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Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby on January 25, 2024, in in San Bartolomeo, RomeMichael Haynes

ROME (LifeSiteNews) — The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury celebrated an “Anglican Eucharist” in the Catholic Basilica of St. Bartholomew this morning, with the explicit permission of Pope Francis.

Joined by Catholic and Anglican prelates from across the world, Justin Welby of the Church of England’s primary see, Canterbury, led a ceremony of “Anglican Eucharist,” in one of the Catholic basilicas of Rome. The Basilica of St. Bartholomew was filled with a mixture of Anglican laity along with Anglican and Catholic clergy.

At the start of the ceremony, Welby gave a special mention of thanks to Pope Francis – who was not present – for having directly permitted the service in the church. 

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, in San Bartolomeo. January 25, 2024
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, in San Bartolomeo. January 25, 2024

Welby highlighted ecological concerns during his homily, stating that the earth was crying out as a result of human mistreatment. He also focussed heavily on Christian unity, issuing a call for Anglicans and Catholics to cooperate more fully. 

READ: Rome’s understanding of ‘Christian unity’ since Vatican II is wrong and dangerous to souls

“The church has to choose between doing good and doing evil,” he said. Employing imagery of a mirror, he said that if the Church were to “look into the mirror” it would see a desire for “power, control,” aspects which divide Christians. 

“We must find ways of being joyful in disagreement,” said Welby.

Welby used the high altar in the basilica, and the remaining Anglican communion wafers were consumed by Welby and his accompanying priests at the altar.

The service took place during the week of prayer for Christian Unity, which culminates today. Running alongside the week of prayer for Christian unity is the “Growing Together” summit, which is being organized by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

IARCCUM is “an official commission of the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church, established to support ecumenical dialogue between the traditions,” and it was under the auspices of the “Growing Together” summit that the ceremony was held in St. Bartholomew’s.

The summit will conclude later January 25, with an ecumenical Vespers at the Papal Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Led by Pope Francis and attended by Welby, the pair will jointly close the Vespers with an ecumenical “commission” to the bishops.

A prior key event of the week was the occasion of Anglican Choral Evensong held in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 23. 

READ: Anglican evensong held in St. Peter’s Basilica as part of ecumenical unity week

On that occasion, the chaplain of All Saint’s Anglican church in Rome, Canon Robert Warren, presided over the ceremony. Male and female servers from Anglican churches took part in the ceremony, while the choir was comprised of the joint forces of singers from All Saint’s Anglican church and the Episcopalian center in Rome St. Paul’s within the Walls.

Today’s Anglican liturgy comes in light of the Anglican liturgy which took place in April 2023, when a group of the more conservative wing of the Anglican church held a liturgy in the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. 

That occasion caused instant and widespread outrage, and the Vicar of the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran was forced to issue an apology some days later. Questions about the event remained even after the apology, which commentators suggested was prompted more by the Catholic outrage than by anything else.

The Pontifical Council (now Dicastery) for Promoting Christian Unity noted in a 2020 document that “[w]here the diocesan bishop discerns that it will not cause scandal or confusion to the faithful, he may offer other Christian communities the use of a church.” 

READ: Anglican archbishop defends Church of England’s ‘transgender’ guidance for 5-year-olds

The dicastery added that “[p]articular discernment is required in the case of the diocesan cathedral. The Ecumenical Directory (§137) envisages such situations in which a Catholic diocese comes to the aid of another community which is without its own place of worship or liturgical objects to worthily celebrate its ceremonies.”

Given such a precedent with the prior loaned use of the Lateran Basilica, today’s Anglican liturgy in St. Bartholomew comes as less of a surprise. 

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, in San Bartolomeo. January 25, 2024
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, in San Bartolomeo. January 25, 2024

Pope Francis has also formed a close relationship with Welby, journeying with him to South Sudan on an ecumenical pilgrimage, and more recently inviting the Anglican prelate to take a place of honor at the ecumenical prayer vigil held on the eve of the Synod on Synodality. 

Welby himself has caused widespread consternation in the Anglican world over his support for LGBT ideology. In February 2023, Welby approved a vote in the Church of England to permit the blessing of same-sex unions while maintaining its teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman.

READ: Several Anglican bishops reject Archbishop of Canterbury as global leader after same-sex blessing decision

In a response which foreshadowed the Catholic African bishops’ rejection of the Vatican’s Fiducia Supplicans, numerous African, Anglican prelates rejected Welby’s move as having “taken the path of false teaching.”

They consequently rejected Welby as “leader of the global communion” of the Anglican church.

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