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Meeting Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope offers Newman as model

September 17, 2010

Meeting on September 17 with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Benedict XVI declined to address the tensions that have marked recent relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican communion, instead emphasizing the prospects for fruitful collaboration.

"It is not my intention today to speak of the difficulties that the ecumenical path has encountered and continues to encounter,” the Pontiff told an audience of Catholic and Anglican bishops who gathered at Lambeth Palace. “Those difficulties are well known to everyone here."

Pope Benedict became the first Roman Pontiff ever to visit Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He joined with the Anglican leader, Dr. Rowan Williams, in addressing the assembled bishops, and then in a joint prayer service. Both the Vatican and the Church of England noted that the meeting took place 50 years after the historic meeting between Pope John XXIII and Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher: the first meeting ever between a Roman Pontiff and the leader of the Anglican communion.

In a joint communiqué issued after their private conversation, the Pope and the Anglican prelate said that they had spoken about the need for continued ecumenical collaboration on issues of mutual concern, including the search for peace—especially in the Middle East—the promotion of human rights, and the fight against hunger and disease.

In their formal talks, both Dr. Williams and Pope Benedict referred indirectly to the stalemate in ecumenical talks. “ Perhaps we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury; “but no obstacles stand in the way of our seeking, as a matter of joyful obedience to the Lord, more ways in which to build up one another in holiness.”

Pope Benedict gently explored the same topic when he spoke about the example of Cardinal Newman. The Pope’s remarks could be interpreted as a fresh invitation to Anglican bishops to consider the step that Cardinal Newman took: into the Catholic Church. He pointed out that when he took that step, Cardinal Newman was not renouncing his English heritage. The Pope said of Newman:

He can teach us the virtues that ecumenism demands: on the one hand, he was moved to follow his conscience, even at great personal cost; and on the other hand, the warmth of his continued friendship with his former colleagues, led him to explore with them, in a truly irenical spirit, the questions on which they differed, driven by a deep longing for unity in faith.

In the same talk, Pope Benedict said that Catholic and Anglican leaders could work together to restore an appreciate for the Christian heritage of their culture. He noted that modern society “is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a widespread need for spiritual nourishment.”

Archbishop Williams indicated some willingness to join in that effort, when he praised the Pontiff for his efforts to recall the Christian contribution to European culture:

Your consistent and penetrating analysis of the state of European society in general has been a major contribution to public debate on the relations between Church and culture, and we gratefully acknowledge our debt in this respect.


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  • Posted by: jeremiahjj - Sep. 18, 2010 6:33 PM ET USA

    Glorious music for both this Mass and the one in Scotland. I'm sure it was a painful trip for the Holy Father, and for Rowan Williams too, who is trapped in a break-away denomination from which he cannot extricate himself. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the lives of these men that one day they might be one with us.