Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will meet in Rome on Friday for the first time since the two men took office in March.
Francis was inaugurated as the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics on March 19, while Welby officially took over as Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion on March 21.
Some hope the meeting could put Anglican-Catholic relations on a firmer footing.
“It is a commonplace that the job of Archbishop of Canterbury is one you wouldn't wish on [even] your most antagonistic blogger,” quips Samuel Wells, Vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London.
This sense of humor about the office extends to the new leader of the Church of England himself. “[O]nly 40 percent of churchgoers are convinced that the new Archbishop of Canterbury can resolve the problems of the Church of England. I do hope that means the other 60 percent thought the idea so barking mad that they did not answer the question,” saidJustin Welby in his first Easter sermon last month.
But the question is a valid one. Welby certainly has his work cut out for him. The Anglican Church, splintered by years of division over questions of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and women’s leadership in the church, faces an uphill road to reconciliation.
LONDON — Justin Welby was confirmed Monday as the new archbishop of Canterbury at a centuries-old service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, six weeks before his formal enthronement inside Canterbury Cathedral on March 21.
Welby, 57, was a banker and oil executive before his ordination as a priest in 1992, and has served as a bishop for less than a year.
He takes over from Rowan Williams, 62, who returned to academic life at Cambridge University after a decade of turmoil throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion over questions of human sexuality and inside the Church of England over the role of women bishops.
The new archbishop had been the bishop of Durham in northern England for eight months when he was ordered by a still unnamed person in the Church of England to apply for the church’s top job.
CANTERBURY, England -- Bishop Justin Welby, a former oil executive who's emerged as a critic of corporate excess, was named Friday (Nov. 9) as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the Church of England and leader of the worldwide 77 million-member Anglican Communion.
A statement from British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the appointment after two days of speculation. Welby, 56, succeeds Archbishop Rowan Williams, who will return to academia at Cambridge University next year.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Welby said he is "utterly optimistic" about the future of the Church of England.
He said that the question of gay marriage in his new global flock was a complicated issue "and not one to be handled today, off the cuff."
But he offered a definite olive branch to the gay community despite reaffirming his opposition to same-sex marriage. Welby pledged to re-examine his own thinking on homosexuality while speaking out against exclusion and homophobia.
"I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully," he said.
In the United States, where the Episcopal Church is the official American branch of Anglicanism, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori signaled that she's ready to work with Welby, acknowledging that "his gifts of reconciliation and discernment will be abundantly tested."
LONDON — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams criticized some Christians for feeling so "embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted" over homosexuality that they seem unwelcoming to outsiders and convey a lack of understanding.
Addressing a group of Christian teenagers at his Lambeth Palace residence in London, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion said Anglicans and other Christians are still in "quite a lot of tangles" about homosexuality. The confusion sometimes leaves the church "scratching its head and trying to work out," Williams said.
His comments came barely two weeks after he slammed the British government for its plans to legalize same-sex marriages — something that Williams said would be a mistake. The Anglican Communion itself has been deeply divided over homosexuality. The Episcopal Church, the communion's U.S. branch, allows gay bishops and sanctions same-sex commitment ceremonies, while more conservative leaders in Africa strongly denounce homosexuality.
The Observer newspaper in the UK published extracts from Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams' new book:
"The archbishop of Canterbury has denounced David Cameron's "big society", saying that it comes across as aspirational waffle that was "designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable".
The outspoken attack on the prime minister's flagship policy by Rowan Williams – his strongest to date – is contained in a new book, Faith in the Public Square, that is being prepared for publication ahead of his retirement.
Passages from the book, obtained by the Observer, reflect the archbishop's deep frustration not just with the policies of Cameron's government and those of its Labour predecessors, but also with what he sees as the west's rampant materialism and unquestioning pursuit of economic growth. Williams also laments spiralling military expenditure, writing that "the adventure in Iraq and its cost in any number of ways seems to beggar the imagination."
But why should anyone, other than Anglicans and their Episcopal cousins in the U.S., care? The Anglican fight over gay clergy is usually framed as a left and right conflict, part of the larger saga of political division. But this narrative obscures a more significant tension in Western societies: the increasing gap between spirituality and religion, and the failure of traditional religious institutions to learn from the divide.
"What do think will happen" a longtime Episcopalian asked me in Charlotte, N.C., "now that Archbishop ... er ... "
"Rowan Williams," I said.
" ... yes, Rowan Williams, has decided to retire?"
The question took me aback. I rarely hear Episcopalians talking about the Archbishop of Canterbury, the London-based head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch.
Many Episcopalians pray for the 61-year-old prelate every Sunday, but as Canterbury has gotten more conservative and more solicitous of arch-conservative Anglican bishops from the Third World, Anglicans in developed nations choose to walk their own progressive path.
LONDON — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Friday he will step down at the end of 2012, setting the stage for the unique process of government officials appointing the new leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Williams' surprise announcement stunned the religious world, even as the short list of prospective successors swiftly began to circulate. Williams, 61, has led the Church of England and the world's 77 million Anglicans since 2002.
Traditionally, the new leader is chosen by a church committee of Anglican clergy and laity, who then draft a short list of candidates to submit to the prime minister, currently David Cameron.
While Queen Elizabeth II is the supreme governor of the Church of England and formally appoints the archbishop of Canterbury, the decision is based on the final determination of the prime minister. That process could be dogged by controversy. In the recent past, some Church of England reformists have cast doubt on whether a political figure should be involved in picking a spiritual leader for 77 million Anglicans around the world.
The odds-on favorite, according to numerous observers, is Uganda-born John Sentamu, the current archbishop of York and the No. 2 official in the Church of England. Sentamu, the sixth of 13 children, fled his homeland and its dictator, Idi Amin, in 1974.