May 10, 2005


Symbolism counts with pope (TERRY MATTINGLY, 5/05/05, Scripps Howard News Service)

Progressive Episcopalians certainly remember a stunning letter that Ratzinger sent - on behalf of Pope John Paul II - soon after the 2003 election of the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Writing to a Texas conference held by the conservative American Anglican Council, he wrote: "The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this City from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. ... In the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation."

The address on the envelope was even more symbolic than the text, with its familiar John Paul emphasis on truth as a source of unity, not division.

What mattered most was that Ratzinger sent the letter directly to the Episcopal traditionalists, bypassing the office of U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold in New York City.

Symbolic gestures of this kind are taken seriously in marble sanctuaries.

If there is anything that Anglican prelates understand it is the subtle politics of protocol.

Thus, it was significant that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attended the inaugural mass for Benedict XVI, becoming the first occupant of the throne in Canterbury to witness such a rite since the Reformation.

Afterwards, the former Oxford don greeted the pope in German and presented him with a pectoral cross.

Ah, yes, but journalists and photographers paid close attention to the precise details of this rite of reception.

"Symbolism is everything," opined David Virtue, a conservative Anglican whose Internet reports circle the globe. "When the new pope met with the patriarchs from the Orthodox churches there were public embraces and kisses, but when Benedict XVI met Williams there was only a handshake. ... Williams edged forward perhaps hoping for a papal embrace but it was not forthcoming."

Then the London Times reported that, behind the scenes, Vatican authorities had been corresponding with the Traditional Anglican Communion inside the Church of England, discussing the possible formation of an Anglican-rite body in communion with Rome. This network claims the loyalty of more than 400,000 Anglicans around the world and perhaps 500 parishes.

Who was the key Vatican official behind these talks? According to Archbishop John Hepworth of Australia, it was Cardinal Ratzinger.

Easy to see why they'd figure the drift had to end.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 10, 2005 12:00 AM
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