Anglican primates meet in Rome

The 2024 Primates' Meeting was held in Rome.(Photo: Anglican Communion)

This week some of the primates of the Anglican Communion met together in Rome at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The four-day event is billed as "Primates' Meeting 2024" by the Anglican Communion Office, a meeting of the senior clergyperson from each of the 42 provinces, which is supposed to work for unity among Anglican churches globally.

From the start, this Primates Meeting has been different. While previous meetings have been tense affairs because of diverging views about the authority of Scripture and issues of human sexuality, this one seems to have been much calmer. The main reason for this is the non-attendance of at least nine Primates due to the failure of the Lambeth Conference to listen to the views of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) and the Archbishop of Canterbury's role in the decision of the Church of England to bless same-sex couples. This leaves well over half of all Anglican worshippers unrepresented.

Archbishop Justin Badi, the leader of the GSFA outlined the reasons for their decision in an interview last week in which he said they had heard about the meeting and received an invitation to go to Rome "but in accordance with the Ash Wednesday Statement that we issued, some of us may not be able to be part of that meeting in Rome".

"We cannot sit together with those who have intentionally violated the biblical truth that we received from our forefathers. We cannot go and share anything with them unless they repent," he said. 

In the same interview he outlined plans for first GSFA Assembly which will take place in Cairo in June - where plans are afoot to re-set the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, acknowledged that some could not come to Rome for "conscience reasons" and assured them that "they were no less loved for their absence." Speaking at the press conference after the Meeting, the Most Rev Albert Chama, Primate of Central Africa, said that having been in Rome, he will also be attending the GSFA Assembly in Cairo in June and will be seeking to persuade his fellow Primates to reconsider and return to the next Primates Meeting.

Archbishop Tamihere, from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, said that discussions centred around becoming "instruments of peace" in places of war and conflict, and "first responders" in the face of extreme weather events caused by climate change.

There were also discussions about the role of the Church of England in a 'maturing' Anglican Communion, though Bishop Graham Tomlin told reporters that the Primates rejected the idea of electing a Primate to work alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury and chair Primates Meetings in the future.

This Primates Meeting has been hosted by the Anglican Centre (ACR) in Rome, which works with Anglican Communion and Vatican offices to cultivate friendship between Anglicans and Catholics to deepen communion. So much of the Primates' time has been spent on a pilgrimage, visiting many holy sites, including the Abbey of Tre Fontane, the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls and the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere and culminating with an audience with Pope Francis.

In his speech to the gathered Primates, the Pope covered themes of unity in diversity and walking together in love, but he also acknowledged the tensions that exist. "I realise," he said,"that the role of the Bishop of Rome is still a controversial and divisive issue among Christians," and went on to suggest there needed to be "a patient and fraternal dialogue" on the topic, which "strives to understand how the Petrine ministry can develop as a service of love for all."

Welby was very encouraged by his time in Rome, saying, "This Primates' Meeting has been wonderful and has now become a moment in history where we have seen the closeness of our relationship with Rome at the pastoral, the missional and the spiritual level, which demonstrates the progress made over the last half century form real antipathy, to deep bonds of friendship all round the world."

Perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury, having accepted that he cannot reconcile the provinces of the Anglican Communion, will set his sights on the reconciliation of all Christians under the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome? If he does he may have some difficulty squaring it with the 39 Articles, one of the founding documents of the Church of England.

Susie Leafe is director of Anglican Futures, which supports orthodox Anglicans in the UK.