Receiving Archbishop Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Church, Pope Benedict XVI offered words of welcome but challenged the prelate to properly resolve such divisive issues as the U.S. Episcopal Church’s recent decision to attempt the ordination of women bishops. The Holy Father gave thanks for the many steps which have been taken in Catholic-Anglican relations over the past forty years and encouraged the Archbishop to continue seeking the path of Apostolic Tradition in order for further unity to be possible.
Pope Benedict began his address by recalling the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey, forty years ago. He also thanked Archbishop Williams for his previous visits to Rome.
The Pontiff also called to mind the many successes achieved in ecumenical relations between the Universal Roman Church and the Church of England. “There is much in our relations over the past forty years for which we must give thanks,” the Pope said. “The work of the theological dialogue commission has been a source of encouragement as matters of doctrine which have separated us in the past have been addressed. The friendship and good relations which exist in many places between Anglicans and Catholics have helped to create a new context in which our shared witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been nourished and advanced.”
“The visits of Archbishops of Canterbury to the Holy See have served to strengthen those relations and have played an important role in addressing the obstacles which keep us apart,” he added.
The Pope then turned to some of the obstacles which threaten to further divide the two Churches. “In the present context,” Pope Benedict said, “especially in the secularized Western world, there are many negative influences and pressures which affect Christians and Christian communities. Over the last three years you have spoken openly about the strains and difficulties besetting the Anglican Communion and consequently about the uncertainty of the future of the Communion itself.”
Tensions have risen between the Catholic and Anglican Churches, as well as within the Anglican Communion itself after decisions in the U.S. Episcopal Church to ordain an openly homosexual man and a woman as bishops. The latter decision was especially troubling to ecumenical relations.
“Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church,” the Pope said. “We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the Gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations.”
“It is to be hoped,” Benedict continued, “that the work of the theological dialogue, which had registered no small degree of agreement on these and other important theological matters, will continue to be taken seriously in your discernment. In these deliberations we accompany you with heartfelt prayer. It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition which form our common patrimony and are the basis of our common aspiration to work for full visible unity.”
“The world needs our witness and the strength which comes from an undivided proclamation of the Gospel,” the Pope concluded. “The immense sufferings of the human family and the forms of injustice that adversely affect the lives of so many people constitute an urgent call for our shared witness and service. Precisely for this reason, and even amidst present difficulties, it is important that we continue our theological dialogue. I hope that your visit will assist in finding constructive ways forward in the current circumstances.”
Following the Holy Father’s address the two signed a joint statement on eccumenical relations and prayed midday prayer together in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel.