19 June 2014 by Christopher Lamb
After his visit to Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury tells Christopher Lamb where he finds the most important points of unity between the Catholic and Anglican Churches
One is an Argentine son of Italian immigrants, the other an Old Etonian whose mother worked for Sir Winston Churchill.
Yet despite coming from opposite ends of the earth – both literally and metaphorically – Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury have some uncanny similarities.
The two leaders of Christianity’s largest global communions were both considered outsiders when chosen for their roles, both took up their positions within a week of each other and both are renowned for their no-nonsense, down-to-earth style.
If their immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI and Lord Williams of Oystermouth, had a love of the early Church Fathers in common, with Lord Williams able to read Benedict’s theology in the original German, Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby have decided to roll up their sleeves and put the Gospel into action.
During his two-day visit to Rome on Sunday and Monday, the archbishop’s jam-packed itinerary certainly chimed with Pope Francis’ call for pastors to be familiar with the “smell of the sheep”.
This included going to a street shelter project run by the community of Sant’Egidio, meeting a victim of human trafficking and a trip to a refugee project at the Anglican church, St Paul’s-Within-the-Walls.
Combating human trafficking was a major theme of the visit and one of the first items on Archbishop Welby’s agenda was a meeting with the Global Freedom Network at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The initiative, founded by the Australian philanthropist Andrew Forrest, hopes to eradicate modern- day slavery by 2020.
But does this focus on joint action now take precedence over the two Churches seeking full, ecclesial unity by solving doctrinal disagreements?
“No,” the archbishop says when we meet at the “ceremoniale” in Rome’s Fiumicino airport, the executive lounge for visiting dignitaries, before he catches his plane back to London.
“I think we’re layering one thing on top of the other. There’s a very good theological foundation and there’s now joint action around what the Holy Father described as the three Ps: prayer, peace and poverty.”
He describes his meeting with the Pope, which included a 40-minute private discussion with just a translator present besides the two church leaders, as “a real engagement of love and not just a business connection”.
The archbishop is wearing the episcopal ring of Pope Paul VI given to Archbishop Michael Ramsey following their meeting in 1966 and which is now worn by Archbishops of Canterbury when they come to Rome. As someone who loves history, Archbishop Welby looks back and points to a “renewal in the relationship” between Catholics and Anglicans that started more than 50 years ago with the 1960 meeting between Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher and Pope, now Saint, John XXIII.
A few years later the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (Arcic) was established whose work Archbishop Welby enthusiastically describes as a “profound theological exploration” that has made “huge progress”. This dialogue has sought to overcome differences between the communions but hit the buffers due to the ordination of women bishops and different approaches to homosexuality. Relations were further strained by the creation of personal ordinariates for groups of Anglicans who wanted to become Roman Catholics, a move about which Lord Williams expressed concern to Pope Benedict XVI. Nevertheless, in 2011, a new phase of Arcic began.
At a reception at the Anglican Centre in Rome on Sunday night, Archbishop Welby launched a new online resource for relations between the Churches, www.iarccum.org, which stands for the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (Iarccum, founded in 2000) that works alongside Arcic.
The impression, however, is that the archbishop’s passion is for action rather than theological dialogue. Like Pope Francis, and unlike his predecessor Lord Williams, Archbishop Welby is not a professional theologian. (He spent years working in the oil industry before becoming a late entrant to the priesthood; Pope Francis was the Jesuit provincial in Argentina before being appointed a bishop more than a decade later.) And at the launch of the website when speeches explaining the work of Arcic and Iarccum went on over their allotted time, the archbishop moved to wrap up proceedings pointing out to the gathering that it had been a very long day.
When it comes to resolving differences between Anglicans and Catholics, Archbishop Welby is realistic. Next month at the General Synod, the Church of England is likely to vote for legislation allowing women bishops, already permitted in other parts of the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Brian Farrell, the secretary at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in an interview earlier this year that such a move “weakens” the special relationship that exists between Anglicans and Catholics. Archbishop Welby acknowledges the problem.
“I am very conscious that this is something we have to deal with,” the archbishop tells me. “This is a difficulty but a difficulty that we can handle in the context of a good relationship rather than a pit into which we [are likely to] fall.”
His meeting with the Pope on Monday was the second they have had within 18 months and was described by the archbishop as “very, very honest”.
“The discussion was much more transparent, real about the issues we face, honest about where we go with them.”
Read full article here: The Tablet - 21 June 2014