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Pope talks papal primacy with Anglican leaders

Pope Francis leads the vespers in the Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 05/05/24

Pope Francis said he hopes the next meeting of the Synod on Synodality will result in a deeper understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome as a service.

Pope Francis called for a deeper understanding of the specific role of the Bishop of Rome among Christian leaders, when he received the leaders of the Anglican Communion at the Vatican on May 2, 2024. The tradition of the Successor of the Apostle Peter (that is, the pope) having “primacy” over the other bishops is a bone of contention in the dialogue between the various Christian denominations. 

During his meeting with Anglican bishops gathered in the Eternal City, the Pope acknowledged that the role of the Bishop of Rome “is still a controversial and divisive issue among Christians.”

He called for “a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject […] leaving useless controversies behind.” 

Servant of the servants of God

The head of the Catholic Church underlined that the orientation of the specific role of the Bishop of Rome was recalled by his predecessor Gregory the Great: “The Bishop of Rome is the servus servorum Dei— — the servant of the servants of God.”

Interestingly, this 6th-century pope was the one who sent Augustine of Canterbury as a missionary to England, where he became the first archbishop of Canterbury.

The task of the Bishop of Rome is therefore first and foremost a “service of love for all,” argued Francis, defending “primacy” as a “gift to be shared.” 

He also expressed the hope that the next session of the Synod on the Future of the Catholic Church, a major project launched in 2021 with the aim of making the Church more participative and less clerical, would be an opportunity to achieve “a better understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome.”

Several representatives of other Christian denominations will be taking part alongside the Catholic faithful. 

Patriarch of the West

In a similar vein, Pope Francis recently decided to reinstate the title “Patriarch of the West” among the pope’s historical titles, in the 2024 edition of the Pontifical Yearbook. Observers see this choice as a signal to Orthodoxy.

Read about it here:

Friendship with Justin Welby

“We must not be afraid of disagreements,” said Pope Francis, inviting us to give priority to our “brothers and sisters” and not “religious structures,” nor to “personal or group opinions.”

He added, “The divine way of seeing things will never be one of division, separation, or the interruption of dialogue.”

Throughout his speech, the Pope paid particular tribute to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Anglican Communion, who was present at the audience. The two men have taken part in numerous joint meetings.

The Pope recalled in particular their trip together to South Sudan in February 2023. “Dear brother Justin, thank you for this fraternal cooperation on behalf of the Gospel! And I have not forgotten your marvelous work in South Sudan and that of your wife,” said Francis.

Last January, side by side during an ecumenical celebration in Rome, the Anglican primate and the Bishop of Rome sent pairs of Catholic and Anglican bishops on mission.

EcumenismPope FrancisRomeVatican
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