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Benedict XVI had a powerful impact on Anglicanism with his 2003 electrifying letter to Bishop Duncan

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
January 1, 2023

Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI has died just two months shy of the 10th anniversary of his stepping away from the papal palace for a quiet retirement elsewhere on Vatican grounds. In fact, he was the Pope-emeritus longer than he was the Pope.

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope on April 19, 2005, following the death of the much-beloved Pope John Paul II. On Feb. 11, 2013 he announced his plan to retire. Something a pontiff had not done in 600 years. It was thought that becoming the sitting pope was a lifelong commitment. Benedict changed the game when he retired on February 28, 2013, seven years, ten months, one week and two days from the time when the small plumb of white smoke was seen gently wafting above the Sistine Chapel.

Then for nine years, ten months and three days Benedict went by the title Pope-emeritus. A position he held for two years and six days longer than when he was THE Pope.


It cannot be denied that as Pope, Benedict XVI, sometimes referred to as "God's Rottweiler" had an impact on Anglicanism.

But even before God's Rottweiler -- a name Benedict earned for his unyielding stance on moral issues -- became Pope he left an indelible mark upon what would become the Anglican Church in North America.

In the fall of 2003 following the election of and the 2003 General Convention's rubber stamping of V. Gene Robinson, a sexually active gay priest, as the bishop-coadjutor of New Hampshire conservative Episcopalians had enough. A line had been crossed. The time had come to make a dramatic change.

In October 2,674 spiritually wounded people gathered in Plano, Texas including 46 bishops, 799 priests and 103 seminarians, to chart a way forward because ''The Episcopal Church has begun a wayward drift that will distort the Anglican community.''

This meeting was drawing worldwide attention including one Catholic cardinal in Rome -- Joseph Ratzinger, then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is charged with "maintaining sound Catholic doctrine and defending those points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines."

The election of a gay priest to be bishop broke with established Christian tradition and Cardinal Ratzinger took notice.

Using a little backdoor diplomacy, the Catholic cardinal sent a supportive and encouraging letter to then Bishop Robert Duncan (VII Pittsburgh) at the Plano meeting assuring him of the Vatican's interest.

Dated October 9, 2003 the letter read: "On behalf of Pope John Paul II, I hasten to assure you, Bishop Duncan, of my heartfelt prayers for all those taking part in this convocation. The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this City from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. Nor can I fail to recall that barely 120 years later, Saint Boniface brought that same Christian faith from England to my own forebears in Germany," the future Pope wrote.

"The lives of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation. With this in mind, I pray in particular that God's will may be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself," he continued.

He signed the October letter: "With fraternal regards, I remain -- Sincerely yours in Christ, +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger."

The letter electrified the gathering of Anglicans seeking a way forward. And it was from that Plano meeting that the embryonic Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) started to take shape.

Fast forward to February 2012 and Cardinal Ratzinger, who had become Pope Benedict XVI, was ready to step into his retirement.

Archbishop Robert Duncan (I ACNA) remembered what impact Benedict had on ACNA.

"Benedict XVI has been a great friend to us, particularly to orthodox Anglicans in North America," Archbishop Duncan remembered in 2013 when Benedict stepped down. "His warm reception at the Papal Audience just ten weeks ago is a very fresh memory."

"On November 28, 2012 Archbishop Robert Duncan, accompanied by Bishop Ray Sutton, was invited to Pope Benedict XVI's weekly public audience in Rome. Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and chair of the GAFCON Primates Council, was also invited, but the arrival time of his flight prevented his attendance at the audience," the ACNA website reveals. "As a sign of the 'special relationship' between Roman Catholics and Anglicans, articulated by the Second Vatican Council, three chairs were set in front of the entire audience hall for the Anglican leaders to occupy."

Archbishop Duncan and Bishop Sutton were privileged to bring greetings to Pope Benedict on behalf of the Anglican Church in North America and the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

The ACNA Archbishop penned in remembrance at the time of the Pope's retirement: "Anglicans will particularly miss this pontiff and successor to St. Peter. May God grant His Holiness a fruitful retirement to the life of prayer he envisions."

Continuing the ACNA Archbishop wrote: "Anglicans will particularly miss this pontiff and successor to St. Peter. May God grant His Holiness a fruitful retirement to the life of prayer he envisions."


