2015-01-23 11:29:00

Durham: Christians in prayer for pardon, healing

(Vatican Radio) During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, one Church of England bishop has spent the past two days working and praying alongside Catholic priests, religious and lay experts dealing with the consequences of the Church's sexual abuse crisis. Anglican bishop of Durham Paul Butler is amongst participants at a three day meeting that's taking place in the northern English city this week. The colloquium at Ushaw College, which concludes on Friday was organised by the University's Centre for Catholic Studies and its Project for Spirituality, Theology and Health, with the support of the Jesuits, Benedictines, Marists and St Patrick's national seminary in Maynooth, Ireland. Philippa Hitchen is also there.

Click below to hear Philippa's latest report from Durham

Having never visited Durham before, the first thing I did before the conference began was head straight into town to see the famous cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site, perched high on a rocky promontory dominating the city skyline.

The 11th century monastic foundation, one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the country, contains the simple stone tomb of the northern English Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, as well as the remains of the Venerable Bede, the only British theologican to be named a doctor of the Church.

Beneath its ancient stone vaults and arches, the cathedral contains some striking modern art, including a stained glass window depicting the Transfiguration and dedicated to a former bishop, Michael Ramsey, remembered for his encounter with Pope Paul VI and the start of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. In the Galilee Chapel at the West end of the cathedral, I found a more recent example of ecumenical partnership as I visited an exhibition of impressive art work by students from a dozen Catholic schools in the local diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. As I walked around the draughty cloister, I caught sight of a large group of primary school children gathered with their teacher, learning more about the early Christian heritage which shaped the life of their city today.

Just a few hours later I found myself talking to the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, who I'd previously met as an ecumenical delegate at the Synod on the Family in the Vatican last October. He's also chairman of the Church of England's National Safeguarding Committee and was sharing his experience with Catholic experts on child protection and the prevention of abuse. As such, he meets regularly with survivor organisations, listening to harrowing stories at both local and national level. He told me he's impressed by the breadth of expertise brought together at this Catholic conference and the commitment with which ordained and lay experts are exploring together the deeper questions of cultural and ecclesial reforms that may be needed to repair the damage done by the sex abuse crisis. “I think we need to listen to each other more than we have been doing in the past,” he told me, “and we definitely have a lot to learn from one another.” Not the usual way of marking Christian Unity week maybe, but certainly a recognition of one of the most serious issues facing all our Churches today.

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