Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Pope's Provision for Roamin' Anglicans

Episcopal News Service:
Pope announces special provisions to accept former Anglicans in Roman Catholic Church
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has announced his plans to allow provisions that would accept groups of former Anglicans who wish to convert to the Roman Catholic Church, according to an Oct. 20 press release
from The Vatican.

The press release announced the preparation of an Apostolic Constitution that would allow such converts to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of Anglican spirituality and liturgy. Under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution, the release said, "pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy."

The constitution would also make provisions for married former Anglican clergy to be ordained as Catholic priests, the release said.

There have been so many headlines over the last several years suggesting this or that development was a game-changer or the beginning of the denouement of the Anglican agonies, I’ve become rather jaded. I don't know exactly what to make of this latest "big event". For one thing my sensibilities are more high church than Anglo-catholic so there is a lot of subtext that I am sure I am missing. But, it does not seem that big a deal to me. And it all seems kind of sketchy until further details come from the Vatican.

I am sure this will be received as good news by some. It seems aimed primarily at groups like the Traditional Anglican Communion and the Anglican Church in America which split away from the Anglican Communion a long time ago and some other traditionalist Anglo-catholics including a handful of bishops in the Church of England.

It might make it a little more palatable for some who find union with Rome appealing but don’t want to give up the elements of Anglican worship and spirituality that have nourished them. This might make “converting” from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism easier to do as groups. But there have been individuals who have made that move for years. This might make it easier for some, but I doubt they are many. Already it has gotten a very lukewarm response from the bishop of Fort Worth, where one might expect this to get some play.

Married (male) priests would be able to transfer into such an ordinariate but will subsequent ordinands be expected to live under the Latin discipline of celibacy? Since 1980 there has been a pastoral provision for married Anglican, and, for that matter, Lutheran clergy to become Roman Catholic priests on a case by case basis. So that is not all that new. Married bishops would not be allowed to continue to be bishops and married priest could not become bishops. That might dampen the enthusiasm of some.

Would those clergy transferring in need to be reordained – suggesting that their prior ordinations and subsequent sacramental ministries were invalid? That would be hard for some to swallow.

I expect this is likely a bigger deal – and potential problem – for the Anglican Church in North America in its attempts to form an alternative to the Episcopal Church than for the Episcopal Church itself. Women's ordination is already surfacing as problem there in light of Christ Church, Plano's defense of the practice. Now, the division between conservative Anglo-Catholics and conservative Evangelicals could be highlighted (the distinction between traditionalist Protestants and traditionalist Anglo-catholics has more religious nuance than the New York Times was up to recognizing). Even if not many of the more catholic-minded in the ACNA confederation are likely to take the Vatican up on its offer, this could have the potential to aggravate not-so hidden tensions.

I think it is also likely to be a bigger deal for the Church of England where the Anglo-catholic party is stronger and more Rome-ward leaning than in the church in America. And where they are currently having a row over female bishops. But, what effect it might have there is hard to tell. Of course, if it is significant, the whole Communion might feel the ripples.

I don't think it is going to make that much difference except for the most Roman Catholic of Anglo-catholics. But, even then, as the Bishop of Fort Worth noted there are Anglo-catholics who find some of the Roman church’s recent doctrinal innovations hard to swallow.

It would be a tragedy if the Anglican Communion or the Episcopal Church lost a robust Anglo-catholic presence. I hope this does not further the erosion of that presence. I hope I am right that this is not likely to draw large numbers from our fold.

The fact is there have always been some Anglicans who have found the Roman Catholic Church compelling for one reason or another. On the other hand, there have always been Roman Catholics who have found the Anglican tradition, including the Episcopal Church, compelling for one reason or another. I suspect we Anglicans hold our own in this back and forth and will continue to do so even if there is an Anglican ordinariate in the Roman Catholic Church.


Jim said...

My post pretty much agrees with this. I suspect the big looser here is Dr. Williams who will be subject to more threats from FiF. Now they have clearly got a place to go. Although, given the history, going to Rome can be tough in England.


Matt Gunter said...

Some have suggested this might actually strengthen the ABC's position. On the one hand, some of the more traditionalist of the traditionalists will leave easing some of the pressure from that direction, on the other hand, liberals can no longer take for granted that the traditionalists have no real option vis a vis Rome. It might force a different kind of willingness to engage one another generously.