Benedict's life in retirement lasted a decade before his death at the tail end of 2022. But before he stepped into a hidden life of prayer he forged a friendship with another Anglican archbishop and primate --The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Benedict XVI and Rowan Williams -- now Baron Williams of Oystermouth -- developed a strong friendship with each taking the time to visit the other. Archbishop Williams went to the Vatican in November 2006 and 2009. In 2020 when Pope Benedict visited England he became the first Pope to be feted at Lambeth Palace.

Archbishop Williams seemed truly delighted to see his Catholic counterpart when he came to visit in September 2010.

The two church leaders had much in common. Neither were elevated to their lofty church office from an inside track. Archbishop Williams is the first Archbishop of Canterbury in modern times not to come from within the Church of England. He was the VIII Bishop of Monmouth in the Church of Wales. Although Benedict was not the first non-Italian Pope in modern times -- the Polish Pope John Paul II was -- Benedict was the first German pontiff in nearly one thousand years since Pope Victor II (1055-1057).

Both Benedict XVI and Rowan Williams are noted intellectuals and theologians. They were professors early in their priesthoods.

The future Archbishop of Canterbury's thesis was: "The Theology of Vladimir Nikolaivich Lossky." He then taught at both Cambridge and Oxford in England.

The future Pope's dissertation was: "The People of God and the House of God in Augustine's Doctrine of the Church." His teaching days were spent at the Advanced Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Freising, Germany.

Both theologians are multilingual. In addition to his native Welsh, Rowan Williams speaks and/or reads: English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Greek, Modern Greek, Syriac, and Church Latin.

On the other hand, Pope Benedict spoke his native German but he also spoke or read English, Spanish, Italian, Latin, French, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Piedmontese, Biblical Hebrew, and Biblical Greek.

Both men are prolific published writers and both men took an early retirement from their church-wide leadership duties.

In fact, Pope-emeritus Benedict died 10 years to the day (December 31, 2022) that Rowan Williams laid down his Canterbury crozier on December 31, 2012. The younger Williams retired at the tender age of 61. He turned 70 in 2020. However, Benedict was 85 when he put in his retirement papers turning the Vatican and the Catholic world on their collective ears.

The normal retirement age for Archbishops of Canterbury is 70. Archbishop George Carey (1991-2002) retired at 67 and Archbishop Robert Runcie (1980-1991) was 70. Archbishop Justin Welby has already announced that he has plans to stay in the harness until he turns 70 in 2026.

Rowan Williams was not the first Archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation to visit the Vatican. That tradition was started by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher in 1960 when he visited Pope John XXIII followed by Archbishop Donald Coogan visiting Paul VI and 1977.

Archbishop Robert Ramsey made two trips to the Vatican to visit John Paul II, the first trip was in 1982 the second visit in 1989. The same pope also welcomed Archbishop George Carey in 1996.

Ten years later Archbishop Williams visited Pope Benedict in 2006 and another decade flew by before Justin Welby visited Pope Francis in 2016.

However, Archbishop Williams' and Benedict's friendship hit a snag in 2009 when the Vatican, with Benedict's signature, released the mechanics to implement Anglicanorum Coetibus.

At the time the Archbishop of Canterbury was in Rome lecturing at a symposium on Christian unity. He was urging the Catholics to set aside their differences with Anglicans over the issue of women bishops, noting there was more uniting the two historic churches then dividing them.

But when the accompanying Apostolic Constitution along with the Supplementary Norms were released the Archbishop of Canterbury felt blindsided, so since he was in town, he hotfooted it over to the Vatican to give Pope Benedict a piece of his mind.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, took the highly unusual step yesterday of protesting personally to the pope about his shock announcement of the special arrangements for the mass conversion to Catholicism of disillusioned, traditionalist Anglicans," the Guardian reported in November 2009.

The newspaper noted that the meeting was short, only 20 minutes long, and the "Vatican was keen to play down the significance of the Archbishop's visit."

It was felt that the way the release of Anglicanorum Coetibus and its accompanying documents were handled created a great strain in the continuing friendship between the Vatican and Canterbury since the two churches' top leaders began meeting in 1960 when Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher and Pope John XXIII first met.

