How things have changed since 2009, when news stories about Pope Benedict’s plan to erect personal ordinariates for Anglicans wishing to become Catholic described the move as the Pope “parking tanks on the lawn of Lambeth Palace,” the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
That was then. Archbishop Rowan Williams, an Anglo-Catholic, was the ABC then. In March 2013, the same month Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, Justin Welby was enthroned at Canterbury as the new spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion.
In a recent interview, Archbishop Welby tells the Spectator he doesn’t really mind if an Anglican becomes Catholic.
Not so long ago, it would be unthinkable for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be quoting agents of Rome, but times change. The two churches have been holding talks about possible reunion since 1970, but since the C of E admitted female vicars their paths have tended to diverge. Ten years ago, the Vatican made it easier for vicars to defect to Rome. Hundreds did so and now, by some estimates, one in ten Catholic priests is a former Anglican vicar.
I ask what he thinks about all this. ‘Who cares?’ he says. ‘I don’t mind about all that. Particularly if people go to Rome, which is such a source of inspiration. I had an email from a very old friend, an Anglican priest who has decided to go to Rome. I wrote back saying: how wonderful! As long as you are following your vocation, you are following Christ. It’s just wonderful. What we need is for people to be disciples of Jesus Christ. I don’t really care whether it’s the Church of England or Rome or the Orthodox or Pentecostals or the Lutherans or Baptists. They are faithful disciples of Christ.’
If you think this is an unusual thing for the Archbishop of Canterbury to say, then you don’t know Justin Welby. He is a bridge-builder, so keen on fostering greater unity amongst Christians that he has assembled in Lambeth Palace a group of young Christians of various denominations called the Community of St Anselm. ‘One of the prayers we say every morning is for the unity of the church. That seems to me to be much more important. God called the church into being. We, as human beings, have managed to mess that up and split it up.’