Vat­i­can clears way for con­ser­va­tive Angli­cans to re­turn to Rome

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JU­LIA DUIN

The Vat­i­can on Oct. 20 took the bold step of an­nounc­ing a new and sim­pli­fied process for thou­sands of dis­af­fected con­ser­va­tive Angli­cans to join the Ro­man Catholic Church en masse.

In a news con­fer­ence held in Rome, Car­di­nal William Le­vada, pre­fect of the Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith, and Arch­bishop Joseph Au­gus­tine Di Noia, sec­re­tary of the Con­gre­ga­tion for Di­vine Wor­ship and the Dis­ci­pline of the Sacra­ments, an­nounced that Pope Bene­dict XVI had ap­proved an “Apos­tolic con­sti­tu­tion” to stream­line the con­ver­sion of Angli­cans.

The doc­u­ment will per­mit tra­di­tional Angli­cans — many of whom re­ject fe­male bish­ops and priests as well as the grow­ing ac­cep­tance of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in the 77-mil­lion-mem­ber Angli­can Com­mu­nion — to main­tain their litur­gies and their clergy if they swear al­le­giance to Rome.

“The Catholic Church is re­spond­ing to the many re­quests that have been sub­mit­ted to the Holy See from groups of Angli­can clergy and faith­ful in dif­fer­ent parts of the world,” a Vat­i­can state­ment said.

“The Apos­tolic con­sti­tu­tion seeks to bal­ance on the one hand the con­cern to pre­serve the wor­thy Angli­can litur­gi­cal and spir­i­tual pat­ri­mony and, on the other hand, the con­cern that th­ese groups and their clergy will be in­te­grated into the Catholic Church,” it con­tin­ued.

The Rev. James Massa, ec­u­meni­cal di­rec­tor for the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, pointed out the de­tails will not be clear un­til ac­tual text of the Apos­tolic con­sti­tu­tion is re­leased in a week or two.

“We had pro­ce­dures in place for in­di­vid­ual Angli­cans con­vert­ing, but this is some­thing new be­cause it al­lows for cor­po­rate trans­fer of net­works of Angli­cans,” he said. “It’s not a mat­ter of the Catholic Church poach­ing from the Angli­can Com­mu­nion. Th­ese folks have been on a jour­ney of faith for many years, and they came knock­ing on our door.”

One such group is the Tra­di­tional Angli­can Com­mu­nion, headed by Aus­tralian Arch­bishop John Hep­worth. The 400,000-mem­ber group for­mally pe­ti­tioned to join the Catholic Church on Oct 16, 2007.

The new de­vel­op­ment could sway mem­bers of the An­gloCatholic wing of the U.S. Epis­co­pal Church who have been think­ing of con­vert­ing, said David Mills, a Pittsburgh-area colum­nist who taught at an Epis­co­pal sem­i­nary be­fore be­com­ing a Catholic in 2001.

“The of­fer to move into the Catholic Church is a big­ger jump than they ex­pect,” he said. “It re­ally is a dif­fer­ent mind, not just Angli­can­ism with ex­tras.”

The new struc­ture al­lows mar­ried Angli­can clergy to be­come Catholic priests, which the Catholic Church has al­lowed since 1982. How­ever, mar­ried Angli­can bish­ops would have to give up their po­si­tions and re­vert to clergy sta­tus. Only un­mar­ried Angli­can bish­ops will be al­lowed to over­see the new con­vert com­mu­ni­ties of for­mer Angli­cans who will place them­selves un­der Pope Bene­dict XVI.

Bill Tighe, a Catholic histo- rian at Muh­len­berg Col­lege in Al­len­town, Pa., whose doc­tor­ate was on the English Re­for­ma­tion, called the new struc­ture “gen­er­ous” for Angli­cans, es­pe­cially its pro­vi­sion al­low­ing mar­ried priests.

For that same rea­son, “many” Amer­i­can and Bri­tish Catholic bish­ops aren’t happy, he ex­plained.

“They’re ask­ing, ‘Why cut spe­cial deals for Angli­cans?’ “ he said. “We don’t do that for Bap­tists and Methodists. And won’t a lot of our priests be an­noyed? They have to be celi­bate while th­ese Angli­can priests do not.”

The an­nounce­ment was the Vat­i­can’s at­tempt to heal a rift that be­gan al­most 500 years ago, when King Henry VIII broke with Rome and in­stalled him­self as head of the Church of Eng­land.

Even though se­cret talks be­tween Angli­can tra­di­tion­al­ists and the Catholic Church have been tak­ing place for years, the pace in­ten­si­fied last sum­mer when the Church of Eng­land Synod gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval for fe­male bish­ops.

Nev­er­the­less, the Vat­i­can an­nounce­ment seemed to sur­prise Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury Rowan Wil­liams. He ac­knowl­edged in an Oct. 20 let­ter to the world’s Angli­can bish­ops that “I was in­formed of the planned an­nounce­ment at a ver y late stage.”

But, “in the light of re­cent dis­cus­sions with se­nior of­fi­cials in the Vat­i­can,” he added, “I can say that this new pos­si­bil­ity is in no sense at all in­tended to un­der­mine ex­ist­ing re­la­tions be­tween our two com­mu­nions or to be an act of pros­e­lytism or ag­gres­sion. It is de­scribed as sim­ply a re­sponse to spe­cific [in­quiries] from cer­tain Angli­can groups and in­di­vid­u­als wish­ing to find their fu­ture within the Ro­man Catholic Church.”

How­ever, the ef­fect was one more vote of a lack of con­fi­dence in the leaders of the world’s third-largest Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tion, which has been racked with dis­sent over the 2003 elec­tion of an openly gay U.S. bishop and Arch­bishop Wil­liams’ seem­ing in­abil­ity to dis­ci­pline those re­spon­si­ble.

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