Sacred Mysteries: Anglicans in the heart of Rome

Christopher Howse meets the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ambassador to the Pope

The Anglican Centre, whose emblem is pictured, came into being in 1966 after the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury

The Anglican Centre, whose emblem is pictured, came into being in 1966 after the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury
Christopher Howse By  – (The Telegraph) 8:40PM GMT 08 Mar 2013

The English in Rome are taking a keen interest in the election of the next pope. It is not quite true, as most of the press have been complaining, that the United Kingdom is “unrepresented” in the forthcoming conclave.

The disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who is not attending the conclave, belongs to the Catholic hierarchy of Scotland, which is separate from that of England and Wales. So one can hardly speak of “Britain’s senior cleric”. But the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) belong to yet another hierarchy, which covers the island of Ireland.

Like the Church of England, in which there are the Primate of England (the Archbishop of York) and the Primate of All England (the Archbishop of Canterbury), so in the Church of Ireland there are the Primate of Ireland (the Archbishop of Dublin) and the Primate of All Ireland (the Archbishop of Armagh). The same distinction applies in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

So it happens that Armagh, the see of Cardinal Sean Brady, is in Northern Ireland. The Cardinal himself is Irish, but he is entitled to vote in national elections in Armagh, if he wishes. And he will be voting in the conclave, too. How this benefits the rest of the English-speaking United Kingdom, I have no idea.

In Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury has his own representative to the Holy See, Canon David Richardson. He is the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, an altogether remarkable institution, which I visited last week, being met with much kindness.

The Anglican Centre (whose emblem is pictured here) occupies some rooms in the vast and pleasantly unimproved Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, through the generosity of the family. On the piano nobile of the palace there are breathtaking Old Master paintings and an astonishing Baroque corridor of mirrors, but no heating in the winter. The Anglican centre is another two floors up, with a high, book-lined library, a simple chapel and a salone where the dozen or so who come to Tuesday lunchtime Eucharist share a bowl of pasta and friendly conversation.

It is not a mission station for the conversion of Rome. That would be reminiscent of the bold approach of the Rev George Townsend, who visited the Eternal City in 1850 with the intention of converting Pope Pius IX to the truths of Protestantism. The idea was to get the pope to call a general council to repeal the canons of the 16th-century Council of Trent. Townsend succeeded in gaining an audience with Pope Pius. His clearly puzzled reaction is recounted in Townsend’s Journal of a Tour in Italy in 1850, with an Account of an Interview with the Pope in the Vatican.

No, the aims of the Anglican Centre are ecumenical. It came into being in 1966 after the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury, who understood each other far better than Townsend and Pius.

Canon Richardson is ending his tour of duty at the end of April. Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Vatican’s Council for Promoting Christian Unity, says that his work had “helped promote a distinctive Anglican contribution to the unity of the Church”.

The next director of the Anglican Centre will be the Most Rev David Moxon. He has been in charge of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, which has an even more confusing polity than the Church of Ireland, since it has three archbishops in charge at once, rather surprisingly having one representing the Maori people of New Zealand, one the non-Maoris there, and the third Polynesia.

Archbishop Moxon will continue as chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, an ecumenical body hard at it since 1969. But I’m not sure that the pasta and conversation side of things doesn’t achieve as much.


The fact that our very own Co-Primate, Archbishop David Moxon, has been appointed  the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, should not surprise any of us who are aware of his provenance.  Archbishop David came back to New Zealand after studying at Oxford University in the U.K. At the time I was a student at Saint John’s College, Auckland, David had returned to take up Maori Studies, with a view to enculturation into Maori Culture and Language. His efforts were obviously successful, and he chose his wife, Tureiti, from among his first Maori parishioners at Gate Pa.

While studying n England, David had close contact with the Anglican Women’s Religious Community at Fair-acres, near Oxford – a situation in which he quickly became used to the more catholic ethos of the Religious Life in the Church of England – a theological interest which he has managed to uphold in his own, more recent, role as the Pakeha (European) co-Primate Archbishop and Bishop of Waikato. His catholic sensibility was marked when he was first ordained Bishop of Waikato in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Hamilton. The Anglican Cathedral would have been to small to host the event.

Since that time, Bishop David’s association with the local Roman Catholic bishop has always been most amicable. It was under Bp. David’s provenance, that the Anglican Society of St. Francis found a home in a former Roman Catholic institution in Hamilton.

With his intimate relationship with the local Roman Catholic Bishops, and his later choice  by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to become a member of the ARCIC Anglican/Roman Catholic international theological think-tank, Archbishop David must have been the leading contender to take over from the current Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. We, in Aotearoa/Ne Zealand will miss him. However, we recognise that his gifts could be of greater use in the field of ecumenical relationships.

May God richly bless Arhcbishop David, Tureiti and their family as they enter into this new phase of David’s ministry.


About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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