Reporter: Kerry O’Brien
KERRY O’BRIEN: The London Times caused a buzz through the Christian world overnight with a story that the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are close to embracing a proposal for unity. A body called the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, formed more than six years ago, has produced a report encompassing a number of measures being considered right now within the Vatican. According to the Times, the report said, quote, we urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our communions to grow towards full ecclesial communion; in other words, one church, united under the Pope. The Catholic co chair of the commission, Brisbane’s Archbishop John Bathersby, and his Anglican counterpart on the commission, South African Bishop David Beetge, have poured cold water on the Times story, describing it as unfortunate. It seems as if unity, even in terms of its proponents, is some way off. But, according to Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop, Dr Peter Jensen, it’s a case of never, never. Not in this life, anyway. I spoke with Dr Jensen earlier tonight.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Archbishop Jensen, can you imagine a day when Anglicans and Roman Catholics are united as one church?
PETER JENSEN, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF SYDNEY: No, Kerry, not this side of Heaven. In Heaven, we’ll all be one church.
KERRY O’BRIEN: That’s not a bad answer.
PETER JENSEN: But not in this life.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Why?
PETER JENSEN: Because there’s no need for it. The churches are really big institutions, denominations. They have grand histories, that’s fine, but they’re not the real Church. There’s one real Church that all Christians now belong to and although there is some use in, perhaps, denominational mergers from time to time, I don’t really see any need for the churches to unite in that way.
KERRY O’BRIEN: How hard would it be for the Anglican church to accept one central authority, that is, the Pope?
PETER JENSEN: If I said impossible, that’s what’s on my mind. It is impossible. There may be some Anglicans who would, Anglicanism is a very big body of people, but not the Anglican Church that I know, because we deliberately made the decision, hundreds of years ago, that there was one head of the church, Jesus Christ, and not the Pope and that’s why we are not part of the Roman Catholic church.
KERRY O’BRIEN: The world is a bigger place now, it’s a vastly different place in the way it functions as a globe. You don’t think there’s ever room to rethink?
PETER JENSEN: There’s always room to rethink, and one of the things we have rethought is our relationships. I’m glad to say that the old sectarianism has virtually disappeared. I grew up with the last bit of it, it was pretty ugly and we’ve now got rid of it and I’m glad to say that relationships between us here in Australia, for example, are excellent. So that sort of rethink, yes. But the sort of rethink which says that somehow the Pope of Rome is going to be in charge of all Christians, never.
KERRY O’BRIEN: And yet there is this formal body to which your church is a part, which is considering these very questions. Now, if we take your view, that’s a complete waste of time?
PETER JENSEN: Yes, I have to say that part of the story is a little bit misleading. These discussions have been going on for the last 35 years. The famous leaked report from London is, I think, the Times of London getting ahead of itself. The ideas it refers to have been around, as I say, for the last 25 years and they have not met with acceptance around the Anglican world and so the report itself, I have to say, is a little bit of a furphy.
KERRY O’BRIEN: But they do seem to be quoting directly from the document and the joint church commission report, we’re told, now sitting with the Vatican, the report, for consideration, apparently acknowledges the imperfect communion between the two churches but say there is enough common ground to make a call for action about the Pope and other issues. Do you not think that that accurately reflects the mood within the broader Anglican Church community?
PETER JENSEN: No. I think when committees get together, people learn to like each other, get on well together. These committees have been high-powered, I wouldn’t want to put their work aside and say it wasn’t, it was very high-powered stuff, and people made progress together and some issues which we thought we were quite opposed on have turned out to be less of an issue than we thought. So there’s been good process at that point. But when it comes to asking Anglicans to become part of the Roman Catholic communion by accepting the Pope, well, some Anglicans would certainly consider that, but the majority of us would not and as a matter of principle. It’s not a matter of being biased against Roman Catholics, but it is a matter of deep principle with us. We’d prefer to say, you become Anglicans.
KERRY O’BRIEN: The report suggests drawing up special protocols to handle the movement of clergy from one church to the other, common teaching resources for children at Sunday schools and attendances at each other’s services. Do you see any virtue in any of those?
PETER JENSEN: Yes, all to the good. I think they are the sort of thing we have seen developed, not with just the Roman Catholic Church but other churches as well. This is healthy and good, as long as the lines of real importance are not blurred. Christians are a little bit odd in today’s world. We actually believe in objective truth, which makes us awkward. It makes us awkward with each other, too, but I think that’s a testimony worth fighting for. So there are some of those things for which we would say yes, and they’re happening now. Cardinal Pell and I meet from time to time, we pray together but there are other points at which, no, it’s not possible to make a compromise. Now, what we’ve got to do is speak the truth in love to each other. Speak the truth in love.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Well, there is a suggestion that Anglican bishops could be invited to accompany Catholic bishops to Rome to meet the Pope; would you like to go with Cardinal Pell to Rome?
PETER JENSEN: I believe the Pope’s coming here next year. Rome would be a wonderful place to see and with Cardinal Pell as my guide I would see it as you would see it no other way. So it would be very interesting, indeed. But as a theological point, no, not necessary.
KERRY O’BRIEN: And you don’t think there’s just a little point of historical stubbornness in this; because of that original schism in the Church with Henry VIII, that there’s just no going back?
PETER JENSEN: Stubbornness is a good thing in the right cause. I think we always need to reassess, frankly, and I am impressed with the Roman Catholic Church. It’s like a vast cathedral. It’s got immense intellectual power and aesthetic appeal. I could imagine myself in that company. I’m very impressed with it. And I’ve thought about it. But I trust I’m not being stubborn when I say that the truth bids me to do something else.
KERRY O’BRIEN: So at the same time that there’s talk of a merger between the two churches, your most senior clergy, meeting in Tanzania this week, the Primates, have issued a severe rebuke to the American branch of the Church over gay clergy and gay unions, which could easily lead to a split. I wonder if you can see the irony of the timing in these two stories.
PETER JENSEN: Yes, there is an irony. These conversations I’ve spoken of that have been going on for 35 years have been premised on grounds that Anglicanism does represent a sort of holistic view of truth. Since the crisis has emerged in the American Church in particular, of course, the Roman Catholic Church has begun to query the whole basis for the discussions we’ve been having. Now, they’re very courteous, they haven’t pulled the plug, but they have begun to question the basis and the more that Anglicanism shows its very disparate nature, the less attractive it becomes for Roman Catholics to talk to us. So there is an irony in it.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Perhaps you wouldn’t have this problem if you had a central authority like the Pope?
PETER JENSEN: Well, that would suggest that Rome doesn’t have the problem.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Perhaps not quite to the same overt degree.
PETER JENSEN: We do have one central authority, that’s the Bible. What we have is a lot of people who interpret the Bible, which is perfectly right. Each of us is accountable for interpreting the Bible. That’s our central authority. Now, that is the way that God rules his Church. That leads to all sorts of differences of opinion. It is called Protestantism, and I’m actually in favour of it. I think it’s a good thing in the modern world.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Isn’t the Bible itself an imperfect document?
PETER JENSEN: I would say it isn’t, but that would be a very interesting discussion that you and I could have.
KERRY O’BRIEN: I think that’s possibly for another program. Archbishop Jensen, thanks for talking with us.
PETER JENSEN: Thanks very much, Kerry.
Click here to read another interesting article on this from the Daily Telegraph newspaper(United Kingdom)…