THE Kirk Moderator, the Rt Rev John Chalmers, is to meet the Pope in a rare visit to the Vatican on Monday next week.
It will be 14 years since a moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and a pope last had a private meeting in Rome.
Confirming the visit, Mr Chalmers said that he believed that ministers and priests from both faiths have “found new levels of friendship”.
He said: “I am honoured to be able to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis. I hope to be able to discuss a range of issues including how faith is regarded in the 21st century.
“I will also share with His Holiness my sense that for some years now ministers and priests have found new levels of friendship. People’s attitudes have changed as they have come to see in ‘the other’ first a shared humanity and then a shared faith.”
On 17 February, 2001, the then-moderator Andrew McLellan was granted a short private audience with Pope John Paul II, as part of a three-day visit to Rome.
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During the meeting, the two men had discussed the two churches’ relationship, and the Very Rev McLellan said that the pontiff had “expressed his appreciation of the Church of Scotland in its commitment to reconciliation”.
The Very Rev Archibald Craig was the first moderator to meet a pope when he visited Pope John XXIII in 1962.
During his visit to Scotland in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI met with the then-Moderator, the Very Rev John Christie, in a private exchange after a procedural mix-up saw him omitted from the pope’s official welcome party in Edinburgh.
Liz Leydon, editor of the Scottish Catholic Observer, said that the day of the forthcoming meeting was of special significance: “The meeting is taking place on a Monday, so it is extra special in the sense that he’s not being greeted at the end of a general audience or an Angelus [a prayer]. It is a meeting to discuss the issues, which is good.”
“I think that is extremely encouraging. There has been a lot of progress on ecumenical matters but essentially it bodes well for inter-denominational dialogue.
“It shows a great level of appreciation between the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations, but given the fact that the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury had a very good relationship and dialogue with the Vatican, it’s encouraging to see the Church in Scotland having similar access and similar respect and mutual understanding.”
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “We’re delighted that the relationships between the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland continue to be as good as they are. We co-operate on all sorts of levels, and it’s a mark of that, that the Moderator is meeting with the Holy Father.”