Cross purposes: Fury over Vatican envoy who says Jesus didn't rise again
Archbishop of Canterbury under pressure to act against the Anglican cleric who will be in direct discussions with the pope
Senior Anglicans are calling on the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, to force his ambassador to the Vatican to resign because he does not believe Jesus rose from the dead.
It has emerged that Dr John Shepherd, an Australian cleric appointed last week as the new representative to Rome, had delivered a sermon in which he said Christians should be “set free” from the traditional view of the resurrection. The controversial comments, delivered while he was Dean of Perth’s St George’s Cathedral, have been criticised for flying in the face of the most fundamental Christian doctrines.
In a 2008 Easter sermon, he said: “It’s important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event, which restored to life Jesus’s original earthly body. The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality.”
He added how the disciples merely “felt his presence after his death” and the gospel accounts in the Bible were not “historical records as we would write history today”.
Senior Anglicans have rounded on his views, claiming they are inappropriate for someone who, as interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, will act as the de facto ambassador for the archbishop, the Church of England, and other Anglican churches around the world. He will be central to discussions with the pope.
The Bishop of Maidstone, the Right Reverend Rod Thomas, said that believing in the literal resurrection of Jesus was a fundamental Christian belief. “The physical resurrection of Christ is part of Church of England doctrine and I joyfully proclaim it at every opportunity I can get,” he said.
The Reverend Dr Lee Gatiss, director of the church’s biggest evangelical group, said the situation was “utterly bizarre and absolutely inappropriate”.
“If it is true that he does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, then I don’t think he should have been ordained as a minister in the Anglican Communion in the first place,” he said. “The Bible is absolutely clear, as are the Anglican formularies, that Jesus died and rose again – it is the whole point of our good news for the world.”
The Reverend Dr Ian Paul, a member of the General Synod, said Shepherd’s view contradicted the Apostle’s Creed, an ancient statement of faith that unites all Christian denominations. “Is this a good moment to appoint as the archbishop’s envoy to Rome someone who doesn’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus?” he asked.
The Right Reverend Dr Stephen Platten, head of the governors of the Anglican Centre in Rome, said Shepherd was “an extremely good theologian”, and had been in conversation with the archbishop by phone before his appointment was agreed. “He emphatically believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a matter of how one understands that.”
A spokesperson for the archbishop said interim appointments were made by the Centre in Rome and was unable to say whether the archbishop approved the appointment or phoned Shepherd, adding that he was a priest of “good standing” and “due diligence” was used when appointing him.
Shepherd did not respond to requests for comment. His views about the resurrection are shared by a number of other Anglicans.
– © The Sunday Telegraph