th and current Archbishop of Canterbury”. The liturgical book of the church which Catholics believe was newly invented but which Anglicans believe is England’s historic Catholic Church, reformed not invented by the Tudors, described itself as The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of THE CHURCH according to the use of the Church of England (My emphasis).

The consequence of all that is the Anglican claim, explicit or implicit, is that the Catholic Church in England is not what it says it is, because it’s the Church of England which IS in England what the Catholic Church claims to be. In less ecumenical times, the English Catholic Church was sometimes derided as “the Italian mission”.

Those claims are soft-pedalled now, but they are still there. Their modern equivalent is that Anglican bishops, and archbishops, are in some way equivalent and equal to the Catholic bishops: that in these ecumenical times they are somehow in business together.

Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ public address at the meeting with Archbishop Welby; the archbishop’s response can be read here.

***

Your Grace, Dear Friends,

On the happy occasion of our first meeting, I make my own the words of Pope Paul VI, when he addressed Archbishop Michael Ramsey during his historic visit in 1966: “Your steps have not brought you to a foreign dwelling ... we are pleased to open the doors to you, and with the doors, our heart, pleased and honoured as we are ... to welcome you ‘not as a guest or a stranger, but as a fellow citizen of the Saints and the Family of God’” (cf. Eph 2:19-20).

I know that during Your Grace’s installation in Canterbury Cathedral you remembered in prayer the new Bishop of Rome. I am deeply grateful to you – and since we began our respective ministries within days of each other, I think we will always have a particular reason to support one another in prayer.

The history of relations between the Church of England and the Catholic Church is long and complex, and not without pain. Recent decades, however, have been marked by a journey of rapprochement and fraternity, and for this we give heartfelt thanks to God. This journey has been brought about both via theological dialogue, through the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and via the growth of cordial relations at every level through shared daily lives in a spirit of profound mutual respect and sincere cooperation. In this regard, I am very pleased to welcome alongside you Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. These firm bonds of friendship have enabled us to remain on course even when difficulties have arisen in our theological dialogue that were greater than we could have foreseen at the start of our journey.

I am grateful, too, for the sincere efforts the Church of England has made to understand the reasons that led my Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to provide a canonical structure able to respond to the wishes of those groups of Anglicans who have asked to be received collectively into the Catholic Church: I am sure this will enable the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions that form the Anglican patrimony to be better known and appreciated in the Catholic world.

Today’s meeting is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father. Hence the prayer that we make today is of fundamental importance.

This prayer gives a fresh impulse to our daily efforts to grow towards unity, which are concretely expressed in our cooperation in various areas of daily life. Particularly important among these is our witness to the reference to God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently.

Then there is the effort to achieve greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good. Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers.

I know that Your Grace is especially sensitive to all these questions, in which we share many ideas, and I am also aware of your commitment to foster reconciliation and resolution of conflicts between nations. In this regard, together with Archbishop Nichols, you have urged the authorities to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict such as would guarantee the security of the entire population, including the minorities, not least among whom are the ancient local Christian communities. As you yourself have observed, we Christians bring peace and grace as a treasure to be offered to the world, but these gifts can bear fruit only when Christians live and work together in harmony. This makes it easier to contribute to building relations of respect and peaceful coexistence with those who belong to other religious traditions, and with non-believers.

The unity we so earnestly long for is a gift that comes from above and it is rooted in our communion of love with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As Christ himself promised, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). Let us travel the path towards unity, fraternally united in charity and with Jesus Christ as our constant point of reference. In our worship of Jesus Christ we will find the foundation and raison d’être of our journey. May the merciful Father hear and grant the prayers that we make to him together. Let us place all our hope in him who “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
 
About the Author
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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