Excerpts from Press Conference
posted on 25 April 2005
Excerpts from this afternoon's (25 April) Press Conference with Archbishop Rowan Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor at the English College in Rome following the visit this morning of Archbishop Williams to Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict this morning received myself and my wife; the Archbishop of the West Indies, who has been very much involved in ecumenical work; Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, who has been heavily involved over many years in the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue; and also the new secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kieron. It was a meeting at which a large number of ecumenical delegates were present, so it was not possible to speak in any great depth. But the Pope and myself were able to exchange a few words, and promised to pray for each other, at his suggestion, as we moved forward in our ministries. I was very glad to be able to extend to the new Pope an invitation to England, and to get to know the Church of England whenever that is possible, although we are all aware this will not be the only invitation he will have received in the last 24 hours or so [laughter].
What has encouraged us on this visit is two things. One is that of course Pope Benedict has gone out of his way to underline his sense of the priority of ecumenical work. He has spoken of being servants of unity, and we have taken that very much to heart as we have listened. But the second theme, which I think came through very clearly in the magnificent homily he preached at the inaugural Mass was a theme of united Christian witness, a witness to the fact that – as he said in that homily – “the Gospel does not ask us to become less than human but more deeply human”. And to pick up the image which he used yesterday, it is outside the realm of faith that we are, as it were, fish out of water. Within the realm of faith we are freely and happily what we were made to be. Now that, I think all the ecumenical guests will have taken heart from as an invitation to join in what we hope will be an effective, a transformative witness – spiritual and social – in Europe.
So those have given us great hope. We have already, of course, on the table a number of continuing pieces of work shared between the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches. Very shortly the agreed Anglican-Roman Catholic statement on Mary will appear, and the work continues on the common declaration about pastoral work which the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission [IARCCUM] is pursuing. So these are pieces of work which are ongoing. The commitment of the Roman Catholic Church has been expressed many times to us in recent months and days to a continuance of the work already begun and we look forward with hope and with sympathetic interest to how this very fruitful dialogue, which has gone on for so many decades, is to be pursued.
Not for the first time in visits to Rome I have with me the ring presented by Pope Paul VI to my predecessor Archbishop Michael Ramsey. And I’m wearing the pectoral cross presented on my own inauguration as Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope John Paul II. These signs are not just empty tokens; they express that unity in the Body of Christ and that unity of witness which we seek to further. And this morning I was able to present the Holy Father with a pectoral cross, specially designed as a gift for him, incorporating in itself the historic Cross of Canterbury. Thank you very much.
May I begin by saying something very simple, but I feel it very much, namely that it has been a joy and a delight for me as a former rector of the English College and a student here to be able to welcome Archbishop Rowan to stay here, as he has done both for the funeral of Pope John Paul and the inauguration of Pope Benedict. This college, as you may know, before it was a seminary was a hospice for English pilgrims – it is, in fact, the oldest English institution outside of England. So there’s a sense in which our friendship in the Lord means that friendship and hospitality is taken for granted now in a way that I don’t think was the case 50 years ago. So I’m really very pleased about that. One of my favourite passages from the Second Vatican Council document on ecumenism is the passage where it says “there is no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion, newness of attitudes, and unstinted love.” And you know, Pope Benedict has said that he’s going to continue to develop our understanding of the Second Vatican Council which is key to the direction of the Church, and one of the key documents is the document on ecumenism. So there’s no going back. Pope Benedict has given this his own imprimatur, when he made a wonderful plea in his homily to the Lord: “Don’t go back on your promise. We want to be servants of unity.” And that’s what I know he will be during his Petrine ministry.
So all I want to say is that I’m delighted to be here with the Archbishop. I think that the road may be a long one, but someone once said to me that as much as doctrinal matters have divided us, the most difficult one has been separation for 400 years. It’s the coming together, not just in doctrine, but the coming together in prayer, in life, in understanding, in common witness – this is what is happening more and more. And I think that the example that we could give in England and Wales, where the break occurred, what we do is extremely important, and Pope Benedict is aware of the importance of England and Wales in the ecumenical endeavour. He has taken a keen interest in the conversations of ARCIC and therefore I think that while the way forward still has its difficulties I’m full of hope. Pope Benedict will bless our endeavours and forward our dialogue in every way that’s open to him.
Excerpts from press conference.
I see that there are three phases in the life of the man who is now Pope Benedict. As a theologian, originally in Germany, he wrote some extraordinarily positive and abidingly fruitful things about the nature of the Church and the nature of the Christian faith. Some of the semi-popular writing he did in the 1970s, especially, I still find extraordinarily fertile … The second phase is one in which he is charged professionally in his work here at the Vatican with doctrinal precision. And he has constantly struggled, in ways in which of course people have found problematic at times, for clarity of definition … He is now being asked to undertake a third task. How he will perform that we do not know, but he has given signals of a real willingness to take it forward in fellowship with others in the light of the late Pope’s Ut Unum Sint, drawing others into the conversation about how the Petrine ministry is to be exercised… It seems to me that the events of recent weeks, the death and the funeral of John Paul II and the events around the inauguration of this weekend, have shown a kind of foretaste of a worldwide fellowship of people gathered for worship in a way that has somehow gone around the difficulties of doctrinal definition. It is as if we have been given a glimpse of other levels of unity and my own feeling is that is the level at which he will seek to work. That is certainly my prayer …
I do feel that of course at the beginning of any new papacy it’s a new start, a threshold, but also I would say this comes at a very significant time for the Anglican Communion. We are struggling as a Communion to find a sustainable, robust doctrine of the Church that will help us deal with the many difficulties we have faced in recent years. We have in the ARCIC documents a very considerable legacy of material which ought to help us in that. I hope that the next phase of our dialogue will assist us in that exercise. That is why I feel positive.
Some of the most important ecumenical advances these day