After his address to the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican on Wednesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was interviewed by Vatican Radio.
He talked about the legacy of Vatican II and the need transparency in the Church. He also spoke about the state of the state of Anglican-Catholic dialog, and impact women bishops in the Church of England will have on that church’s relationship with the Vatican.
You’re also here marking the Synod and the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II. How important do you think was that Council for those outside of the Catholic Church?
It was enormously important. I was a teenager as the Council began, and an Anglican, a practising Anglican. What had been apparently a very self-contained, rather remote, exotic, fascinating, but slightly strange body, suddenly opened up. I think that was the effect that it had for me and for others.
We could see the workings. Instead of looking at an institution that was very visibly confident that it was sufficient to itself, we saw people beginning to say, “Does it have to be like this?” We saw a transparency in the Roman Catholic Church. Which of course, because it was so deeply connected with the personality of Pope John XXIII, which was a gift to all Christians, became something yes, deeply stirring.
It’s because of the Second Vatican Council, I think, that other churches began to rethink some of their own ways of doing things. It’s because of the liturgical reform there that I think liturgical reforms accelerated in other contexts. So yes, hugely important for the rest of us.
It was, of course, also a watershed moment for Ecumenism. Yet despite so much progress, the deepening of relationships, new friendships, that journey seems to be struggling today in a way that was hardly imaginable a few decades ago, especially the Anglican-Catholic dialogue. Are you in any way disappointed that there hasn’t been more in terms of tangible results for the dialogue during your time here?
Sometimes of course, yes, I feel that disappointment. But on the other hand, I look back at the ‘60s and remember, of course, we believed anything was possible in the ‘60s, whether in church, or in politics, or in international relations. There was a certain haste and a certain naivety about all that.
What abides of course, and what we can’t go back on, is the fact that we pray together in a quite different way now. In the ’50s, when I was a child, it would’ve been quite unthinkable to pray alongside Roman Catholics. Of course in those days, even saying ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ together was frowned upon.
The gain in terms of simply understanding ourselves as in some way belonging together, that’s irreversible. Of course, it would’ve been wonderful if we’d been able to take rather more steps towards something really visible, really concrete, in terms of mutual recognition.
But both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican families have changed, have developed in that period, in ways that have sometimes made that more difficult, and that’s reality. We don’t, when we change, always wait for one another. That’s a fact of our community life, I think.
Would you say though that Ecumenism is still a priority for the Church of England today, with so many other apparently more pressing problems and internal divisions?
I’m tempted to say, “Unity is indivisible,” which is a ridiculous logical statement. But what I mean is if we’re interested about the unity of our own Church, which we certainly ought to be, then there’s no way of not being interested in unity more widely.
The real issue is what does it mean to be The Church of God? Not to be this or that little religious society, but what does it mean to be The Church of God? That’s the question we’re asking within the Anglican family, that’s the question we have to ask across denominational boundaries.
That’s why even if Ecumenism in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ’70s sense, of lots of institutional meetings and negotiations, doesn’t always feel like the same level of priority, unity has to be, has to be a priority.
One of the big difficulties, of course, that has been a stumbling block between the two communities is the question of ordaining women bishops within the Church of England.
Last time we met, you were optimistic that there would be a solution on this before the end of your mandate. Do you still hope that within the next couple of months that you can find a solution acceptable to everybody within the Church of England?
We won’t find a solution acceptable to everybody in the Church of England. That would be a real miracle of the last days, I think. But what the bishops have been working at, with a good deal of blood, sweat and tears in the last few months, is trying to find that point of balance which is just generous enough to the minority, and just clear enough about the principle, not to alienate more than we’re bound to.
I’m very struck by the fact that the bishops, in their recent meeting, were almost unanimous in finding this, what they wanted to recommend to the Church. It’s for us now to commend it to the Church of England at the Synod next month, and we’ll see.
But a great deal of work and prayer’s gone into this; I’m certainly hopeful still that all that work won’t be wasted, all that prayer won’t be wasted; that we’ll find something which allows us to go forward honouring everybody within our fellowship.