Rowan Williams Visit to Rome

The future of two faiths, slightly estranged.

For those who have not heard, or are still confused about what’s at stake, the issue is this: Pope Benedict XVI decided to make it easier for entire parishes and groups to enter into communion with the Catholic church while seemingly able to retain their distinctive culture. It’s a godsend for many Anglicans who feel that the ordination of women and gay bishops and priests is theologically a violation of their beliefs.

However, the heated dialogue that has ensued over the statements made by our beloved Pontiff, have created a flurry of both excitement and frustration. Rev. Jo Bailey of Duke University says the statement made by Rome is both “confused and confusing”. Talks between doctrinal officials and traditionalists have created all sorts of ambiguities and issues.

Some feel that the move by Rome has pulled over a fast one on Archbishop Rowan Williams, who is the head of the Anglican Church. It certainly comes as a surprise to most Christians who had seen interfaith dialogue increase, but certainly had not expected this.

Apparently, Time is claiming that Anglican traditionalists had met with the Vatican in secret, behind Williams back. While the statement has many positive ramifications for the Catholic side of the faith, and those Catholics who were at one time Anglican, this may have potentially vitriolic effects on the Anglican side of the church. While many have been up in arms about the directions the Anglican church has taken, this move by Rome and at least a sizable number of traditionalists might complicate rather than facilitate matters.

There has been dialogue over the last 40 years to slowly merge the two faiths closer together, but this latest move by Rome might be taken as a claim to rivalry, instead of an open door. Though, at least for many Anglicans, the move is seen as a refreshing turn in the right direction. For those concerned about the directions that the Anglican communion had been taking, or who had converted from Anglican/Episcopal rites to the Catholic faith, this is an exciting turn of events, and while there is work to be done, it’s going to turn out for the best.

I think Time is right to highlight the complexities that the statement proposes, but we should be more generous, since the issue at hand is happening between two faiths that are concerned with growing closer together, not further apart. Further, while the issue is complex and may cause some intense dialogue I do not think that this will result in a dramatic splintering or a further schism, as some have suggested.

I think that while the statement made by the Vatican might have been a bit hasty, this was not a secret Vatican mission to expand ecclesiastical borders and expand an empire. There was a strong demand from within the Anglican communion for a streamlined way to return to the mother church, while retaining some of the distinctive flairs of the Anglican rite. Now it is fair to ask if this might be used as a way for the liberal Episcopals to jettison pesky conservatives and get on with being a church for the people, and I think this statement may very well do a bit of that. However, the Vatican’s statement also highlights the very real issues in the Anglican communion and it just shows how poised the issue has been for split already.

I think it’s a mistake for some Catholics to hope that the inclusion intends to homogenize the Anglican rite into an anglicized Roman rite, including the reemphasizing of celibacy in the rite, or a stronger emphasis against a more democratic leadership.

Whatever happens, I think time will tell, and we’ll just have to wait and see what kinds of issues are resolved on practical levels, including who owns the church properties themselves, and who will be in charge of ordination in the new rite.

I know that this is a dream becoming reality for a personal friend and I. He had joined the anglican church after finding his charismatic-non-denominational church to be unappealing. But when the church announced the officiating of openly gay clergy and women, he felt like something had bee stolen from him, the tradition he desired had been cut out from underneath him. I’d always hoped something like this might happen to allow Western, especially American Christians to find a beautiful and orthodox faith that included marriage for those who wanted to be married.

I think the Church should respect the unity and diversity of her rites, and pushing too hard on either celibacy or church government in the Anglican rite could cause problems for traditionalists hoping to hold on to the distinctive character of their culture and liturgy. It seems though that at least at first sight, the Apostolic Constitution seeks to preserve the distinctiveness of the Anglical Patrimony.

While I see this as a way for Catholicism to flourish in the European West only time will tell.

And this is Just in: The meetings in Rome happened, so I’ll be giving a brief update of the situation here.

The Vatican announced that the talks were “cordial.” This was the first meeting between the Pope and the Arch Bishop since the surprise announcement by the Vatican last month. However, the talks seem to have gone well, at least from an outside point of view. One of Dr. Williams most senior advisers the Rev Canon Jonathan Goodall will remain in Rome to establish further dialogue. The talks are designed to build even closer ties between the two faiths.

In an act of good faith, of profound charity and symbolism, the Pope gave Archbishop Williams the gift of a pectoral cross – the large cross which bishops wear around their neck. “It is one of the signs of episcopal leadership, along with the mitre and staff.”- source 2 under further reading.

It is most assuredly a sign of friendship and fraternity, but also means that the Holy Father recognizes Williams as a bishop. Williams was reported as respectful without being deferential on the matters of import, and hopes that despite the disillusioned Anglicans, official talks will resume and have positive effects for both churches uniting against secularism.

For More reading see:

The Anglican and Catholic Churches: Friends or Rivals? – TIME.

Archbishop of Canterbury Visits Rome

Catholic Culture Article on the Original Statement by the Vatican


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