London – Benedict XVI’s visit next September to the UK is of “crucial” importance. It is a chance to revitalize his image in the eyes of the British press, after the media storm involving the Pope has in recent months (in reality since the beginning of his pontificate), but also to bring together two cultures and two confessions - Catholic and Anglican - often in conflict. This is the view point of John Milbank, Anglican theologian and professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics, at the University of Nottingham, interviewed by AsiaNews ahead of the next papal trip:
What does Benedict XVI’s visit mean for the UK and the Church of England?
The visit is of crucial importance because Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are under increasing attack in the United Kingdom. One would have thought that ‘anti Popery’ was dead and yet it has recently revived. At the same time Catholics play a very important role in British cultural and political life. They and all other Christians in this country need the encouragement that the Pope can give them. In addition I believe that this visit is a chance for Pope Benedict to correct the mistaken impressions of him that are often given in the British media. He can show that he is a person of great all-round vision whose thinking about society, economics and human relationships is often far more insightful than that of the general run of secular culture.
October marks one year from Anglicanorum Coetibus: how important is the meeting between the Primate Rowan Williams and the Pope?
I think it is important that the two leaders take the opportunity to show that their agreements are far more profound than their differences. For they espouse a similar sort of theology: rooted in the legacy of Augustine and the recovery of authentic Patristic and High Medieval tradition. Their approaches to the political and economic sphere are also highly compatible, with both of them stressing the importance of Civil Society as against either the State or the Market and both following Bruni and Zamagni in advocating a ‘civil economy’.
In your estimation, how many bishops and faithful of the Church of England have taken up the opportunity offered by?
Extremely few and I don’t think that many will follow in the UK, though more may in the USA. However, I still think that the AC will be of great importance in the future. First because it involves a new recognition by the Papacy of the validity of the Anglican tradition, beginning to equate it more with Eastern Orthodoxy; secondly because it can create a fluidity between the two communions that will help to lead to full intercommunion in the future. The debates about the role of women, married clergy and the norms for homosexuals are discussions that are now common to all the episcopally-ordered churches and in a globalised era it will prove anachronistic to think that they can be confined within any one single communion.
The pope will beatify the Cardinal Newman in Birmingham. Do you think it will bring Rome and Canterbury closer or, on the contrary, fuel controversy?
I think that this is a wholly positive development and will be welcomed by Anglicans. Apart from a few evangelical extremists, who dislike Newman’s theology anyway, Anglicans by no means feel that Newman ‘betrayed’ them by becoming a Catholic. On the contrary, they are very proud of Newman’s double contribution to both modern Anglicanism and to modern Catholicism. Newman is a sign of unity: he belongs to both Churches and I am sure that our prayers to God through him will aid us in the cause of Church unity, as in the revival of a Christian Britain.
Just over a week ago, the Synod of the Church of England ended in York. Lots of english newspapers talked about “defeat” of the Primate concerning the ordination of women bishops. Do you agree that it was a “defeat”?
No, that is a big exaggeration. Unfortunately, the two Archbishops of York and Canterbury tried to push through a minor amendment that was probably unnecessary, but was intended to safeguard the interests of those who cannot accept the advent of women bishops. Although this was defeated, most people involved agree that these interests will be in any case adequately safeguarded under the arrangements now agreed upon. I think that Rowan Williams now also accepts that. His standing has not been in any way seriously damaged by this matter of detail. Clearly women bishops seem to be controversial from an ecumenical point of view, but I do not think that this will prove the case in the long term. One irony is that Anglican liturgy, involving ordained women, is in many ways far more conservative and numinous in character than much modern Catholic liturgy, in which the lay involvement of both men and women seems rather random and ill thought-through. I support the efforts of Pope Benedict to give back a place to the Latin Mass, just as I believe that Anglicans must conserve the dignity of their worship at its best.