An Interview with the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome

29 July 2008 • Persistent link:

Rome’s concern highlights importance of Gospel message of unity

Some in the Anglican Communion may have found themselves a little irritated by the amount of rhetoric that has issued from the Vatican in recent weeks on the divisions facing the church. The Anglican Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Holy See, the Very Revd David Richardson, says that instead, the concerns of the Roman Catholic Church should be taken as a very positive reminder that the unity of the church is God’s will.

While the Pope was in Australia celebrating World Youth Day, he urged the Anglican Church to avoid schism, and Cardinal Dias warned in his address to the Lambeth Conference about the dangers of disunity to evangelism.

“My take on it at this stage,” says Revd Richardson, “is that there is a lot of investment from the Roman Catholic Church in the Anglican Church cohering, for a whole range of reasons … the last thing they want to see is a church structurally split.” Schism, from the point of view of the Roman Catholic Church was therefore, he said, “a really much more serious issue than the discipline or moral theological issues with which we’re wrestling.”

That’s not to say that the Vatican is not concerned with the issues of women bishops or homosexuality (although the latter may be more of a priority for the press than for Rome or indeed the entire Anglican Communion).

“Ecumenical processes never run smoothly, and life moves on,” Revd Richardson says. “While you’re writing a report, at the end of it you find that something different has taken place. It may be that women have been ordained or a Pope has died, or an Archbishop of Canterbury has resigned. We’re an evolving institution.”

Revd Richardson is excited by the questions canvassed in the nature of the various ARCIC and IARCCUM documents:

“What is the faith? Is the apostolic faith something that was parcelled up and completed at Chalcedon or is it something that is still emerging? That is a theological question that is part of the wrestle. That’s an exiting thing that the two parties are committed to continuing.”

Being Director of the Anglican Centre entails more than exploring the minutiae of ecumenical relationships however, and it is a very different sort of job than his previous role as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia.

“It’s a multi layered role, and it’s a role that in a sense each person creates,” he says. “Part of creating it is getting to know people, making networks, listening, interpreting, and understanding. Then there’s teaching, running courses, and developing the educational programs.” With the current lack of infrastructure, he says he is learning a lot of new skills “at great speed”.

While he had more staff to take care of things in Melbourne to do some of the more mundane tasks, he says, “I suppose a great deal of what I’m taking into my role is stuff that I learned accidentally in Melbourne. I hope in some sense Melbourne matured me, and helped me to look for other interpretations, explanations, and nuances, than the one that immediately hits you in the face. And so I suppose [I’ve gained] a level of theological reflection, of being able to talk to people, get beside people, and understand where they’ve coming from.”

“What am I bringing to the role? I think I’m bringing me, who for nearly a sixth of my life was formed by being Dean of Melbourne.”