Vatican City, Feb 17, 2015 / 14:01 pm America/Denver (CNA).
Following an ecumenical meeting with Pope Francis on Monday, the moderator of the Church of Scotland said the gathering was significant, and could signal the end of its tensions with the Catholic Church.
The Church of Scotland is an ecclesial community in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition. As its moderator, John Chalmers serves as the ecclesial community's official representative.
“Scotland too has suffered in the past from a sectarian divide. Meetings like today marking our two churches and talking to each other on a very significant level means almost the end of that sectarian divide,” Chalmers told CNA Feb. 16, following his meeting with the Pope.
Chalmers said that his visit with the Pope was “very significant” in terms of ecumenical relations between the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church.
“The fact that Pope Francis was able to meet with me this morning and we were able to share the sense of our concern for all people of faith in Scotland” was “very important,” he added.
He added that “the Catholic community in Scotland have been through a difficult journey in the last few years and the Church of Scotland shares a real pastoral concern for the people of the Catholic community in Scotland.”
In 2013, Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned from his post as Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, the most prominent see in Scotland, amid allegations that he made inappropriate sexual advances toward three priests in the 1980s. The cardinal later admitted the allegations to be true.
Despite this challenge to Christians in Scotland, Chalmers said that “I think what we need to see going into the future, is we need to embrace those things over which we are in total agreement. And there are big things: the radicalization of people's minds, the need for finding peace across the world, especially in the middle East, and climate change – huge issue for all of our churches. And I hope we will be able to unite across religious bodies in some common purpose facing some of our common foes.”
During his address at the meeting, Pope Francis had said the present state of ecumenism in Scotland is encouraging and that “in many cases we are able to speak with one voice on issues which deeply affect the lives of all Christians. In our globalized and often confused world, a common Christian witness is a necessary requisite for the effectiveness of our efforts to evangelize.”
While in a 2011 census 37 percent of Scots identified as non-religious, the Church of Scotland, at 32 percent, is the largest religious community in the country. Catholics, meanwhile, account for 16 percent of Scots.
Chalmers noted that between the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, “ecumenical relations at the local level have improved beyond recognition. There's not very much appetite for ecumenical dialogue at an institutional level. And I think we've got over our pursuit of the top-down processes. Now we're working from the bottom-up, from the ground up.”
“So, ministers and priests are getting to know one another better. They're telling their stories to one another and they're sharing their faith. And that's informing what we do at the level of the institution. And I've seen that change over the last 20 years.”
Chalmers added that “I'd love this to become an annual event” – a meeting between the Bishop of Rome and the moderator of the Church of Scotland.
That sentiment was echoed the following day by a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, who told CNA that the archdiocese is “delighted” the meeting “was such a success.”
“We now hope that the visit of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland becomes an annual fixture in the Papal calendar so as to better foster the unity of all Christians in our country,” the spokesman added.