New Vatican announcement takes many Anglicans by surprise

Published October 21, 2009

Predictions that 50 bishops as well as thousands of clergy and laity might leave the worldwide Anglican Communion for the Roman Catholic Church have followed a Vatican announcement of new procedures for admitting discontented Anglicans.The Vatican announced on Oct.20 that Pope Benedict XVI is to set up a structure to “allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.” Cardinal William Levada, who heads the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said efforts by some Anglicans to “accommodate current cultural values” by ordaining women and “practising homosexuals” as priests and bishops are “not consonant with Apostolic Tradition,” Religion News Service reported.The Vatican statement had taken note of efforts over four decades to promote “full and visible unity” between Catholics and Anglicans. However, in recent years, the prospect of unity had “seemed to recede,” Cardinal Levada said.Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship said 50 Anglican bishops had expressed a desire to join the Catholic Church, CNN reported.In London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who heads the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion, and the spiritual leader of Catholics in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, held a joint media conference. In a statement, they described the move as, “further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition.” Under the apostolic constitution, as the scheme approved by the Pope is formally described, Anglicans will be able to enter into full communion with Rome while retaining features of the Anglican liturgical tradition. Those who choose to join the Catholic Church will be organized in “personal ordinariates,” similar to dioceses, to be led by former Anglicans, probably bishops or other senior clergy. Williams said in a letter to Anglican leaders around the world that he had been informed of the Vatican decision only at, “a very late stage.”The Times newspaper in London in an editorial described the Vatican announcement as “potentially the most explosive development in Anglicanism since the Reformation,” in which the “most learned of primates [Williams] has been outclassed as a politician.” The bishop of Fulham in London, John Broadhurst, chairperson of Forward in Faith, an Anglican group that opposes women bishops, predicted that up to a thousand Church of England clergy would leave for Rome. A Forward in Faith statement said it had been the, “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.”Rev. David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Vatican, said he was taken aback by the Vatican decision, The New York Times reported on Oct.21. “I don’t see it as an affront to the Anglican Church, but I’m puzzled by what it means and by the timing of it,” Rev. Richardson was quoted as saying. “I think some Anglicans will feel affronted.”Still, Rev. George Pitcher, an Anglican priest who is religion editor of Telegraph Media based in Britain said that the Vatican had thrown a “lifeline” to the Church of England over women bishops.”This is marvellous news for the Church of England’s prospects for making up women priests to bishops, without creating an Anglican schismatic bloodbath,” Pitcher wrote on a blog on the Telegraph Web site. “There really is no excuse for Anglo-Catholics who can’t accept women bishops now. They must accept the Pope’s offer, or stay in the Anglican Church and accept women bishops.”The National Secular Society said in a statement, “This is a mortal blow to Anglicanism which will inevitably lead to disestablishment [of the Church of England] as the church shrinks yet further and becomes increasingly irrelevant”After his election as pontiff in 2005, Pope Benedict said that his first priority would be to work “to reconstitute the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.” The Vatican statement announcing the setting up of the new structure said the move could be, “seen as another step toward the realisation of the aspiration for full, visible union in the Church of Christ, one of the principal goals of the ecumenical movement.” In Kenya, where Anglican leaders have spoken out against gay clergy and same-sex blessings in the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of the Anglican Church of Kenya acknowledged that discontented Anglicans had been in discussions with the Vatican on linking to the Catholic Church. “It is not surprising there is this formal recognition of these ongoing discussions,” Archbishop Wabukala told Ecumenical News International on Oct. 21.


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