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The Pope,the Primate and a Problem

“I wish I had spoken as eloquently and clearly as the pope.

I entirely agree with every word he said…”

Those were the words of Archbishop of Canterbury as he travelled back from South Sudan. So impressed was he by the Pope's response he promised to quote him in today's debates at General Synod.

In a follow-up to his interview with the Associated Press on 24th January, the Pope had repeated his views on laws criminalising homosexuality,

“To condemn someone like this is a sin.... Criminalizing people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice.”

And he reiterated that parents should never make their children homeless for being gay saying,

“People with homosexual tendencies are children of God. God Loves them. God accompanies them.”

All very good, but that Justin Welby should be quoting this is really rather strange.

While the members of General Synod may disagree profoundly about the Church of England marrying or blessing same-sex couples, it is surpassingly unlikely that any of them would not endorse Pope Francis’ words every bit as warmly as the archbishop. No one in Synod will be advocating making children homeless this week. Nor will anyone be promoting the criminalisation of homosexuality, which in any event would be a governmental, not synodical matter.

So why is Justin Welby going to tell synod things it knows, entirely agrees with, agrees with the Roman Catholic Church about and about which it can, in any event do absolutely nothing?

Perhaps his desire to be seen to identify so closely with Rome on this single point is because the Primate and the Pope agree about virtually nothing else on the topic.

The Church of England bishops’ proposals for prayers of blessing, rely to no small extent on there being a difference between “Holy Matrimony” and “civil marriage”. This means that the bishops can suggest, many would say disingenuously, that in blessing the former the latter is entirely unaffected. Apparently “Holy Matrimony” and “civil marriage” are not so much apples and oranges as astronauts and orangutans.

Pope Francis will have none of this. As is so well explained in this piece, the Pope’s position remains entirely consistent with that set out two years ago by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) both as to rejecting same-sex blessings and the false distinction created by the bishops of the Church of England.

The CDF says that prayers of blessing of a same-sex relationship are unacceptable precisely because they,

"…would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing’."

Less than two weeks’ ago, in an address to the Officials of the Roman Rota (the Vatican’s marriage judges), the Pope said,

“Today I would like to share with you some reflections on marriage, because in the Church and in the world, there is a strong need to rediscover the meaning and value of the conjugal union between man and woman on which the family is based.”

“The gospel of the family recalls the divine plan of the creation of man and women, that is the “beginning”, according to the word of Jesus: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mt 19:4-6).

“Marriage according to Christian Revelation is not a ceremony or a social event, no; it is neither a formality nor an abstract ideal: it is a reality with its own precise consistency, not “a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will”

(Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24 November 2013, 66).”

And, just in case the Pope Francis’ position on what every marriage is was in any way unclear, he also quotes from Vatican II,

“God himself is the author of matrimony”, as Vatican Council II affirms (cf. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 48), , and this can be understood as referring to every single conjugal union.”

Of course, if it is accepted that there is no possible distinction between different types of marriage then the gulf between Francis’ and Justin Welby’s views are laid bare for all to see.

If there are two phrases synonymous with Justin Welby’s archiepiscopate they are “good disagreement” and “walking together”.

“Walking together” is what the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans said they could not do after last year’s Lambeth Conference

“Walking together”, is however, what all the bishops of the Church of England have agreed to do after the “Living in Love and Faith” process.

The irony is that the expression “walking together” originates in the ecumenical work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). And far from the Pope and Primate being of one mind, or in step, the blessing of any sexual relationship outside lifelong marriage between one man and one woman is about as fundamental breach of catholicity as could be found.

And that is a problem.


Photo Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

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