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24 August 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 29-08-2014

Countries have kings or presidents; governments have prime ministers; towns have mayors; clubs and businesses have chairpersons. It is natural. Wherever you have a group of planners you need someone to initiate and guide the discussion. So with the Church. There is nothing exotic or ethereal about the leadership of the Bishop of Rome.  Every gathering of people working together needs a focus of unity and coordination. From among the twelve Christ chose Simon Johnson to be their leader and gave him a name to signify his position - Peter - Rock - solid foundation. This function passed to the Bishop of Rome - not because Rome was the capital of the Empire but because of the influence of Peter and Paul who died and were buried there.  As one writer put it, the apostolicity of the church at Rome carried greater clout than any other. The papacy has had its ups and downs. The worst thing that happened was the withdrawal of the Emperor to Constantinople leaving his representatives way up north, near Venice, so when Italy was invaded it was up to the Pope to organise the defence of Rome.  From that there emerged the Papal States and the Pope became a princeling with unfortunate consequences. The loss of the Papal States with Italian unification in the 19th century, regarded as a tragedy at the time, was the best move for centuries.    So what power has the Pope within the Church?  Well, he doesn’t govern on his own. He is the president of the college of bishops. This is called collegiality. What he is able to do is agreed with them.  If a bishop is misbehaving - sometimes they do - or is not up to the job - the Pope can remove him.  The Pope can act, on occasion, independently of the bishops. You may have heard of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.           Some Anglicans approached Pope Benedict. They wanted to become Catholic but to stay together and retain Anglican elements in their liturgy. That was all arranged directly with the Pope and the group has been set up.  Talking of Anglicans, when Pope Benedict came to England, being musical, he was impressed by the singing of the choir of Westminster Abbey and he invited them to Rome to join the Sistine choir in celebrating the feast of Sts Peter and Paul. Television showed the boys from the Abbey putting all their heart and soul into a famous piece by Palestrina: Tu es Petrus - Thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my church.  What a change from the time when in England the Pope was a bogey-man! There is warmth now in relations between Rome and Canterbury which promises well for our working together even though we are not drawing closer in faith.

As Patriarch of the Western Church the Pope does not have the same power to intervene in the affairs of the Orthodox. Relations between East and West have been prickly for centuries - ever since Constantine made Constantinople the new capital of the Empire. Relations now between Rome and Constantinople are cordial - the stumbling block is Moscow. The Patriarch of Moscow was not impressed when Pope John Paul II invited the Orthodox to tell him how they thought he might serve the cause of Christian unity by his leadership. We believe that as the successor of St Peter, it would be for the Bishop of Rome to offer a focus of unity for the whole Church.

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