Since 2009 three personal Ordinariates have been established: In 2011 Our Lady of Walsingham for England, Wales, and Scotland; and in 2012 both the Chair of Saint Peter for the United States and Canada, and Our Lady of the Southern Cross for Australia and Japan. So far five Church of England bishops have been siphoned off and incorporated into the English Ordinariate. They include two bishops of Richborough Keith Newton and Edwin Barnes; the Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham, the Bishop of Fulham John Broadhurst, and the Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali.

Three other Anglican bishops have left the Church of England but they have not been incardinated into the Ordinariate. They include: the Bishop of Ebbsfleet Jonathan Goodall who is a priest in the Diocese of Westminster; the Bishop of Burnley John Goddard who is a priest in the Archdiocese of Liverpool; and the Bishop of Chester Peter Forster who remains a layman in Scotland.

Apparently, the ruffled feathers were smoothed over by the time Benedict XVI made a formal state visit to England in September 2010. His friend Rowan Williams greeted him at Lambeth Palace, making it the first time that a Roman Catholic pontiff had been invited into Lambeth Palace, the headquarters and home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Together, the Archbishop dressed in his familiar purple cassock and the Pope wearing his signature white cassock prayed together in spaces where their ecclesial ancestors fought over the faith.

The Pope also visited the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Hall, and Westminster Abbey where Evensong was held. The pair also knelt in prayer at St. Edward's Chapel.

While Benedict XVI was in town he beatified John Henry Newman, the 19th century high-profile Catholic convert, who was a driving force behind the Oxford Movement, helping to pave the way for his canonization. He was canonized in 2019 by Pope Francis making him the first post-Reformation English saint.

In 1982 Pope John Paul II made a rare pastoral visit to England where he met with the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie.

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI met with Queen Elizabeth II. As Queen she was not only the head of state but also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the Defender of the Faith.

During her 70-year reign Queen Elizabeth met four popes: John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. While still a princess she met Pope Pius XII.

Both Queen Elizabeth and Pope Benedict XVI succumbed to the same basic aliment -- old age. Their aging bodies just gave out. Elizabeth was 96 when she died on September 8, 2022. Benedict, who died three months and three weeks after the Queen, was one year her junior. He was 95 when he died on New Year's Eve day.

Tributes to the former pontiff are pouring in from around the world including from noted Anglicans.

(Via Twitter to Pope Francis)

Your Holiness: I received the news of the death of your predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with deep sadness.

I remember with fondness my meeting with His Holiness during my visit to the Vatican in 2009.

His visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was important in strengthening the relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.

I also recall his constant efforts to promote peace and goodwill to all people, and to strengthen the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

My wife and I send you our continued good wishes for your own pontificate.

--Charles R


Today I join with the church throughout the world, and especially with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and all in the Catholic Church, in mourning the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

In Pope Benedict's long life and ministry of service to Christ in His Church he saw many profound changes in the church and in the world. He lived through the Nazi regime in Germany and served briefly in the Second World War. As a younger theologian and priest he witnessed first-hand the discussions of the Second Vatican Council. As a professor and then as an Archbishop he lived in a divided Germany but saw too the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of his homeland.

Pope Benedict was one of the greatest theologians of his age -- committed to the faith of the Church and stalwart in its defence. In all things, not least in his writing and his preaching, he looked to Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. It was abundantly clear that Christ was the root of his thought and the basis of his prayer.

In 2013 Pope Benedict took the courageous and humble step to resign the papacy, the first Pope to do so since the fifteenth century. In making this choice freely he acknowledged the human frailty that affects us all. In his retirement in Rome he has led a life of prayer and now he has gone to the eternal rest granted by the Father. In his life and ministry Pope Benedict strove to direct people to Christ. May he now rest in Christ's peace, and rise in glory with all the Saints.


It is with great sadness that I learn of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

With all the member churches of the Anglican Communion I would like to assure His Holiness Pope Francis, and all our sisters and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church of our prayers, thanking God for Pope Benedict's outstanding ministry of service to the Church and the world.

He was an inspiring and courageous teacher, preacher and pastor. His theological wisdom has been of immense benefit not only to Catholics, but to countless faithful in other Christian traditions.

