by Jonathan Petre
"UNITY" has been the keyword in ecclesiastical circles this year, and the great advances in ecumenism were nowhere better highlighted than in Canterbury Cathedral on May 29 when the Pope knelt with Dr Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to pray for a common understanding of the Christian faith.
Behind the scenes, the conversation between the churches continues with renewed vigour. In March the publication of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission final report was widely heralded as a breakthrough, even though reservations were expressed by the Vatican, in the form of a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to Bishop Alan Clark, the Catholic co-chairman of Arcic.
The letter, while welcoming the report and urging further negotiations, issued a caution that it is impossible to say "that an agreement which is truly `substantial' has been reached."
The Pope, during his six-day visit to this country, met with non-Catholic Church leaders and with representatives of the British Council of Churches. Two further initiatives emerged from this: first, a new Arcic is to meet in the second half of next year as a result of recent discussions at the Vatican; second, the bishops of England and Wales have committed themselves to seeking a formal meeting with non-Catholic Church leaders in Britian in the hope of making a breakthrough towards unity.
In a statement on unity issued at their November conference, the bishops said: "We are inviting the leaders of the other Christian Churches to consider meeting with us in formal conference so that we may face together, in a spirit of trust and confidence, the new situation which has arisen in the light of recent developments."
The invitation has been enthusiastically received, particularly by Dr Runcie and Dr Philip Morgan, Secretary of the BCC. The question of the full communion between the Churches is now, as Canon Dennis Corbishley put it early this month, a "when" rather than an "if" issue.
The other issue that faced Catholics just before the Pope's visit was the attitude they should adopt towards the conflict over the Falkland Islands. For several days the visit hung in the balance, and hopes, particularly those of Cardinal Hume who had several last-minute meetings with the Pope, seesawed.
Bishop Victor Guazzelli, bishop in East London, hac: no reservations about condemning the British Government's action in sending the Task Force to the South Atlantic. "The presence of the Task Force there and the way it is being used by the Government seems to me to be contrary to the Gospel spirit," he said.
We should withdraw immediately and "suspend the claims of sovereignty — let the United Nations deal with them. We must show that we mean business, that we really want peace," he added.
In the event, the British Government did not withdraw, and the Pope still came — his message of peace made particularly poignant by the events in the Falklands. And after it was all over, Catholics made a particular effort to seek reconciliation with Argentina.
This was the main theme of the National Conference of Priests which met in Birmingham in September. The resolution to encourage reconciliation was proposed by Fr Christopher Bester who had been a Royal Navy chaplain on board HMS Uganda which acted as a hospital ship during the conflict.
Peace was very much on everyone's mind, especially for the second half of the year. The issue of nuclear warfare, dealt with in another article in this edition, came to the fore after a Church of Ligland working party published a report on The Church and the Bomb. The debate raged with much ferocity — as debates about peace usually do — and finally the bishops produced, at their November conference, a statement which outlined their joint approach to the problem of nuclear deterrence.
"We p Wo iec yh a voef ndoetceornr ef ni dceen c we ht caht
some claim to have been effective in the past will always be so in the future.
"The experience of history and human sinfulness is against this."
One surprise this year was the appointment of Fr Maurice Couve de Murville as the new Archbishop of Birmingham. He had been Chaplain of Cambridge University since 1977, but he had not been one of those tipped for the post. Archbishop John Murphy, of Cardiff, now 77 years old, has tendered his resignation, but as yet it has not been accepted.