The new director of the Anglican Centre in Rome has insisted that he does hold an orthodox belief in the resurrection of Christ.
Dr John Shepherd broke cover to defend his beliefs after he was criticised upon his appointment to the post in Rome for a sermon he preached a decade ago when he appeared to deny the bodily resurrection.
In 2008 at Perth Cathedral in Australia, where he was the Dean, he said: "The resurrection ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality."
The Anglican commentator Rev David Ould revealed on his website the content of Dr Shepherd's sermon.
Dr Shepherd preached: "It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the Resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ original earthly body.…Jesus’ early followers felt His presence after His death as strongly as if it were a physical presence and incorporated this sense of a resurrection experience into their gospel accounts. But they’re not historical records as we understand them. They are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives …Jesus lived… as a transformed spiritual reality."
Anglican blogger Archbishop Cranmer wrote: "This is the creed of Anglican Communion’s current ambassador to the Roman Catholic Church. You may say he’s only interim; appointed temporarily to steer the ship and do the paperwork, but it doesn’t take long to cause still further damage to the reputation and standing of the Anglican Centre in Rome."
He noted that the Anglican Centre in Rome is "the Embassy of the Worldwide Anglican Communion to the Roman Catholic Church" and that its director is effectively the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Ambassador to the Vatican; Justin Welby’s personal representative to the Holy See, tasked with pursuing peace and justice in the world and the promotion of Christian unity.
The latest debate comes shortly after the last director Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi resigned after only a year in office after an allegation of sexual misconduct.
Dr Shepherd has been appointed as his interim successor.
In a statement published on the websites of both the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Anglican Communion website, he says: "Christ is Risen! There has been speculation in the press and on social media about my views on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Part of this is based on a sermon I preached in 2008.
"It is my faith that Jesus rose from the dead and I have never denied the reality of the empty tomb. The risen Christ was not a ghost – he ate and could be touched – but at the same time he appeared in a locked room (John 20.26) and vanished from sight (Luke 24.31) and he was often not immediately recognised. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space.’ In my Easter sermon in 2010 I said ‘We believe in the resurrection of Jesus after three days, and in this faith we come to know God who raises us from despair to life, day after day.’ This remains my faith – that Christ is risen indeed."
Earlier, a spokesman for the Anglican Centre told The Tablet: "The Governors are assured of the fitness and suitability of Dr Shepherd for the role he is temporarily undertaking."
Lambeth Palace said in a statement: "Dr Shepherd is a priest in good standing in his diocese and due diligence was paid in appointing him to what is a temporary role."
Watch Dr Shepherd's 2008 Easter sermon