The Church of England primate, Robert Runcie, was howled down in March and forced to abandon a Liverpool church service by demonstrators against the imminent papal visit to Britain. No reigning pontiff has ever set foot on English soil, and the protesters wanted to keep it that way.

But the May 28 to June 2 visit is going ahead at an estimated cost of some $11 million, and elaborate security precautions are being taken so that John Paul II’s nine-city itinerary will not be disrupted by the activities of Orangemen and their allies. In Glasgow a spokesman for the Orange order (a Protestant anti-Catholic society formed in Northern Ireland in 1795 and named for William of Orange) promised that the Pope “will have a visit to remember.” The less extreme Protestant Reformation Society, despite profound misgivings about the tour, is likely to settle for more symbolic protest, such as a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square to coincide with a service in Canterbury Cathedral in which Runcie, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the Pope will celebrate Communion together.

In terms of British history, that service is an almost inconceivable event. In no other country are the religious conflicts of the sixteenth century so etched onto the national consciousness. Canterbury is the center of an English Christianity severed from the church of Rome by King Henry VIII in a quarrel about a royal divorce that happened to coincide with the European religious revolution associated with Martin Luther and John Calvin. Subsequent events generated great bitterness—Queen Mary, Henry’s Roman Catholic daughter, had leading Protestants burned at the stake; and Elizabeth I, Mary’s Protestant successor, replied with an intense persecution of Catholics, and many priests died on the gallows.

That history lies behind the ground swell of protest and controversy building around John Paul’s visit.

Moderate Anglicans welcomed his coming, but called it “sensitive” because, in the words of the preface to the current Church of England Year Book, “in coming to England, the Pope will be visiting a country where there is a historic folk church not in communion with him and yet confident that it is the ‘Catholic Church of this land.’ ”

A number of observers judged this an inauspicious time for John Paul to come. They pointed out that merger talks between the Church of England and three historic denominations (Methodist, United Reformed, and Moravian) are at a crucial stage and could be jeopardized by the appearance of an Anglican-Roman Catholic deal.

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Then there was the recent announcement that Britain’s relations with the Vatican were being upgraded to ambassadorial status. Non-Anglican churchmen were sore that they were not consulted. British Council of Churches general secretary Philip Morgan commented on the insensitive timing of a declaration that seems to change the nature of the papal visit from pastoral call to state function.

Finally, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which has been meeting since 1970, published in March a report of deliberations concluded last September. The report suggested the bishop of Rome should have primacy of honor if a new relationship is forged between Rome and the Anglican communion. The 18-member commission claimed to have reached a large measure of agreement on the Eucharist, ordination (Pope Leo XIII rejected the validity of Anglican ordination 86 years ago), and authority.

The theologians said they “agree that ‘conciliarity’ and primacy are complementary”—that the church needs both active involvement in decision making at the local level and a single head as the “focus of visible unity.” The report goes on to caution that “this does not mean that all differences have been eliminated.”

The 122-page report stressed that it is not a blueprint for unity, but the Anglicans were generous in their acceptance of papal primacy. “It is possible,” the document states, “to think that a primacy of the bishop of Rome [the report avoided use of the word pope] is not contrary to the New Testament and is part of God’s purpose regarding the church’s unity and catholicity, while admitting that the New Testament texts offer no sufficient basis for this.”

But the ARCIC report only finesses a stand off over papal infallibility. “Infallible,” it notes, is a “term applicable unconditionally to God alone and … to use it of a human being, even in highly restricted circumstances, can produce many misunderstandings.”

The initial response of the Vatican doctrine unit to the report was negative. Publication was delayed from a scheduled mid-January date while Cardinal Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminster, England, flew to Rome to talk the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) out of insistence on an accompanying series of dissenting notes, arguing they would be an insult to the Anglican communion.

