Early thaw after ‘ecumenical winter?’

(L to R) Diocese of Quebec Bishop Dennis Drainville and the Very Rev. Canon David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See. Drainville is part of a group spearheading the creation of the Canadian Friends of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Photo: Marites N. Sison
(L to R) Diocese of Quebec Bishop Dennis Drainville and the Very Rev. Canon David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See. Drainville is part of a group spearheading the creation of the Canadian Friends of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published October 22, 2012

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See has debunked the notion that Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are “living in an ecumenical winter.”

According to the Very Rev. Canon David Richardson, there are signs that relations are warming up.

“While it’s true that the enthusiasm for Christian unity [of] 40 years ago has dissipated, it’s also true that there are lots of good news stories to tell,” Richardson said in an interview. “They are important stories,” he told the Journal during a visit to Toronto and the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada. The purpose of Richardson’s visit, from Oct. 13 to 18, was to help raise the profile of the Anglican Centre in Rome, where he also serves as director.

Richardson noted how, on October 10, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams became the first head of the Anglican Communion to address the Synod of (Roman Catholic) Bishops in Rome. At that time, Archbishop Williams wore the episcopal ring that Pope Paul VI had given to Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in 1966. Williams also wore the pectoral cross that was a gift to him from Pope Benedict.

Last June 29, the world famous Westminster Abbey choir sang for Pope Benedict XVI at a papal mass marking the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was the first time in its 500-year history that the Sistine Chapel Choir sang alongside another choir.

Richardson acknowledged a strain in the relations when Pope Benedict XVI decided in 2009 to create a personal ordinariate that would allow former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic church while retaining some elements of their Anglicanism. However, he also pointed out that were it not for the painstaking work of the previous 40 years of dialogue, “Anglicans wouldn’t be received into the Roman Catholic church like that.” The ordinariate has been, in a sense, “a recognition of Anglicanism’s Catholicism.”

The dialogue has fostered a “growth in trust” as has the mutual respect that exists between Archbishop Williams and Pope Benedict, who enjoy each others’ company. Such trust and personal relationship paved the way for Pope Benedict’s historic visit to England and Westminster Abbey in 2010, said Richardson.

While Anglicans and Roman Catholics still struggle with issues, including the ordination of women and human sexuality, they have nonetheless been able to work cooperatively on matters of peace and justice, said Richardson.

When it meets, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) uses a model of “receptive ecumenism,” where both sides look at what they can learn from each other, he said. This allows for “a lot of cooperation, a lot of mutual growth and understanding while recognizing that there are issues that are not about to shift,” he explained. ARCIC will, however, continue to explore why some issues have been a major impediment to unity. Established in 1967, ARCIC seeks to make ecumenical progress between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

Richardson urged Canadian Anglicans to explore the Anglican Centre in Rome, which functions as the Anglican Communion’s de facto embassy to the Vatican. It is a place of scholarship, learning and pilgrimage, he said.

Richardson threw his support behind plans to set up a Canadian Friends of the Anglican Centre in Rome, which would be similar to those that exist in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.

Since 1990, when the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) stopped funding the centre due to financial constraints, it has been partly funded by friends and benefactors. Friends of the centre “get the benefit of discovering a whole new world and a whole new dimension to Christian faith that otherwise they wouldn’t ever have seen,” he said.

At the upcoming ACC meeting in Auckland, New Zealand (Oct. 27 to Nov. 7, 2012), Richardson will speak and build a case for renewing the ACC’s financial support for the centre.

The centre symbolizes the Anglican Communion’s desire for unity with the Roman Catholic Church and exists to build bridges to Rome. But in recent years, it has also become “a bit of a glue for Anglicanism,” said Richardson. Anglicans from diverse parts of the Communion have taken courses at the Centre and have discovered that “what unites them is greater than what divides them,” he said.

While in Toronto, Richardson met with the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and with the diocese of Toronto’s College of Bishops. He also preached at services at Grace Church On-the-hill, and the Cathedral of St. James.

Richardson, who is retiring this spring, said that during his nearly five-year tenure it has been “really exciting” to see how the centre has helped changed people’s perceptions about the ecumenical journey of Anglicans and Roman Catholics. He described the Pope’s visit to England and last year’s World Day of Prayer for Peace, when Archbishop Williams was a guest of Pope Benedict and both traveled by train to Assisi.

He expressed the hope that before he retires, the centre would be graced by a visit from Pope Benedict.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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