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Mixed reaction to pope’s retirement announcement: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2013 p 7. February 22, 2013

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The news of the announcement of the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI has drawn mixed reactions across the globe.  Ecumenical, Orthodox and Anglican leaders have praised released statements praising the pontiff. However, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church noted that while he understood the reasons for the retirement, it nonetheless left him uncomfortable.

The Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Rev. Canon David Richardson told The Church of England Newspaper he was “at first shocked by the news but, after a few moments reflection, it occurred to me that one should not really be totally surprised.”

“I had read last year the interview ‘Luce del Mondo’ and noted the Pope’s statement there that ‘when one has a clear awareness that one does not possess the physical, mental and spiritual strength to continue one has the right, and in some cases the duty, to step down.’ Therefore one might say that the highest authority, Pope Benedict himself, had already served notice of the possibility of today’s events,” he observed.

Canon Richardson stated that “each time I have seen the Pope recently – and the last time was 25th January when I mentioned to him that I myself am to retire in April – I have been conscious of his increasing physical frailty.”

“It is however of course an unprecedented step that he is taking and for that one can only admire the strength and the courage of the Holy Father. I am sure that Pope Benedict will value the opportunity and the space to study, to write and to pray that this decision will afford him. His scholarship has arguably always been his greatest gift to the Church and after 28th February he, like that other great Christian leader and theologian, Rowan Williams, who laid down the office of the Archbishopric of Canterbury only five weeks ago, will have the opportunity in new ways to put that gift at the service of the Church.”

It remains to be seen what the announcement will mean for Anglican-Catholic relations, Canon Richardson added.   ARCIC III is “proceeding well” and Benedict’s support for the Anglican Ordinariate shows “how much common ground there is between us.”

“All that said, a great deal obviously will depend on Pope Benedict’s successor,” Canon Richardson said.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s head of the Department of External Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, told the ITAR-TASS news agency: “Really, there have been no precedents of this kind in the modern history of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II remained in office to the end despite his serious health problems.

However, Hilarion added that being pope is “not a ceremonial office. If one’s age and health prove to be an obstacle for effective work, the head of a Church may decide to retire. In recent years, the Catholic Church has come to face very serious challenges which require new incentives to come from the See of Rome. Perhaps, precisely this has made the pope to give way to a younger and more dynamic prelate to be elected by the conclave of cardinals. The Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to leave his office in the present situation may be seen as an act of personal courage and humbleness.”

Former Daily Mirror editor and television commentator, Piers Morgan, scoffed at the news of the retirement, writing: “As a Catholic, I’m not buying this. Popes don’t just quit because they’re tired. What’s going on here??”

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit released a statement saying “we have to respect fully the decision of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to resign.”

“With deep respect I have seen how he has carried the responsibility and burdens of his ministry in his advanced age, in a very demanding time for the church,” Dr. Tveit said in New York, asking for prayer that “God bless him in this moment and this phase of his life, and that God will guide and bless the Roman Catholic Church in a very important time of transition.”

Ecumenical applause for the news of the appointment of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury: The Church of England Newspaper, November 18, 2012 p 5. November 21, 2012

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Ecumenical leaders have warmly welcomed the news of the appointment of the Bishop of Durham to be the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

In Britain, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols said the Roman Catholic Church “warmly” welcomed the news, saying he believed the new archbishop “will provide an important Christian witness to this country over the coming years.”

“In fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ’s prayer that his followers may all be one, I hope that we will endeavour to strengthen the bonds of Christian friendship and mission already established between the Catholic Church and the Church of England,” he said.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales’ sentiments were shared by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch.  In his letter the Swiss cardinal described relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion as being “hugely important,” and expressed his certainty that under the new archbishop’s “leadership those excellent relations will continue to bear fruit.”

“For almost fifty years, as you are well aware, there has been a formal theological dialogue which continues to seek a deeper understanding of the great heritage shared by Anglicans and Catholics, as well as the points of divergence which still impede fully restored ecclesial communion. During that same time, relations between succeeding Popes and Archbishops of Canterbury have been marked by numerous meetings which have expressed intense spiritual and human friendship, and a shared concern for our Gospel witness and service to the human family,” wrote Cardinal Koch.

Dr. Mark Wakelin, President of the Methodist Conference of Great Britain, said “Bishop Justin has demonstrated himself to be a man of spiritual depth and wisdom. He has shown great passion and enthusiasm for working together with other Churches and we look forward to working with him in the context of the partnership between our two Churches.”

The General Secretary at the World Council of Churches, Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit of Norway said he was “especially heartened to learn of your long-standing commitment both to the international mission and work of the Church and to the importance of the ministry and work of reconciliation between different communities.”

“I particularly appreciate your engaged commitment with the people of Nigeria, and your deep desire to help to improve the lives of all people in that country, seeking ways to help them move beyond conflict, especially of an inter-religious nature,” the WCC leader said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.