The leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion spoke to Vatican Radio following a papal audience at the conclusion of a two day visit to Rome marking half a century of Anglican-Catholic dialogue
Archbishop Welby has spent two days in Rome, accompanied by 17 other leaders of Anglican Provinces worldwide and by pairs of Anglican and Catholic bishops who’ve been discussing ways of forging closer partnerships in mission.
At the audience in the Vatican on Thursday the Pope said it was “a beautiful sign of fraternity” to see the Primates of so many Anglican Provinces celebrating the fruits of the first meeting 50 years ago between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
“Let us never grow tired of asking the Lord together and insistently for the gift of unity”, Pope Francis said, adding that all Church leaders are being challenged to go out and bring God’s “merciful love to a world thirsting for peace”.
Archbishop Welby thanked the Pope for his leadership and for the effect that this has had on the Anglican Communion:
“You have recalled us afresh to the needs of ministering with the poor. You have set a Christ-like example by your travel to places of suffering and difficulty. You have stood alongside migrant peoples. You have initiated work on modern slavery and human trafficking, and much more. You gave essential force to the meeting of nations in Paris on climate change. Your letters and encyclicals have spoken far beyond Rome and her church, in a manner which is universal.”
The two leaders also spent close to an hour in private conversation, sharing jokes and discussing everything from prayer to peacemaking, from sexual ethics to the personal revelations that Welby made earlier this year regarding his own father’s identity.
Following that encounter I caught up with the archbishop to see if he could share any of that conversation with us:
Prayer and Peacemaking
Archbishop Welby said a lot of their conversation was about prayer, “in a very practical sense” and he was particularly struck by the expression the Pope used, saying ‘when we pray we make room for grace”.
He said they also talked about “the need to walk together, about the role of the church as peacemaker, as a source of mercy in a fairly merciless world”. He admitted they also shared some jokes together, saying “there was a good deal of humour [but] jokes don’t always translate very well”.
Challenges of sexuality
The Anglican leader said he also discussed the challenges facing both Church around questions of human sexuality, explaining “they came up in the context of talking about the need for grace, for not casting stones”. Archbishop Welby said he and the Pope discussed “at some length” chapters 8 and 9 of the document ‘Amoris Laetitia’ which balance “ so beautifully” pastoral care with Catholic principles and ideals. “But the emphasis”, he stressed, was “on not being a body that condemns, that hates, but a body that speaks of mercy and the love of Christ” which all of us need.
Generous affection and friendship
Asked about the good relations between him and the Pope, compared with the difficulties within parts of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Welby said he was grateful for Francis’ generous “affection and friendship”. In the Anglican Communion, he conceded, there are “significant differences but we do continue to walk together, to love each other”. He noted that earlier this year, when DNA tests revealed the identity of his real father – an issue which he and the Pope also discussed – he received letters from people in the Anglican Communion “who disagree with me profoundly, but really pastoral, loving and supportive letters”.
Asked about his comments on the Pope’s ability to speak in a “universal” manner, Archbishop Welby said he was not being “deliberately controversial” but he added “it’s a statement of fact, the blessing of the Holy Father’s ministry and of the ministry of the See of Rome has been experienced beyond the borders of the Catholic Church”. He pointed to the impact of the year of mercy and of the documents ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and especially ‘Laudato Si’ which, he said, gave a moral authority to the Cop 21 climate change conference. He noted that papal encyclical “linked in” with work being done by the Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa and the petition of 2 million signatures from the global south which had a huge impact on the conference delegates.
After difficulties over recent years around the ordination of women, the Archbishop said, “we seem to have found renewed impetus and momentum in how we work and walk together”. While there are still problems to be solved, he concluded, especially the “great pain” of not being able to share the Eucharist , “we are finding we can walk together and that is beautiful”.