Ecumenical first – Anglicans join Catholic bishops in ad limina visit to Rome

4 October 2018 • Persistent link:

Two Church of England bishops accompanied the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to Rome for their ad limina visit with the Pope

Pope Francis‘ top-down change of the Roman Catholic Church took on an ecumenical dimension last week as two Church of England bishops were officially included in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales visit ad limina to Rome.

In their 1 Oct 2018 communique the bishops’ conference reported among the “firsts” of their 24-29 Sept 2018 meeting with Francis was the presence of two Anglican bishops and a representative from the Conference of Religious in England and Wales.

“In a number of our visits we have been accompanied by two bishops of the Church of England, Bishop Martin Warner and Bishop Christopher Foster. On one occasion we were joined by Sister Frances Orchard CJ of the Conference of Religious in England and Wales. We also visited the Pontifical Commission for Communication, whose Prefect, Dr Paolo Ruffini, is a layman. These are all ‘firsts’ – examples of openness and change” they said.

According to Catholic canon law, diocesan bishops and prelates with territorial jurisdiction are obliged to meet with the pope every five years to report on the state of their dioceses and prelatures. Last week’s visit included the 22 diocesan bishops of England and Wales, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Ordinary of the Military Ordinariate, the Apostolic Eparchs of the Ukrainian and Syro-Malabar Churches in Britain, and the Apostolic Prefect of the Falkland Islands.

The Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt. Rev. Tim Thornton told Anglican Ink that “earlier this summer” the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby received an “an official request on behalf of the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales for a Church of England bishop to join them for parts of their Ad Limina visit to Rome.”

Bishop Thornton reported Archbishop Welby was “delighted to have this request and it is very much in line with the thinking of IARCCUM (International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission) which seeks to enable bishops from both churches to work more closely together.”

He added that Bishop Warner, the Chairman of the Council for Christian Unity, and Bishop Foster, the co-chair of the Anglican Roman Catholic Committee, were “able to go and be with them for different parts of the visit.”

A Church of England spokesman said: “The Church of England is grateful to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for the invitation to send fraternal delegates to join them on their ad limina visit for the first time. This is a sign of the trust that has built up between our churches and bishops over many years.”

In their communique, the English and Welsh Catholic bishops wrote the focus of their visit was “joy”.

Francis’ message to the bishops was “simple: we are to live the gift of our faith with joy. Joy was his great emphasis. He explained that this joy is rooted firmly in our relationship with Jesus. It is a joy of knowing that he is with us; of knowing the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, drawing and guiding us towards the will of God; a joy of knowing our Heavenly Father is waiting for us, longing to hold us in his embrace of loving mercy. This is the joy of the faith by which we are to live. He added that this joy is the source of lasting peace in our hearts and lives, no matter our circumstances.”

The clergy abuse scandals appeared to have impacted Francis, they wrote. “As we spoke with Pope Francis we realised, more and more, that he simply radiates this joy and peace. He is indeed gifted with a unique grace of the Holy Spirit of God.”

“Even in this time of turmoil, the Holy Father is so clearly rooted in God and blessed by God. His peace is secure. His life is serene. We know, because he showed us his heart. It is the heart of a loving father.”

Catholic traditionalists have questioned the wisdom of the statement in light of the abuse and cover-up allegations roiling the church’s hierarchy. On Twitter, the Catholic Herald’s Damian Thompson wrote: “One reason I’m angry about this statement is that it opens rather than heals wounds. It suggests that the bishops are amazingly naive or that they’ve had their arms twisted. They didn’t have to criticise Francis – but what planet are they on?”

The inclusion of Church of England bishops in the gathering also prompted traditionalist scorn. claimed: “Two invalidly ordained Anglican bishops joined the English and Welsh Bishops at their Ad Limina visits and audience with Pope Francis … The presence of two outsiders shows that Ad Limina visits are ceremonial events with no impact on the Church’s governance.”