If taken at face value, the suggestion by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham Vincent Nichols that Catholics across the West Midlands should pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and for the success of the Lambeth conference must be seen as a positive intervention.
Although it is somewhat unusual for Catholics to be asked to intervene spiritually in the affairs of another Church, these are indeed difficult times for the Anglican Communion and for Dr Williams. It will not go unnoticed in some quarters, however, that simply by relaying his wishes to the media the Archbishop will have helped draw attention to the embarrassing predicament the Anglican Church finds itself in with regard to homosexuality and the clergy – an issue with which the Roman Catholic Church does not, at least not in public, have to contend.
By adding that he hopes the Anglican Communion can “draw strength from Catholic traditions and the assurance of prayers from Pope Benedict XV1”, the Archbishop may find himself appealing to conservative Anglicans while intensely annoying the more liberal wing. It is a position that, arguably, the Catholic Church may find comfortable since it is most likely to benefit from a major Anglican rift and the inevitable growth in the number of clergy and churchgoers wishing to convert to Rome.
The next two weeks will be a crucial period for Dr Williams, who while trying to hold his flock together risks being damned by both sides of the homosexuality argument. He is correct to call the current dispute one of the most severe challenges to face the Anglican family, while gently ticking off both liberals and traditionalists for eagerly assuming the other is not listening to Jesus.
Dr Williams deserves our prayers, from all parts of the faith divide.