The head of the Vatican's department for Christian unity said that with the new Anglican ordinariate, Pope Benedict is merely opening the door, to those "who knock." Reflecting on the recent trip to the U.K., he added that the possible mass conversions are not an impediment to the continued dialogue between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.
In an interview published in Wednesday's edition of L'Osservatore Romano (LOR), Archbishop Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity spoke of the "great success" of the Pope's trip to the U.K. and answered some questions raised by the existence of the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum coetibus."
Archbishop Koch's presence in the papal party, as just one of just a dozen of the closest Vatican advisors to accompany the Holy Father for the entirety of the trip, is a testament to the importance that was put on unity within the visit's scope.
The archbishop pointed out in the interview that there was great emphasis on ecumenism during the visit. It was evident, he said, in the fact that in each of Benedict XVI's 18 discourses he called European faithful "continuously back to the Christian roots of the continent."
Recalling the “touching” moments of communion between the Catholic and Anglican Churches during the trip, he also conceded that there are still problems. "They exist," he said, "certainly, but with the strong awareness that it is absolutely necessary to work into the future and continue dialogue, which has already brought fruits.”
Anglican bishops approached Archbishop Koch at various points in the trip to tell him that they are "content" with how this dialogue is progressing, adding that they are "truly seeking unity," he recalled.
Asked if the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum coetibus," has been an obstacle on the road to unity, the archbishop immediately clarified that the Anglican ordinariate was offered as "a response of the Pope to explicit requests in this sense."
The "Anglicanorum coetibus" was published a year ago in November by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to provide special guidelines for the possible conversion of groups of Anglicans to full unity with the Catholic Church.
"I repeat," he insisted to LOR, "there were requests by Anglicans to recover the Catholic Church and the Pontiff could not say no."
What differentiates these requests from others in the past, he explained, is that they involve a number of people rather than single individuals. While Cardinal John Henry Newman came alone, "now it's about groups that want to enter the Catholic Church with their pastors and maybe with bishops," he said.
"It's a great gesture by Benedict XVI, which opens the door to (he) who knocks. But," Archbishop Koch added, "this does not change anything in the dialogue, which must continue."