In advance of Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the U.K., the head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity has acknowledged “difficulties” in Catholic-Anglican relations. However, he said the papal visit will “strongly affirm the close bonds” between the two church bodies. He pointed to Cardinal Newman as a guide.
Speaking in a Thursday statement, Archbishop Kurt Koch said that although the September 16-19 visit is the first state visit of a Pope to Great Britain, it recalls Pope John Paul II’s pastoral visit in 1982. Pope Benedict’s predecessor prayed with the Archbishop of Canterbury and issued a joint declaration inaugurating the second phase of official dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.
“Since that time, relations between Anglicans and Catholics have been characterised by growing warmth and friendship,” the archbishop commented. He noted that many local communities now share in prayer and practical initiatives and that there are “regular and successful meetings” between Catholic and Anglican bishops.
Catholic-Anglican relations possess a “realistic acknowledgment of difficulties,” he remarked.
“The tragic divisions of the Reformation will resonate particularly when the Pope is in Westminster Hall, where St. Thomas More was tried for his loyalty to the See of Rome,” Archbishop Koch predicted.
Disputes within the Anglican Communion have also created “difficulties,” which in part have been responsible for Pope Benedict’s offer of the Anglican Ordinariate. In the archbishop’s view, these issues must be seen “in the broader context of the common witness of Roman Catholics and Anglicans.”
This witness will be “most profoundly symbolized” when Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury meet at Lambeth Palace and then kneel together in prayer in Westminster Abbey before the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor.
According to the archbishop, the beatification of Cardinal Newman is a “positive moment” for ecumenical relations. While Cardinal Newman converted to “the fullness of faith” in the Catholic Church, he was always grateful to the Church of England as the instrument of God’s providence in his life. Newman also acknowledged the “profound” influence of Anglican theologians and clergymen.
The pontifical council president cited as “wholly relevant” the close of Cardinal Newman’s “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” in which he said that Catholics in England must have the attitude of “assisting and sustaining” the Church of England and must work together to preach Christian principles and doctrines.
Cardinal Newman was guided by “the unchanging witness of the Church” and not subject to “fashion or convenience.”
“His example encourages Christians of all traditions to be involved today with courage, integrity and faithfulness to the Gospel in building a society that welcomes, nourishes and promotes all its members ... Cardinal Newman represents the great tradition of faith, intellectual rigour, and imagination that are the inheritance of all the British people,” Archbishop Koch concluded, expressing hope that the deeper aspects of the papal visit will not be obscured in coverage of the visit.