Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Benedict discuss 'shared will' for Anglican-Roman Catholic relations

November 22, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, during a Nov. 21 meeting at the Vatican, agreed to greater collaboration and a shared commitment to deepening relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

The 20-minute meeting came two weeks after the Vatican's launch of an Apostolic Constitution, a document that outlines provisions to accept groups of former Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The constitution came as a surprise to many Anglicans, including Williams, when its planned release was announced by the Vatican in October.

In an interview with Vatican Radio following the Nov. 21 meeting, Williams said that he expressed to the pope some of his concerns "about the way the constitution had been handled and received because clearly many Anglicans, myself included, felt that it put us in an awkward position. I needed to express to the pope some of those concerns and I think they were received in a very friendly spirit."

The constitution, Williams said, did not represent any change in the Vatican's attitude towards the Anglican Communion, indicated by the pope's support for the third phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), an ecumenical dialogue between the two churches that was established in 1967.

Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's deputy to the Presiding Bishop for ecumenical and interreligious relations, told ENS: "It is good to see that the Archbishop of Canterbury was able to raise the concern some Anglicans have about 'the Apostolic Constitution' but then move beyond that to both give, and receive, assurance that the real work of ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics will continue with the inauguration of ARCIC III."

A preparatory commission is meeting Nov. 23 in Rome to outline the agenda for the third round of ARCIC conversations.

"While all of these formal and informal talks between representatives of Anglicans and Roman Catholics continue in Rome this week, it still remains unclear what, if any, groups will take up the Holy See's offer ... to those who have been Anglican," the Rev. Dr. R. William Franklin, academic fellow of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the associate director of the American Academy in Rome, told ENS Nov. 23.

In a brief statement following Williams' meeting with Benedict, the Vatican described the discussions as "cordial." The conversation "focused on recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, reiterating the shared will to continue and to consolidate the ecumenical relationship between Catholics and Anglicans," the Vatican statement said.

The two Christian leaders also discussed the "challenges facing all Christian communities at the beginning of this millennium, and to the need to promote forms of collaboration and shared witness in facing these challenges," the statement said.

"Despite the possibility of new tensions on the horizon at the start of the Archbishop of Canterbury's visit to Rome last week," Franklin said, "there was a very positive end to the story when Pope Benedict XVI gave Rowan Williams a pectoral cross as a gift which expresses the pope's respect for the episcopal office which the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises. Many such signs of friendship and respect were exchanged in the speeches and at the social events which marked Archbishop Rowan's time in Rome."