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Last month CDF head Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote, “It is not yet possible to affirm that a really substantial agreement has been reached in all the questions” ARCIC studied. In his letter to Alan Clark, Roman Catholic bishop of East Anglia, he also said, “Various points, held as dogma by the Catholic church … cannot be accepted as such, or are … accepted only in part, by our brethren of the Anglican church. Moreover, some formulations in the ARCIC report can be given divergent interpretation, while others do not seem readily reconciled with Catholic doctrine.”

The Pope himself will not be able to dodge giving his own reaction to the report while in Britain.

The next Lambeth Conference (mouthpiece of the Anglican communion, which is competent to deal with the report) is not due until 1988.

But the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church has already made a favorable pronouncement. The general secretary of its Church Union Society states: “Provided the Church of England does not miss this great opportunity and creates no new barriers to mutual understanding, the flower of Anglican-Roman Catholic unity could be in full bloom by 1988.”

Very different is the reaction of evangelical scholar Roger Beckwith. He points out that the report’s “silence on the doctrine of salvation, its failure to agree on the doctrine of revelation, and its adoption of unacceptable Roman Catholic teaching on papal primacy and the Holy Communion, mean that it fails to provide a doctrinal basis for closer relations between the two churches.”

HARRY GENET with J. D. DOUGLAS in Scotland

World Scene

The parents of the late Chester Bitterman III flew to Colombia last month to present an ambulance as a gift from the believers of Bitterman’s home town, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They were met by President Julio César Turbay Ayala and granted a private interview. They also presented the keys to the hospital in Villa Vicencio in a dedication service. El Tiempo, Bogotá’s largest daily, editorialized: “The family of the … linguist … has eloquently demonstrated that the imperishable principles of Christianity have not been lost.… To respond to such an inconceivable monstrosity of a crime by donating an ambulance is to interpret in a very beautiful fashion the lesson to love your neighbor.”

Latin American evangelicals turned out in strength last month to form their own regional fellowship. Called to Panama City by an ad hoc committee, the 200 delegates (representing some 80 national denominations and more than 17,000 congregations) to the Consultation of Evangelicals in Latin America (CONELA) scrapped most of the scheduled workshops to devote at least 10 hours to vigorous debate in drafting a constitution. Ad hoc president Asdrubal Ríos turned over the gavel of the tumultuous sessions to an impromptu choice for moderator, José Messina, a Paraguayan Baptist. Marcelino Ortiz, a Mexico City Presbyterian and a member of the ad hoc committee, was elected president by the assembly. But the other three officers—two Pentecostals and a Baptist—were not from the committee. In a rider to the constitution, the conferees declared that CONELA should not join either the World Council of Churches or the International Christian Council.

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At the height of the Falkland Islands crisis, British Christians sent a substantial gift and a message of people-to-people support to the churches of Argentina. Clive Calber, director of British Youth for Christ (YFC), who, together with Baptist minister Ian Coffey, delivered the $17,500 gift to an Argentine delegation, said, “We want to tell them Christians in Britain love their brothers and sisters in Argentina.” The action grew out of a spring vacation conference for youth in North Wales called Spring Harvest. More than 12,000 conferees at the event, sponsored by YFC and Buzz magazine, signed the message. The Argentine delegation that received the gift and message was in Panama for CONELA, the Consultation of Evangelicals in Latin America.

Herman Nickel’s nomination as ambassador to South Africa breezed through the Senate although opposed by two religious groups. Their opposition arose from an article Nickel wrote in the June 1980 issue of Fortune magazine titled “The Corporation Haters.” It said the National Council of Churches (NCC) harbored “Marxists marching under the banner of Christ.” Nickel is opposed to apartheid but believes the economic sanctions promoted by the NCC would hurt blacks most and invite violent rather than peaceful change. The NCC and the church-supported Washington Office on Africa opposed Nickel’s appointment.

Protestant and Roman Catholic church weddings won legal status in Greece in March, along with civil marriages. And the usually fragmented Protestants pulled together in an unprecedented manner to help bring it about. In the past, only Greek Orthodox weddings were legally valid.

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