Searching for clues from the Roman Catholic-Anglican summit
There wasn’t much information in the official communique after Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams met at the Vatican on Saturday. The terse text mentioned “cordial discussions” about challenges facing Christians, the need to cooperate and their intention to continue bilateral theological dialogue. The only reference to the issue of the day, Benedict’s offer to take alienated Anglicans into the Catholic Church, was mentioned in passing as “recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.” Hmm, pretty thin pickings….
The Pravda-like opaqueness of the communique (read it here) prompted me to zoom in on the photographs we got from the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano for any other clues there. Let’s see if they help as we go along. The “pope’s paper” (here in PDF) published the communique at the bottom of its front page, below two articles on the pope’s meeting with artists and one on Iran’s nuclear program. An interesting hint at the Vatican’s priorities that day.
Given this thin statement, our news story led off: “The archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict agreed the need for closer ties between their churches on Saturday, in their first meeting since last month’s surprise Vatican offer to disaffected Anglicans.” Read the whole story here.
Williams later spoke to the BBC (starting at 33:19) and Vatican Radio. He told the BBC that the meeting “went as well as I could have hoped, really.” He said he expressed Anglican concerns at the way the pope’s offer — officially called an “apostolic constitution” — was handled and the two then looked ahead to future ecumenical discussions.
On Vatican Radio, he said at the start of the interview: “Clearly, many Anglicans, myself included, felt that he put us in an awkward position for a time. Not the content so much as some of the messages that were given out. So I needed to share with the pope some of those concerns andI think those were expressed and heard in a very friendly spirit.” The pope’s main message to him, Williams said, was “that the constitution did not express any change in the Vatican’s attitude towards the Anglican Communion as such.”
“The presentation of the constitution as a kind of dawn raid on the Anglican Communion misunderstands the process that happened and the actual nature of the constitution. People become Roman Catholics because they want to become Roman Catholics, because their consciences are formed in a certain way and they believe this is the will of God for them. I wish them every blessing in that. But I don’t think it’s a question of the Roman Catholic Church, as it were, trying to attract by advertising or by special offers. I don’t see that as the purpose at all. In that sense, I don’t particularly worry about it.”
Williams said they didn’t talk about the ordination of women bishops, the issue that has prompted some orthodox Anglicans to consider “swimming the Tiber”. This is all the more curious because he delivered a provocative speech on Thursday at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in which he stood up for women’s ordination and asked whether the Vatican should consider it the roadblock to greater unity that it does. Our news story on it said:
“Roman Catholics should look beyond the divisive issue of ordaining women to see how much they share with the world’s Anglicans and work toward greater Christian unity, the head of the Anglican Communion said on Thursday. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, whose own Church is split over female priests and bishops, said the Vatican’s ban on ordaining women was not as solidly grounded theologically as the core Christian doctrines the two denominations agree on.
Williams said decades of Catholic-Anglican dialogue had achieved wide consensus on core Christian teachings and left only lesser issues of church organisation and authority open. “The question … is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally Church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain … Do the arguments advanced about the ‘essence’ of male and female vocations and capacities stand on the same level as a theology derived more directly from scripture and (our) common theological heritage?”
The speech is quite interesting for its theological reflections on the nature of ecumenical dialogue. Read the whole text here.
Williams said he gave Benedict a copy of the speech but they did not discuss it. Although the Vatican photos show him gazing with appreciation at the gift of a golden pectoral cross from the pope, none of the nine shots that we ran show Benedict thumbing through — or even holding — the text of the archbishop’s challenge to Rome’s all-male clergy.
They ended up with the standard pose, the one photographers call the “grip-and-grin” shot. Apart from not showing the pope holding the Williams text, I’m not sure we’ve learned much more from these pictures. Or have I missed something?