At a meeting between the Pope and Anglican church leaders in Sydney on Friday, Sydney’s conservative diocese has once again upstaged the majority of the church, this time in about as powerful a way as possible.
The speech on behalf of Protestant and Orthodox Church leaders was delivered by Bishop Robert Forsyth, an Assistant Bishop of the Sydney Diocese, which is less in “communion” with the Catholic Church than any other diocese in the Australian Anglican Church.
Not surprisingly, Bishop Forsyth took the opportunity to deliver what the Sydney Morning Herald described as a “gentle rebuke” to Pope Benedict reminding him that he is not universally accepted as the leader of all Christians. And he went on to refer to the “significant differences” between the Catholic and other churches. He did not add that the Sydney Diocese at least agrees with the Pope on one issue — uncompromising opposition to women priests and bishops. But you have to wonder at the incompetence of the hierarchy of the Anglican Church in Australia.
It is likely that Bishop Forsyth was only there because the Primate of the Church in Australia, Phillip Aspinall, and just about every other Archbishop and Bishop, are in England for the Lambeth Conference where the Anglican Church’s own divisions are on full display. And Bishop Forsyth and his Sydney colleagues would normally be there as well, but they boycotted it along with about one third of all Anglican bishops worldwide.
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It has been known for some time that the Pope would meet with church leaders. One would have thought that Dr Aspinall would ensure that the Anglican Church was represented by someone at least in favour of closer ecumenical relations between the Catholic and Anglican churches. Surely the Lambeth Conference would not miss one senior Australian bishop? While the great majority of Anglican dioceses in Australia are working towards closer relations with their Catholic counterparts, Sydney is not among them.
There is even a worldwide Catholic-Anglican Ecumenical Commission co-chaired by Brisbane’s Catholic Archbishop, John Bathersby, which has been successful in developing dialogue and co-operation between the churches. That co-operation is very strong in bush parishes in Australia and includes the sharing of resources and even churches.
The comments by Bishop Forsyth won’t go unnoticed in the Catholic hierarchy in Rome.
But instead of blaming Bishop Forsyth, Anglicans who want to ease divisions and strengthen practical links with their Catholic counterparts should blame the leadership of the Anglican Church in Australia which has once again been upstaged by Sydney’s effective and vocal minority.
Is it any wonder that the Anglican Church is declining in relevance — and numbers?