The newly appointed Anglican ambassador to the Vatican has strongly denied ever questioning that Jesus rose from the dead, despite criticism coming from the Church of England.
John Shepherd, the former dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia, who earlier in January was chosen to lead the Anglican Centre in Rome on an interim basis, declared “Christ is Risen!” when asked about his response to recent criticism.
The criticism stems from a 2008 Easter sermon he preached, in which he said that "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."
"The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality," Shepherd said back then.
The resurfaced comments led to some, such as Rev. Lee Gatiss, the head of the Church of England’s largest evangelical group, to call them “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,” Gatiss told The Telegraph.
The Rev. Ian Paul, a member of the General Synod, also asked whether it is wise to appoint "as the Archbishop's envoy to Rome someone who doesn't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.”
Shepherd sought to clarify the comments, saying it's a misunderstanding of his views.
“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 recognized,” Shepherd said, according to Anglican Communion New Service.
“As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (para 646) ‘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,’” he continued.
“This remains my faith — that Christ is risen indeed.”
ACNC noted that the governors of the Anglican Centre in Rome will review the events before making a decision about the permanent replacement to Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi.
Lambeth Palace further told The Tablet: "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."
Kay Goldsworthy, the Anglican archbishop of Perth, was one of those who came to Shepherd's defense even before his clarification.
“If that happened to every preacher in the Church we would all be in trouble, frankly,” Goldsworthy said about digging up old sermons.
“There is a statement that people have picked out, whoever the people are, and have sort of wanted to make some example of. I am not sure what they wanted to achieve.”