Msgr. Mercer, 12/6/12

Msgr. Robert Mercer CR

Anglicans tend to know little about Anglicanism. How many are aware that the Archbishop of Canterbury's coat of arms displays the pallium? How many know what a pallium is? It is a Y shaped vestment, woven from lamb's wool, marked with crosses, worn by the archbishops of ancient, important or primatial dioceses. It hangs down back and front from the shoulders like a yoke over the chasuble. It is conferred on archbishops by the Pope and indicates the strong bond between himself and them. But the Archbishop of Canterbury is not in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Quite so. The arms of Canterbury therefore lie! But as I say, the majority of Anglicans are ignorant of this lie. I myself am not offended. The lie is a reminder of what once was. The first Archbishop of Canterbury was sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great in 597 (when he brought with him the consecration prayer which we of the Ordinariate use at the eucharist). The lie I see as an expression of hope, or if not of hope, as an expression of what ought to be. The Archbishop of Canterbury ought to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The church should be one: bishops should express such unity by being in communion with all other bishops. They are, after all, supposed to be the ministers of unity. And a universal church needs a universal primate, president, presiding servant. Who can this possibly be if not the Bishop of Rome? The Eastern Orthodox recognize this and one Russian has added, "What use is primacy without jurisdiction?" What does the Archbishop of Canterbury do to foster unity? He advocates policies which drive the two churches further and further apart, the ordination of women, gay marriages, and he is evasive about the human right to life. Then again, how many Anglicans know that off and on for some four hundred years there have been some modest attempts at Anglican Roman Catholic rapprochement? Admittedly such attempts have been more off than on. But Canon Bernard Pawley of St Paul's cathedral in London and his wife Margaret have published a history of these attempts, Canterbury and Rome Through Four Centuries. How many know about the Anglican Roman Catholic International Consultation (ARCIC for short) which has been ongoing since the 1960's? Bishops and theologians have been meeting in various countries and  publishing reports for all to read, which have reached remarkable degrees of agreement. How many have read them? These discussions began after Archbishop Michael Ramsey's "state" visit to Pope Paul VI when he was received with such symbolic courtesy and warmth. How many know that the Anglican Communion has an "embassy" to the Vatican which has been at work since the 1960's? Canon Pawley was its pioneer. How many Anglicans remember that Pope John Paul II paid a "state" visit to Archbishop Robert Runcie in Canterbury cathedral? Bells pealed, streets were lined, the Prince of Wales sat in choir. After kneeling together in prayer for unity, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope signed a document urging local unity efforts and talks in different countries. In the Church of the Province of Central Africa the house of bishops asked the diocese of Matabeleland to take the lead in this matter. Once a month the Archbishop of Bulawayo and I would meet, alternatively in each other's homes, to work through the ARCIC documents. He was accompanied by two of his clergy, Fr Pius Ncube who was later his successor, and Fr Mike McCauley, a canon lawyer; also by a Fr Joe, a Spanish priest from a neighbouring diocese. I was accompanied by three of my priests, Fr Jeffry Milton my vicar general and archdeacon, Canon Milton Madida and Fr Ken Berry. Two of mine are now RIP, but I'm happy to report that Ken is now a priest of the Ordinariate. We have known each other since he was 18 and I was 16. He retired home to England for health reasons. He and I now sit together at lectures in London and smile, "It has come to pass". We got on so well in Bulawayo that a deputation went to meet with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Here, I gather, conversazione was rather more hard hitting. Then in January 1985 on the way back from a stay at Mirfield I stopped off in Rome for a few days where I was given accommodation in a hostel for clergy. A priest on the staff of the Secretariat for Unity showed me around. Being English he struck exactly the right note with his self deprecating and ironic humour. He put me at my ease for later more awesome interviews with Cardinal Jan Willebrands, a Dutchman in charge of the Secretariat, and then with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in charge of CDF. Such was the latter's shy courtesy and skill at listening, that I became and remain a fan of the present Pope. At a public audience I was presented to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Archdeacon Jeffry Milton died of cancer, aged 33. The Pope sent Archbishop Dupre of the Secretariat for Unity to Jeffry's sick bed in Bulawayo, bringing a crucifix with him, and then remaining on for the funeral. What's more he gave a lecture to the RC clergy about unity. The Pope himself came to Bulawayo in 1988, by which time I was living in Canada. I was again presented to him when he said, "We have met before". Some years later - though, frankly I can't remember when - Archbishop Louis Falk led a TAC delegation to talk unity in Rome. Archbishop Dupre, the Frenchman at Unity, received them with some recommendations, "Stop multiplying bishops. Stop all the in fighting and rivalry among Continuing Anglicans. Bishops should foster unity, not schism". Bishop Robert Crawley and Fr Louis Campese of Florida were part of the delegation. Archbishop Dupre himself is now RIP. I like to think that others beside myself are now blissful about the Ordinariate, Archdeacon Milton, Canon Madida, Archbishop Dupre, perhaps even JPII himself, that for us Canterbury's pallium pointed the way.