Sunday, May 12, 2024

Blessing of homosexual couples: dispute at Roman Anglican meeting

Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury spoke of "historic days" after the first primates' meeting of the Anglican church provinces in Rome

Prayers, discussions and visits, for example to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls or the Community of Sant'Egidio, where Catholic lay people in particular are committed to helping disadvantaged people, characterised the days at the beginning of May in the Eternal City. 

The highlight of the 23rd Primate's Meeting: the one-hour friendly dialogue with Pope Francis. "They were days full of gratitude and joy," said Welby (68), honorary head of the Anglican world community.

The only downside of the Primates' Conference: 32 provinces were represented at the meeting, but nine were not. At least two of the absentees cited personal reasons such as illness in the family or problems in their region that made travelling impossible. 

However, most refused to attend for reasons of conscience, which Welby called "very depressing".

"The real issue remains the Church of England's decision to further consider the extent to which it will support the blessing of couples in same-sex relationships that are already officially recognised by a civil ceremony," the Archbishop of Canterbury explained. "We all have different views on this." 

He expressed the hope that the primates from the countries of the South who were present would report on the meeting in Rome to the "missing friends and colleagues" at the conference of the Anglican Global South Fellowship in June and involve them further in the fellowship.

Divisive tendency among Anglicans

However, the leadership of the Anglican Church was once again faced with the same phenomenon as in 2022 at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury and many of these world bishops' meetings, which usually take place every ten years: Bishops from the Global South in particular were already struggling with the ordination of women to the priesthood. 

The consecration of the first openly homosexual person as a bishop in New Hampshire in 2003 further fuelled divisive tendencies.

And the Church of England's decision in autumn 2023 to bless homosexual couples was another step that many provinces in Africa and Asia did not want to take - and therefore stayed away from the Lambeth Conference. 

Incidentally, just a few weeks after the Church of England, the Vatican decided in the declaration "Fiducia supplicans" that people in "irregular" relationships should not be denied a blessing - such as same-sex couples.

In view of the continuing threat of division, the 32 participants, three of whom were women, invoked Anglican unity. This is linguistically and culturally very diverse, as illustrated by the countries represented, including Scotland, Ireland, England, Jerusalem/Middle East, Central Africa, Burundi and South Africa, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and New Zealand.

Many reported on problems and challenges in their regions, including wars, the consequences of climate change, immigration and emigration. "It was a very emotional week that occasionally moved us to tears," said Welby. 

The Japanese Archbishop Luke Ken-ichi Muto, for example, explained how much people still need help after the earthquake, tsunami and reactor disaster at Fukushima in 2011. Kenyan Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit gave an overview of the church's commitment to underprivileged people in his country. 

And Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of Canada, spoke about the Anglicans' commitment to indigenous communities.

Ecumenical gestures were particularly valuable to the assembly, which it experienced in talks with Cardinal Mario Grech, the Secretary General of the World Synod of Bishops, Cardinal James Harvey, and even more so with Pope Francis

For an hour, he dedicated words of encouragement and reassurance to his guests, Welby said. 

He recalled the common Christian heritage that Anglicans and Catholics have shared "for many centuries". 

These common riches could calm fears in the midst of inevitable "moments of tension and misunderstanding". 

Recognising that the "true protagonist" of Sacred Scripture is the Holy Spirit, we can accept our disagreements without fear, the Pope said. It is important to strive for a new understanding of one another in a spirit of gentleness.

"Only the love that Jesus taught and embodied will bring divided Christians closer together," Francis emphasised to the Anglican guests. In order to achieve unity, we must not dwell on the past. And at the end of the private audience, the Pope made a plea to the Anglican brothers and sisters: "My job is hard. Please pray for me."