Today has seen a bold and pastoral move on the part of the Holy Father. He has paved the way of establishing a pastoral provision for members of the Traditional Anglican Communion to reestablish unity with the Catholic Church. In so doing the Pope will not be without his critics both within and outside the Church. Nevertheless he has reached outwith a Shepherd concern in time of need for some of our Christian brothers and sisters in order to welcome back repectfully some whose unity with us was severed almost 500 years ago. A little background may help.
King Henry VIII first established the “Church of England” in 1534 in protest of the Pope’s authority and due to the Pope’s unwillingness to grant an anulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Ann Boleyn. In these past 475 years there have been different branches of this denomination that have developed both in England and in other parts of the world. There were also certain branches of Protestantism that broke off from the Church of England such as the Puritans and the Methodists. Within the Church of England there is a wide variety of liturgical expression. Some Anglican services resemble more a Protestant service. Other Anglican parishes celebrate what looks very much like the modern Catholic Mass. Still others celebrate a very elaborate Mass that much resembles the Old Latin Mass in the Catholic Church except that it is celebrated in English. It is this latter group that largely make up the Traditional Anglican Communion. They have a tradition of fine liturgy and largely adhere to Roman Catholic teaching in terms of the Sacraments and moral theology. The issue of Papal authority has been, until recently, a sticking point but events in the Anglican Church have helped spur a movement toward resolving this.
As you may be aware, the Anglican Church (aka the Church of England and also the Episcopal Church here in America) has been in upheaval over issues such as Homosexual “Marriage,” Clergy who openly practiced homosexuality, and also, going back to 1992 the issue of women’s ordination. Serious rifts have developed over Biblical interpretation in these matters and others. Attempts to maintain a “big tent” approach have broken down as the differences have become very wide. In the past few years this has led to a group known as the Traditional Anglican Communion which has sought a pastoral provision that might enable them to return to union with the Roman Catholic Church, under the pastoral care of the Pope and a bishop or bishops designated to their care. It is this petition that has received an affirmative answer from the Pope. It is beautifully pastoral in that the Pope is not, it seems, requiring a large abandonment of Anglican traditions. Their liturgy, with only a few minor adjustments will remain intact. It will be possible for many of their clergy and bishops to be accepted and ordained as Catholic priests and bishops, even though many of them that are married. Such provisions have been available on a limtied basis already but this move, it seems, will make such arrangements easier and more swift.
What follows are excerpts from an article written by Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican. I have included some remarks in red:
Pope Benedict XVI is proposing a special Church structure for those Anglicans who wish to come into full communion with Rome without giving up many of the things they cherish as Anglicans…..Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P.. Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, held a press conference to announce this unprecedented Roman initiative after almost 500 years of Anglican-Catholic division…..Rome is hoping to reunite with all those elements of the Anglican Church which still feel a deep connection with Rome and with the Catholic faith — and is willing to take considerable pains to make those Anglicans feel comfortable when they “come over to Rome.”
“In theory, they can have their own married priests, parishes and bishops – and they will be free of liturgical interference by liberal Catholic bishops who are unsympathetic to their conservative stance. There is even the possibility that married Anglican laymen could be accepted for ordination on a case-by-case basis – a remarkable concession.” I rather doubt that the last point will be included in final arrangements going out indefinitely. Surely those Anglican priests who are already married can and will remain so, even as they are ordained Catholic priests. But I rather doubt that provision will be made for married priests ordained in the future for the Anglican provision, unless the priest began as a married priest in the Anglican Church. To those who are troubled even by allowing this first generation of married priests to be ordained, remember celibacy is a discipline of the Church, it is not an unvarying dogma. Hence, Catholic teaching remains intact even if this discipline is relaxed for a brief time to permit currently Anglican priests to be ordained as Catholic priests.
With one announcement, the Pope has given conservative Anglicans a protected route to union with Rome… Thousands of Anglicans who reject women bishops and priests and liberal teaching on homosexuality are certain to avail themselves of this provision. The word “protected” is explained by the fact that the current situation permitting “Anglo-use Catholic Parishes” is very much subject to the favor of the local bishop and, as stated above, not every bishop is enthusiastic about receiving a group who is conservative both in terms of theology and liturgical practice and also for other local reasons. This move in establishing a “personal ordinariate” will streamline and their entry and smooth over the vicissitudes and variances of local practice.
Will this really affect “thousands” of Anglicans? Cardinal Levada seemed to think the number will be fewer, just a few hundred. “‘Many’ is, of course, a relative term,” Levada said. “If I had to say the number of [Anglican] bishops [who may come over to Rome], I would say that is in the 20s or 30s. If I had to say individual [Anglican] lay people, I would say that would be in the hundreds.” Well perhaps the Cardinal is being humble and avoiding a kind of “triumphalism” but I think he is rather sharply underestimating the number who may return to unity with the catholic Church under this provision. I would not be a bit surprised if the number is far greater, eventually approaching six figures.
How will this work out, practically, in England? Anglicans will have to request their own “Personal Ordinariate.” He would then be ordained a Catholic priest (as Anglican orders are not recognized by Rome) and might himself be made “ordinary” (bishop in all but name) of ex-Anglican clergy and lay people who have been received into the Catholic Church together.
John Hepworth, writing at the website “Virtue on Line: The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism ” has this to say in response to the outreach of Pope Benedict:
May I…state that this is an act of great goodness on the part of the Holy Father. He has dedicated his pontificate to the cause of unity. It more than matches the dreams we dared to include in our petition of two years ago. It more than matches our prayers. In those two years, we have become very conscious of the prayers of our friends in the Catholic Church. Perhaps their prayers dared to ask even more than ours.
What makes this move bold? It is bold because it recognizes the limits of ecumenical dialogue. At some point we can no longer carry on a discussion with the Church of England when that denomination has so determinedly moved toward positions that are so contrary to Christian teaching and Biblical Tradition. Further we cannot continue to discuss union with leaders who represent an ecclesial communion that is so desperately fractured as the Church of England clearly is. At some point (now) it seems necessary to reach out to one of those fractured elements where union seems most possible. To those who think we can continue a dialogue with the Church of England as a whole I would ask, What really is the Church of England today and really speaks for it? The Archbishop of Canterbury has not been able to unite his disparate elements or overcome the large schisms rending his flock. Now, one of those elements, theologically close, has reached out to us in the Catholic Church and the Pope as a pastor, with a shepherd’s heart has seen fit to embrace them with all the pastoral provision possible. This seems to reflect well the work of the Good Shepherd who prayed: ut unum sint (that all might be one). It is a start for which we must continue to pray.