Pope to Anglican bishops: ‘Patient dialogue’ needed on papal primacy

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Pope to Anglican bishops: ‘Patient dialogue’ needed on papal primacySpeaking to the Primates of the Anglican Communion, Pope Francis says that even the very earliest Christians had their disagreements.

Senior clergy from the Anglican Communion are in Rome this week for the body’s 2024 Primates Meeting – the first of its kind to be held in the Eternal City.

On Thursday morning, participants, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, met with Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Long history of cooperation

Pope Francis began his address by thanking Archbishop Welby for his presence, noting that he “began his service as Archbishop of Canterbury around the same time that I began mine as Bishop of Rome.”

“Since then,” the Pope added, “we have had many occasions to meet, to pray together and to testify to our faith in the Lord. Dear brother Justin, thank you for this fraternal cooperation on behalf of the Gospel!”

He stressed in particular the pair’s joint trip to Sudan in 2023, which, he said, was “really beautiful”.

Papal primacy

Pope Francis went on to thank the gathered bishops for having chosen Rome, the “City of the Apostles Peter and Paul”, as the location for their meeting this year.

“I realise”, the Pope said, “that the role of the Bishop of Rome is still a controversial and divisive issue among Christians.”

He quoted Pope Gregory the Great’s definition of the Bishop of Rome as servus servorum Dei, or ‘servant of the servants of God’, suggesting that it accurately captures the reality that the Pope’s authority can never be detached from his service to the Christian community.

“For this reason,” Pope Francis stressed, “it is necessary to engage in ‘a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue which, leaving useless controversies behind’, strives to understand how the Petrine ministry can develop as a service of love for all.”

Thankfully, the Pope noted, “positive results have been achieved in the various ecumenical dialogues on the question of primacy as a ‘gift to be shared’.”

The Apostles and the Holy Spirit

Another key theme of Pope Francis’ address were the lessons that the earliest Church might offer for modern ecumenism.

While, the Pope said, the Acts of the Apostles is above all concerned with “the joyful spread of the Gospel”, the author “does not conceal moments of tension and misunderstanding, often born of the frailty of the disciples, or different approaches to the relationship with past tradition.”

We often forget, the Pope noted, that even these earliest Christians - who had “known the Lord and had encountered him as risen from the dead” - were divided in their understanding of the faith.

We, like them, Pope Francis suggested, must learn to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit.

“We are called,” he said, “to pray and to listen to one another, seeking to understand each other’s concerns and asking ourselves … whether we have been docile to the promptings of the Spirit, or prey to our own personal or group opinions.”

Joseph Tulloch
Source: vaticannews.va/en