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Francis Downplays Papal Primacy Before Anglican Primates

Updated: May 17

Pope offers full communion with Rome at secret meeting with Anglican bishops

Pope Francis is moderating the unique claims of the Roman Catholic Church to papal primacy in an attempt to further ongoing dialogue with the Anglican Communion.

In a historic meeting with Anglican primates on Thursday, Francis spoke of "tension and misunderstanding, often born of the frailty of the disciples, or different approaches to the relationship with past tradition" within the early Church.

"Yet the narrative as a whole makes clear that its true protagonist is the Holy Spirit: the apostles come to mutual understanding and solutions by leaving the primacy to him," Francis stressed, downplaying the primacy of Peter in the apostolic council.

"I very much like that expression from the Acts of the Apostles: 'it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.' That is something very beautiful," the pope told the archbishops from the global Anglican Communion in a meeting at the Vatican.

"We must not be afraid of disagreements, but embrace them, leaving the primacy to the Paraclete," Francis noted.

"We sometimes forget that disagreements also marked the first Christian community, those who had known the Lord and had encountered him as risen from the dead," the pope said.

Acknowledging that "the role of the Bishop of Rome is still a controversial and divisive issue among Christians," Francis explained that the best way of accepting the papacy would be as "servus servorum Dei, the servant of the servants of God," rather than as a monarch.

Citing Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Francis urged the primates to engage in "a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject" and leave "useless controversies behind," while "striving to understand how the Petrine ministry can develop as a service of love."

"Thanks be to God, positive results have been achieved in the various ecumenical dialogues on the question of primacy as a 'gift to be shared,'" he added, quoting the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).

The ARCIC document on primacy acknowledges that "the Bishop of Rome offers a specific ministry concerning the discernment of truth, as an expression of universal primacy" within his wider ministry.

"We believe that this is a gift to be received by all the churches," the document stresses.

However, ARCIC also emphasizes that "every solemn definition pronounced from the chair of Peter" may "express only the faith of the Church" and that, too, "within the college of those who exercise episcope and not outside that college."

"When the faith is articulated in this way, the Bishop of Rome proclaims the faith of the local churches. It is thus the wholly reliable teaching of the whole Church that is operative in the judgement of the universal primate," it notes.

Such teaching must be "in fidelity to Scripture and Tradition, the authentic faith of the whole Church, that is, the faith proclaimed from the beginning," the ARCIC document observes.

Thirty-two primates representing the Anglican Communion's 42 provinces are meeting in Rome for the 2024 Primates' Meeting from April 29-May 2.

"This is the first time the primates have all met in Rome with the pope, and the pope brought a strong message on the desire for Christian unity rooted in love and guided by the Holy Spirit," Anglican Church of Canada archbishop Linda Nicholls said at a May 2 press conference.

At the end of 2023, a top-secret delegation from the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) flew to Rome for a meeting with the Roman pontiff just before the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) published Fiducia Supplicans in December.

The delegation, which was personally invited by Francis to the Vatican, met with the pope to discuss the possibility of full communion with Rome — an initiative that came directly from the Holy Father, a top source close to the ACNA bishops said.

Francis assured the Anglicans that their orders would be recognized despite Apostolicae Curae, Pope Leo XIII's apostolic letter pronouncing Anglican orders "absolutely null and utterly void," the source specified.

The two senior bishops, who participated in the talks, are tight-lipped on the issue, and while other sources have confirmed the meeting, they are still unwilling to reveal the content of the discussions and have asked to be kept anonymous.

Sources have also confirmed that this offer was extended only to provinces and dioceses within the Anglican Communion who do not ordain women. While some dioceses within the ACNA ordain women, several dioceses, particularly those in the

Anglo-Catholic tradition, hold the line on an exclusively male priesthood.

The Anglicans rejected the offer days after the DDF issued Fiducia Supplicans authorizing blessings for same-sex couples, arguing that ACNA and similar jurisdictions had split from the Episcopal Church in the USA precisely over the issue of homosexuality.

In January, Pope Francis and Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, commissioned pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from across the world during Vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome to engage in joint mission.

This is the second time that the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have commissioned Anglican and Catholic bishop pairs. The first commissioning took place in 2016 at the church of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome.

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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