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St Peter's Square, Sunday, 24 April 2005

(Read Bishop Pierre Whalon's dispatch on the Inauguration of Benedict XVI here and his report of the audience with the new Pope here. )

Hallo again to all.

With the attendance of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican and Episcopal bishops* and representatives at the installation of Pope Benedict XVI, our thoughts turned to the varying relations between our two great communions during the last two centuries.

There have been some very bad times indeed, when each regarded the other as barely Christian. From the Roman Catholic church rebaptising Anglicans who converted to that obedience, to the Church of England penalising and disenfranchising Roman Catholics in numerous ways, both civil and religious, the relations were suspicious, hostile, and altogether grim. In the 19th century, conversions of Anglican priests to the Roman obedience — especially during the wave of conversions that followed that most famously anguished decision of John Henry Newman — split families apart, turned brother against brother, and, it is not too much to say, destroyed lives. In the Episcopal Church in the United States, Roman Catholics were seen as a 'foreign element' in American society — an echo of that can be found as late as 1960, at the time of the election of JF Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic to become president of the US. No matter in what country, Roman Catholic school children were often taught to consider members of other churches as heretical; they were not allowed to pray with their non-Roman friends.

Thank God we have got past that. Ecumenical progress seems often a crawl at best, but if one reflects on a sweep of 200 years, it is remarkably apparent. Our communions have deep doctrinal and dogmatic differences. But the long-standing Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) talks at least keep us at the table. Despite, say, the decision taken within many provinces of the Anglican Communion with regard to the ordination of women — a stumbling block for Roman Catholics — we're still talking. The insistence by Roman Catholics on the authority of the papacy gives Anglicans serious concern. But we're still talking. We're talking, not rebaptising one another, not anathematising one another, not discriminating against one another. These are immense strides forward.

We doubt any of us writing this (or any of you reading it) will be alive to see unity amongst Christians. But as long as we keep talking, keep praying, and keep remembering that it is Our Lord's desire that we eventually become one, we'll be all right.

With regard to Christian unity, perhaps we should follow the advice of the poet Wendell Berry: Plant sequoias.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 23 April 2005

*One of whom was AO columnist Pierre Whalon, who filed this dispatch from Rome and this report of the audience with the new Pope.

A thin blue line
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