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February 2010

A view from Rome

Ecumenical journey on track despite hiccups

By Rev Dr Trevor Hoggard

Late last year Rome experienced several damp, grey and cold weeks before things turned brighter in early December. Despite the improved weather, the publication of the special ordinariate for dissident Anglicans who wish to move to Rome in opposition to the ordination of women and homosexuals fell over the city’s ecumenical scene like a cold, wet blanket.

The initial response was a mixture of surprise, anger and dismay. Much of this was caused by the suddenness with which the move was brought into the public light of day and the apparent lack of consultation at various levels of ecclesiastical life.

After the initial shock, a sense of gloom descended on many of those involved in Rome’s ecumenical life, a sense of foreboding for what it might mean for all churches engaged in bilateral dialogue with the Catholic Church.

Was it to be interpreted as a signal that, from the Catholic perspective, despite 40 years of increasingly encouraging dialogues, there was not the faintest possibility on the horizon of any movement on these and potentially on other communion-dividing issues? Worst still, did it signal a return to pre-Vatican II attitudes to ecumenism?

Fortunately, these gloomy prognostications quickly dispersed and gave way to a more measured evaluation. Notably, both Archbishop Rowan Williams and Cardinal Kasper of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity kept cool heads in the middle of the supposed crisis and agreed that the measure was a pastoral response to a particular constituency both within and outside the Anglican Communion which had been knocking on Rome’s door for some years. It did not constitute a new type of ecumenism, a return to former ways, or any threat to ongoing bilateral talks.

The outcome, several weeks on from the furore, has actually been a renewed commitment to the ecumenical journey on all sides. The controversy certainly strengthened the resolve on both sides to pursue Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC III) talks without delay. On the inter-personal level, very cordial relations were affirmed at several ecumenical gatherings around the city.

It is here at the personal level, that most good can be done by those who are still concerned about working for Christian unity. Relations in Rome are still warm because we are friends. We have gone beyond mere politeness and do really like one other; I’d go further and say we really love one another.

It is inconceivable for us to give up on the quest for unity. We may not see how the formal dialogues will deliver unity in mission, ministry and sacramental life, or how there will be a formal, institutional meeting of minds, but because we do really share a deep and abiding friendship we will continue to walk hand in hand into God’s future which one day will be disclosed to us.

Trevor Hoggard is Methodist Representative to the Holy See and a professor in the ecumenical studies department at the pontifical university of the Angelicum.