| October 21,
Catholics Welcome Anglicans Back Home
By Mike McManus
In a move as bold as Henry VIII removing English churches from the Catholic
Church, Pope Benedict XVI invited traditional Anglican bishops, clergy and
congregations to come home to Rome, joining the Catholic Church, while
maintaining many distinctive Anglican traditions, including married priests.
Cardinal William Levada, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, announced in Rome that Anglicans would be able to "enter into full
communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive
Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony."
At the same time as Levada' press conference, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of
Canterbury and Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols responded positively to the
initiative in a London press conference despite the fact Williams was clearly
stunned by the initiative.
The London Times headlined the story: "Vatican Moves to Poach Traditional
Anglicans" who, it said "are dismayed by growing acceptance of gays and women
priests and bishops."
POACH? Not exactly. The Traditional Anglican Communion, a breakaway group with
up to 20 bishops worldwide, headed by Australian Archbishop John Hepworth, has
been asking to come into the Catholic Church for two years. In addition, Bishop
Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, England, and Bishop Keith Newton of Richborough,
England, visited Rome last Easter asking Cardinal William Levada to consider
letting them in, as have others.
Archbishop Hepworth issued a statement this week: "We are profoundly moved by
the generosity of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. He hopes that we can
`find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican
traditions precious to us and consistent with the Catholic faith.' May I
firstly state that this is an act of great goodness....It more than matches the
dreams we dared to include in our petition of two years ago."
Bishop John Broadhurst, who chairs a number of traditionalist parishes in
England, Forward in Faith UK, responded similarly, "It has been the frequently
expressed hope and fervent desire of Anglican Catholics to be enabled by some
means to enter into full communion with the See of Peter whilst retaining in its
integrity every aspect of their Anglican inheritance which is not at variance
with the teaching of the Catholic Church."
What is unclear at this point is how many Anglican bishops, clergy and churches
will accept Benedict's offer. Relatively few, if any, will do so in the United
As I have reported, there has been a titanic struggle between The
Episcopal Church which voted to allow an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, to be
elevated as Bishop of New Hampshire - and its more orthodox congregations who
viewed that step as unbiblical.
About 700 churches with 100,000 members have left the Episcopal Church to
become Anglican churches, often under the protection of orthodox African or
South American provinces or dioceses. In fact, four entire dioceses, voted to
leave, leaving only a handful of congregations behind, in diverse parts of the
U.S. - Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth, Quincy, IL and San Joaquin, CA. That is
Bishop Martyn Minns, creator of CANA, Convocation of Anglicans in North
America, that now has 90 former Episcopal churches, told the New York Times that
the Vatican's initiative demonstrates "that the divisions in the Anglican
Communion are very serious." However, he said, "I don't want to be a Roman
Catholic. There was a Reformation, you remember."
Conservative Anglican Churches in Great Britain have no similar escape
option, and will be attracted by the Pope's offer.
Practical issues will then surface. Will Diocese X or church Y be able
to leave The Church of England with their church properties?
The U.S. experience suggests there will be a bitter legal battle. So
far, one church in South Carolina and a dozen in Virginia have won legal battles
to keep their property, some of which date back to colonial times before The
Episcopal Church was organized. All are being appealed, however. Dozens of
other churches have lost, and had to leave without property.
At present there are 60 churches fighting lawsuits. David Virtue, a
well-informed reporter, (www.Virtueonline.org) estimates that $50 million in
legal fees will be spent by both sides.
It is possible that the Church of England will let its unhappy
congregations leave with their property, since many are costly to keep in repair
and few people attend on a weekly basis.
What then might be the impact? If hundreds of churches leave with their
married priests, Catholic priests in England, Canada, Australia, etc might well
ask Rome, "Why can't we marry as well?"
It would appear that the Roman Catholic Church may have to reconsider its
celibacy rule as the church opens its doors to many more non-celibate clergy.
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