When the archbishop meets the pope
Keith F. Pecklers
Opinion piece - Published: International Herald Tribune - November 22, 2006
Observation from me - Though Fr. Pecklers has excellent credentials, I would be interested in knowing the gathering methodology of some of his statistics. There is a strong and conservative rise among Catholics in our country. Are we really such a small part of the greater Catholic community nationwide?
BOSTON: Forty years ago, in an extraordinary moment during the visit of the archbishop of Canterbury to Rome, the Catholic pope removed his ring, symbol of his office as bishop of Rome, and placed it on the finger of the Anglican prelate.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey began to cry and embraced Pope Paul VI. That gift inaugurated a new day for Anglican and Roman Catholic relations and set our churches on a path from which we cannot and will not turn back. Every one of Ramsey's successors has worn that ring when he meets the pope as a reminder of the call to Christian unity.
Today the world is a radically different place than it was back in 1966. All eyes will be on Pope Benedict XVI next week as he embarks on his visit to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, in the wake of the pontiff's remarks on Islam several months ago.
Indeed, with Islam on the rise and Christianity in decline, Anglicans and Catholics have no choice but to devote their energies to greater ecumenical collaboration. Clearly, the exploration of paths toward reconciliation with Muslims is of utmost importance.
Anglicans and Catholics in the 21st century also face the same host of social problems and concerns, such as globalization, immigration, HIV/AIDS, world hunger and the genocide in Darfur.
But if we are to successfully negotiate these troubled waters, Anglicans and Catholics need first to find their common voice as Christians.
This Thursday, the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, is wearing Paul VI's ring once again as he dines in the papal apartments with Pope Benedict XVI.
The bearded Welshman and the elderly Bavarian hold more in common than meets the eye. Both are highly respected theologians in their respective churches. Both are gifted linguists: The archbishop is fluent in German and the pope speaks excellent English. Both are accomplished musicians.
As the two church leaders meet, they do so very much aware of the roadblocks to full unity between the Catholic and Anglican churches. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise.
Yet they also need to admit that both churches are facing internal problems.
Across the board, mainline Christian churches in the West are registering a significant decline in membership and church attendance.
Among Catholics, the gap continues to widen between church teaching on human sexuality and the lived reality: for example, only 4 precent of married Catholics in the United States observe church teaching on birth control. (Italics mine) The number of divorced and remarried Catholics is on the rise even in Catholic Italy. And the clerical sexual scandals that deeply damaged the American church have hurt the Catholic Church's credibility far beyond U.S. borders.
Anglicans have had to confront their own crises. The Episcopal Church in the United States has been sharply divided over the election and consecration of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire - a move that now threatens to impede or even sever its ties between the American church and the wider Anglican communion. The choice of a woman as the newly-elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, along with the Church of England's decision to move forward with the ordination of women bishops, presents additional challenges.
Yet even in this winter of our discontent there is an underreported practical ecumenism that needs to be recognized. In 2003, with the onset of the war in Iraq, the archbishop of Canterbury and the Catholic archbishop of Westminster issued a joint statement opposing the war.
In Sudan, the Anglican archbishop and his Catholic counterpart share responsibility for the other's clergy when one of them is away. The Anglican and Catholic bishops of Cork, Ireland, only issue pastoral letters that they are able to affirm and co-sign.
Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams have their work cut out for them as they face a common enemy - secularism and the disappearance of the Christian faith in the West. By the year 2020, we're told that 80 percent of all Christians will be people of color who live in the southern hempisphere. (Italic mine) The average Christian in the world today is poor, often living as a minority in a non-Christian country.
Yes, our theological differences remain, but what we can do together we must do together. It is time to reawaken that ecumenical spring of 40 years ago.
Keith F. Pecklers, a Jesuit priest and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, currently holds the Gasson Chair in Theology at Boston College.