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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Archbishop's interview with Vatican Radio in Rome

Wednesday 17th November 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury granted an interview to Vatican Radio during his visit to Rome.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is in Rome, having been invited earlier in the year to be one of three speakers at a public conference in the Vatican to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the (then) Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. During his visit, the Archbishop granted an interview to Vatican Radio:

It's only a couple of months since our last meeting in Westminster Abbey during the papal visit – is it possible to talk about any concrete fruits of that trip?

I think the ecumenical fruits have actually been very powerful – a couple of weeks after the visit, Archbishop Vincent Nichols and myself were with others at a meeting of the black majority churches in London and a lot of those black majority Pentecostal Churches were saying how much the pope's visit had affirmed them, how they felt it had been deeply significant for Christians throughout the country. It's certainly given to Archbishop Vincent and myself a very strong sense of the need to go on building on what we have, the relations between our bishops and so on, so I think the fruits continue to be very positive.

You're here marking the 50th anniversay of the PCPCU – during a plenary entitled 'Towards a new phase of ecumenical dialogue? To most people it would seem a much harder, much more uncertain era?

First of all I think any great new enterprise begins with a massive hope and positive feeling and then discovers reality – Dr Johnson said 'Reality keeps breaking in', so I'm not surprised that 50 years on, it doesn't feel so sunny. But what we have done is quarry further and further about the meanings of the baptism we share and certainly in the plans that the Council has for the future, they speak about more work on that, on how we pray and what we mean when we pray the Lord's prayer together and I was suggesting that maybe the Council should get a working group together across a number of historic Churches and newer Churches to talk about the Eucharist in the Church because there's a great strand of Christian identity that doesn't seem to see the Eucharist as basic as many of us do.

You're talking about the PCPCU as a space where the idea and vision for unity can really be discussed yet there are many concerned that the Council is coming increasingly returning under the jurisdiction of the CDF?

Well I can't comment on internal Vatican issues but I do share a concern that the PCPCU should retain a real theological strand to its work and of course that means the CDF is going to take an interest. But I hope there will continue to be that space for thinking about unity, it's too easy to think we know what unity is bound to mean – if we look at history and theology we see it's much more varied and we need to be honest about that

There is a lot of talk about the 'controversial goal of ecumenism' today, that many in the Protestant world have settled for a mutual recongition of each others' differences, a unity in diversity kind of solution which smacks of the relativism?

I think it's perfectly proper to think of our goal as unity in diversity but not a diversity as endless multiplication of institutions. I still think we have to pray for visible sacramental communion, the recognition of ministries, the ability to function intelligibly as one body across the globe.

You stressed that the Ut Unum Sint agenda must not be allowed to slip out of sight - What exactly do you mean by that?

The great thing about that was the Bishop of Rome asking other Christians what service should this Petrine ministry be offering to the whole Christian world – that's a very good question and I don't think we've begun to get to the bottom of it. Because it is saying the ministry of the See of Rome is not, as some think, a top down executive magisterial authority but also a ministry of universal service and drawing together of believers. So what does that mean concretely, if it doesn't mean quite the way the papacy has evolved in the last few centuries – I think that's a very challenging, fruitful area.

You have continually said that the Ordinariate for disaffected Anglicans is irrelevant or not important to the ongoing dialogue, yet officials here are increasingly talking about its fruits, seeing as a "prophetic gesture", that has grown out of recent progress and will further encourage a sharing of gifts

Well I think if the Ordinariate helps people evaluate Anglican legacy, patrimony, well and good, I'm happy to praise God for it. I don't see it as an aggressive act, meant to destabilise the relations of the Churches and it remains to be seen just how large a movement we're talking about.

But prophetic? Maybe yes, in the sense that here is the Roman Catholic Church saying there are ways of being Christian in the Western Church which are not restricted by historic Roman Catholic identity - that's something we can talk about.

What was your reaction to the departure of the first five Church of England bishops and what difficulties are you facing as a result – I've also heard talk of some 50 priests planning to follow them?

Obviously my reactions to the resignations is one of regret but respect but I know the considerations they've been through, particular the two who were my suffragans, we've talked about it, we've worked through it and parted with prayers and blessings so there's no ill feeling there. I think the challenge will come in working out shared use of churches, of how we as Anglicans 'recommend' people and also of course there will be some parishes without priests so we have a practical challenge here and there.

Departure of those on the Anglo-Catholic or traditionalist wing of the CofE must surely tip the balance of Anglicanism away from Rome – yet easier to identify positions for dialogue?

Interesting question - I wish you were right, I'm not sure it does because there are still a great many Anglicans in the CoE who'd call themselves traditionalists, who have no intention of jumping ship, who are in considerable confusion and distress wondering what the CoE can do for them but they don't think the only option is Rome, so I'd question whether it means the traditional voice has left the CoE – I don't think it has. But if the RC church is looking for who speaks for it, well it is the bishops in synod.

Here in the West, we can continue to debate our differences in comfortable surroundings, yet you recently spent a fortnight in Indiatalking to Christians of different denominations facing persecution – should we not be looking to these countries to find a new urgency and impetus for our dialogue?

I couldn't agree more I think Christians are drawn closer together than in any other circumstances when they face persecution – in Iraq, Pakistan Indonesia, Orissa or Rajasthan, Christians under pressure don't have the luxury of waiting to stand together until they've sorted everything out – I met first hand with a number of people on the receiving end of violence – a woman who'd seen her husband tortured to death in front of her for refusing to abandon his Christian faith – that's simply a moment when you realise what the basic truths are.

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