Friday, 15 March 2013

A New Pope - What can we hope to see?

My post of yesterday may well be seen by some as very negative, and perhaps it is. Having considered carefully and read the excellent article posted by Archbishop Cranmer, I am prepared to say that I hope Francis I will be able to bring some much needed change to the Vatican. The Archbishops article is entitled What Pope Francis might mean for the Church of England. It is worth reading.

My overriding impression of the Roman Catholic Church is that it is still a very 'feudal' heirarchy. The Pope/Emperor presides over the Provincial Cardinal/Princes and rules through the Curia, all power resides in the hands of the clergy, with the laity having little or no say in anything. Indeed, one sometimes has the impression that the laity are regarded in much the same way as peasants and serfs by the 'princes' of the Church - to be patronised, disciplined and corrected when they dare to question anything.

It is that, more than anything else, which has led to the abuse scandals that have all but destroyed the message of the Gospel for all of Christianity, not just for Rome.

The new Pope is said to be "anti-clerical" and pro-ecumenism. The Anglican Bishop of Buenos Aires (yes, there is one) has written a glowing account of his relationship with the former Archbishop, and it does seem that there is some hope of a greater rapproachment. He is also said to take a different view to his predecessor o the subject of such things as the Sacraments, which may mean a more open approach in a very wide range of matters the last two Popes have blocked. We can but hope.

Following the news here in Germany, and listening to those who want to see reforms, reading articles by prominent Roman Catholic laymen and women, I would list the following as matters Rome really does need to address -

1. Drop the claims to "infallibility" and to being the sole possessor of Apostolic Authority as 'Vicar of Christ' (the title was first used in about 600 AD and did not become 'permanent' until the 1200s),
2. Recognise the validity of the ordination of those confessions which still hold to the Orders set up by the Apostles,
3. Accept the validity of other Christian confessions and cease to demand that the only acceptable form of "Christian Unity" is the submission to the authority of Rome,
4. Move back toward the Synodical governance of the Church as practiced in the Early Church, and
5. Open the discussion on the ordination of women, and
6. Put an end to exclusion, opening the churches sacraments to all and adopting an "inclusive" stance to embrace ALL believers, not just those of their own profession.

The first item on my list is, perhaps, the key to the others. The doctrine of "infallibity" is of very recent date, and, contrary to popular belief it is not about the Pope being infallible in everything, it applies only to matters issued "ex cathedra" by him and the Curia. Even so, it is unacceptable to most non-Roman Catholics. In similar vein, the claims of primacy over all Christians rests on one text in Mark, a similar passage in the other Gospels makes clear the "authority" is shared by all the Apostles and it can even be argued that it includes all believers. The earliest Pope to claim this exclusive authority arose in the 500s, but the attempt to enforce it in the 900s led to the split between the Roman Catholic "west" and the Orthodox East. Stepping away from this claim of superiority opens the door to a number of he other items on my list.

History shows that Rome was regarded, by the early church, in the same manner as the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Church, as a "Primus inter pares" or "First among equals." Adopting that status again opens the door to much more inclusivity than exists at present between Rome and all the other branches of Christianity.

Why do I bother myself with these matters when, as many of my readers will know, I am an Anglican? Put simply, it is because I do believe that Christians must seek to unite in their faith, if not in the manner of their worship or even in the "orders" of their ministry. I do believe that it is imperative we unite around how we understand and read the Bible, that we share the sacraments and that we adopt Christ's own approach to those seeking understanding  - in short, that we welcome and include everyone. That we include even those we do not like, or with whom we 'have a problem.' God's mercy and grace is far, far wider than anything we can know or understand - but we are required by the Gospel to embrace it.

Throughout my own ministry I have prayed for the "unity of the church" and I have always understood that to embrace ALL Christians. But it cannot happen until we are all able to share the Eucharist in all its forms and that cannot happen as long as Rome excludes everyone who cannot accept the claim of Papal Supremacy. I will continue to pray for that 'unity,' though I fear I may never actually see it.

I hope, and pray, that the new Bishop of Rome, Francis I, will surprise me.

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