Today the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury are scheduled to have what is generally described as an informal meeting during which they will talk about subjects of common interest such as social justice. From both left and right of the religious spectrum have come little grunts of disapproval. Why is the pope talking to the archbishop when the Church of England has broken with the apostolic tradition regarding Orders and has an elastic attitude to same-sex relationships? Why is the archbishop talking to the pope when the Catholic Church refuses to move on the question of Orders and is so opposed to same-sex relationships? The list of differences goes on and on, but the media, naturally enough, home in on those that concern sex and gender. Some prefer not to acknowledge them at all, or comfort themselves that one side or the other will eventually give way and all will be as right as roses.
My own view is that we need to be honest about the very real differences between Anglicans and Catholics, but those differences do not preclude our working and praying together. Though some have scoffed at the idea of social justice being on today’s agenda, it strikes me as an area where both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin can talk to one another with genuine understanding and experience. If anyone believes that the world today has no need of a Christian take on finance, poverty, politics, etc, etc, I think they have only to look around them to see what a mess we make of things when we ignore the religious perspective. Those who read the article by Rabbi Sacks in yesterday’s Spectator may well have nodded in agreement over his analysis, but it is not so much that we need religion to save us from barbarism as that religion, properly understood, makes barbarism an impossibility. The injustices which mean some starve while others have gastric bands fitted because they have eaten themselves into illness are surely another form of barbarism — just as much as withholding education, healthcare and even the right to life.
I think the pope and the archbishop will find much to talk about, and I pray that their meeting will prove fruitful for more than those who call themselves Anglican or Catholic. It may be ‘just’ a conversation between a man in white and a man in purple, but if we do our part, we can be sure the Holy Spirit will be there too; and the Spirit has a way of exceeding our expectations and turning our ideas upside down as being too little and too limiting.