Anglican-Roman Catholic relations rest, in part, on pope’s successor

February 11, 2013

[Anglican Communion News Service] The future of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations is, in part, down to who will succeed Pope Benedict, according to the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See.

Responding to today’s surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Very Rev. David Richardson said the implications for Anglican-Roman Catholic relations in the long term “will depend on who is elected to succeed him.”

However, Richardson, who is also director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, said that other relationships continue despite the change in leadership.

These include global Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogues: “It [the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission] is working very well. I imagine it’ll be business as usual,” he said.

Although the international media has made much of small groups of Anglicans in several countries choosing to join the Roman Catholic Church, in actual fact there continues to be much mutual respect, co-operation and collaboration between the two churches.

The global dialogue between senior theologians in both churches is now into its third phase and in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI made history by becoming the first pontiff to visit Lambeth Palace. He was warmly welcomed to the palace by then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Later that day, the pair prayed side-by-side at the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor in a celebration of their common heritage.

Representatives from both Christian traditions also regularly attend one another’s key events. Recently Monsignor Mark Langham traveled to New Zealand to attend the global gathering of lay and ordained Anglicans, the Anglican Consultative Council. Anglicans and Roman Catholics also co-operate and collaborate at many levels of church life and mission around the world.

Richardson made a point of praising Pope Benedict’s “courage” at his unusual decision to retire as leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the Sovereign of the Vatican City State.

“I’m shocked, but on the other hand there’s a little voice that’s telling me: ‘You shouldn’t be shocked, you should be impressed that he had the integrity and courage to follow through on that.’ It’s a courageous thing because it’s so unprecedented.”

“Pope Benedict has, on more than one occasion, hinted that if he found that his health wasn’t robust enough to do the job he would resign. I imagine that because [resigning] is so unprecedented none of us gave his comments the weight that perhaps, in hindsight, they deserved.

Resignations from the papacy are not unknown but this is the first of modern times. The timing of the resignation means there is a strong possibility that the Christian world could see a new archbishop of Canterbury and pope enthroned in the same month.

Richardson added, “Just as archbishops of Canterbury can resign and lay down their office and move back into studious pursuits, why can’t popes do it? Just because it hasn’t been done isn’t a reason that it shouldn’t be done. Maybe the action itself will be another thing we [Anglicans and Roman Catholics] have in common.”

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