September 10, 2010


The pope’s visit to England

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom from Sept. 16-19 can be seen as his most historically significant trip so far.

For followers of Cardinal John Henry Newman—and there are thousands in this country as well as in England—his beatification by the pope is considered long overdue. The Newman Society in this country is sponsoring a trip to England for this ceremony of beatification. (Related story: Cardinal John Henry Newman to be beatified on Sept. 19)

However, the trip might be even more historically significant because it is a state visit to England. Queen Elizabeth II invited the pope to visit, and he will be meeting with her at the royal palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Sept. 16.

This is 451 years after Queen Elizabeth I, after Queen Mary’s death, led England into Protestantism. In 1559, the Acts of Supremacy established her as “Supreme Governor” of the Church of England. The pope will also meet with Prime Minister David Cameron in London on Sept. 18.

Of equal significance will be Pope Benedict’s meeting with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in Lambeth Palace, the archbishop’s official residence, on Sept. 17. The pope will give an address there that is sure to be newsworthy.

Later that same day, an ecumenical celebration will be held in historic Westminster Abbey. Benedictine monks first came to that site in the middle of the 10th century. Surely, we will see photos of Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams praying together at the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor, the king of England from 1042 to 1066, who was canonized in 1161. It was he who spearheaded the original construction of the abbey, although the present church was begun by King Henry III in 1245.

This visit is coming at a time when ecumenical relations between Catholicism and the Church of England have proceeded to such an extent that thousands of Anglicans are moving en masse to the Catholic Church. Last November, the pope promulgated his apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus” that permits groups of Anglicans to be received into the Catholic Church while retaining their distinctive liturgical practices.

These former Anglicans will be under personal ordinariates, similar to the Military Archdiocese in the United States. They will retain their Anglican character, including married priests, while being in communion with the Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope.

Anglican communities in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and other countries have applied to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to establish such personal ordinariates. However, no mainstream Anglican group in the U.K. has applied.

In the United States, about 100 traditionalist Anglican parishes, including St. Margaret Anglican Church in Indianapolis, have applied.

Archbishop Williams must have mixed emotions about all this. He naturally would not like to lose members of his communion. However, he also recognizes that some of the decisions made by the Church of England, especially concerning its recent decision to ordain women bishops by 2014, have made actual reunion between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion more difficult.

The Church of England made the decision about the ordination of women bishops at a General Synod in July. That prompted Forward in Faith, the largest Anglo-Catholic groups in the Church of England with 10,000 members, to state that it would be exploring the provisions of Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution.

When the announcement about the new arrangements was first made, Archbishop Williams, who had been briefed beforehand, wrote to top Anglican leaders saying that he was sure that “this new possibility is in no sense at all intended to undermine existing relations between our two communions or to be an act of proselytism or aggression.”

He wished those who want to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church “God’s strength and guidance in their discernment.” He has continued that positive assessment since, especially after a meeting between Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams at the Vatican last November.

Meanwhile, plans continue for a third Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (known as ARCIC III). It will focus on the relationship between the local and universal Church, women’s ordination, same-sex unions and actively homosexual clergy, all obviously hot button issues today.

—John F. Fink

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