Jonathan Boardman on the Golden Jubilee of the Anglican Centre in Rome


The celebration of the Anglican Centre in Rome’s Golden Jubilee in October, and the latest of many visits to the Pope by successive Archbishops of Canterbury, can have done nothing but please Catholic Christians everywhere. But pleasure, as we know, is only a fleeting sensation, and an appropriate question to pose about the whole set of events might be “where’s the beef?” In a city traditionally famed for its culinary skill with offal, perhaps we ought to expect some interesting, even challenging dishes.

The heart of the occasion in liturgical terms was undoubtedly Papal Vespers, with the singing shared between the choirs of the Sistine Chapel and Canterbury Cathedral. Held for the reception of each archbishop since Robert Runcie at the church of Saint Gregory the Great – near the site of a monastery where St Augustine of Canterbury had served as prior – symbolism, as ever, trumped practicality. It is a small church in Roman terms, and with the Anglican delegation and official participants alone numbering more than two hundred it was a logistical teaser. Seating half the congregation in the courtyard inside the church’s external façade was a happy solution, and providentially the precipitation was little more than Scotch mist.

In recent years the Sistine Chapel Choir has improved significantly – though it cannot be argued that the improvement is only due to its exposure to collaborative projects with Anglican choirs, of which there have been many: it has worked also with world-class Roman Catholic choirs, as well as some from the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. The difference is pronounced.

But enough of musical excellence – back to symbolism. The most striking of all the symbols that the worship presented surely was an expression of papal self-criticism: the reproduction of an image of St Peter’s denial of Christ as the cover decoration for the service booklet. In the light of this, the Pope’s gift to the Archbishop of a reproduction of the head of St Gregory’s pastoral staff and, vice versa, a pectoral cross of nails were unexpectedly small beer, coming as  they did in the tried and tested format set up by Bl. Paul VI’s gift of his Episcopal ring to Michael Ramsey.

The theological matter of the events might be said to have had two lungs – the first, the private meeting between Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other Anglican Primates; the second, an academic colloquium held at the Pontifical Gregorian University exploring the present state of Anglican/Roman-Catholic dialogue fifty years on from the commissioning of ARCIC I. By their very natures, report and comment can only be made for one of this pair. However, since the one open only to speculation (and guarded ‘leaks’ through the medium of deferential interviews) would have been in the context of formalised ecumenical ‘diplomacy’, perhaps we can conjecture that we are not missing much. The matter was very much to be seen and heard at the colloquium.

With a panel chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and consisting of all four co-chairs of the official dialogue’s two commissions, ARCIC and IARCCUM (the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission), we certainly were being presented with the whole menu. We might have expected to see friendly relations displayed between Archbishops Longley and Moxon (ARCIC), and Archbishop Bolen and Bishop Hamid (IARCCUM); but the excitement generated in the Greg’s Aula Magna by two sets of theologians – Anna Rowlands and Nick Sagovsky, Paul Murray and Paula Gooder – the first pair enthusing over the assistance each tradition could lend the other in social teaching and praxis, the second about the nuts and bolts of receptive ecumenism, came as a surprise. This project is clearly not languishing in the freezer but out in the world (at least of academe) and most certainly providing nourishment.

Will all of this amount to more than a hill of ecclesiological beans? The work of the pairs of bishops from each Communion, commissioned by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, will ultimately be what shows the fruit of this Roman encounter, full of heat and light.

Canon Jonathan Boardman is Chaplain of All Saints’, Rome.