Anglicans are deeply grateful for the wisdom we have received from Pope Emeritus Benedict, and pray as he did that in Christ we shall all be one, and that together we will share in the fullness of the Resurrection.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.


Today we join with the church throughout the world, and especially with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and all in the Catholic Church, in mourning the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

While many people associate Pope Benedict with his traditional approach to Catholic teaching, we also want to remember his commitment to the ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion. When he visited Lambeth Palace in 2010 as part of his State Visit to the United Kingdom, he told a gathering of Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops that he gave thanks, "for the remarkable progress that has been made in so many areas of dialogue during the forty years that have elapsed since the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) began its work". The Pontiff added, "Let us entrust the fruits of that work to the Lord of the harvest, confident that he will bless our friendship with further significant growth."

He had great esteem and clear affection for our former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Bishop David, the Anglican Co-Chairman of IARCCUM, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, said, "I was encouraged by the acknowledgement of Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams, who stated together that 'our fellowship in the service of Christ, promoted by IARCCUM and experienced by many of our communities around the world, adds a further impetus to our relationship'". As bishops in this diocese, we are grateful for his reminder to all Christians of our ecumenical responsibility to press forward in our dialogue and relations. As he once said, "There is too much at stake to turn back."

Pope Benedict XVI was an outstanding theologian and teacher and a man of deep faith. May he now be welcomed into the joys of Christ's kingdom and in the company of all the saints into life everlasting.


I wish to extend my sympathy on behalf of the Church of Ireland to Archbishop Eamon Martin, and to the bishops, priests, deacons and Roman Catholic people of Ireland on the death of His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

During his visit to the United Kingdom in 2010, Pope Benedict used the occasion of his meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to focus on the subject of ecumenism in the context of both greater secularism in wider society and the increasingly multi--faith pattern of belief. For those of us who were present on that occasion in Westminster Abbey, we were fortunate indeed to listen to two European intellectuals and people of deep faith in conversation about the future of European Christianity. It was an unforgettable and encouraging experience.

On that occasion, His Holiness Pope Benedict also reflected on the work of the Anglican--Roman Catholic International Commission saying: "Let us entrust the fruits of that work to the Lord of the harvest, confident that he will bless our friendship with further significant growth."

We owe a common debt to him, not least as a Biblical scholar and the unique richness of his exploration of the person of Jesus.

In the encyclicals Deus caritas est (God is Love), Spe salvi (In Hope We Were Saved) and Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict examined the themes of God's love, hope and redemption, and the need for an ethical perspective to achieve the common good in global development. As we look around today's world, these reflections are perhaps more pertinent than ever, filled with a sense of prescience and still calling for response.

Pope Benedict was manifestly a man of deep spiritual insight combined with a capacity for focused and articulate theological expression. During his life, he combined the role of churchman and theologian with energy, leaving as a legacy a substantive body of published work that stands testament to a Christian scholar of great intelligence and learning.

His loss will be felt very keenly throughout the Catholic world and my prayers in the coming weeks will be for all who are bereaved and diminished by the passing of a great man and a humble disciple of our common Lord, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ on the island of Ireland.

"Ar dheis De go raibh an anam."


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI contributed to the life and understanding of the Christian Church in a very wide range of ways. Different people will remember this extraordinary personal contribution from many different perspectives and in many different contexts.

His gift of scholarship was one which he shared throughout his pontificate and after his retirement. Clarity of writing was a special charism and he opened up for a new generation the person of Jesus Christ.

Throughout his ministry he saw himself as a child of God and as a servant of the Church. Such service he offered generously to all who follow Jesus Christ in their own tradition and ecumenically. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.


With the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I offer heartfelt prayers for His Holiness Pope Francis and all members of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. As followers of Jesus, we know that death does not have the final word. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, the Apostle Paul reminded that first generation of Christians that they need not grieve as those who have no hope.

The former pontiff, a renowned theologian, echoed Paul when he said that "one who has hope lives differently." Benedict's passing occurs at the end of a year that for so many continued to be fraught with great difficulties and uncertainties--both personal and global. Amid such struggles, may we indeed live differently, with hope, and follow the Way of Love.

And may Benedict, and all who have died, rest in peace.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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