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The blogosphere has been busy with the news reported on October 20, 2009 that Pope Benedict XVI extends a welcome to Anglo-Catholics disenchanted with the current state of the Anglican Communion. 

Here is the announcement from the Vatican on instituting personal ordinariates for Anglican clergy.  It says, in part (emphasis mine):

The forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application. It provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy. Historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Constitution therefore stipulates that the Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop. The seminarians in the Ordinariate are to be prepared alongside other Catholic seminarians, though the Ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony. In this way, 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.

Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has prepared this provision, said: “We have been trying to meet the requests for full communion that have come to us from Anglicans in different parts of the world in recent years in a uniform and equitable way. With this proposal the Church wants to respond to the legitimate aspirations of these Anglican groups for full and visible unity with the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter.”

One of those groups in the UK is Forward in Faith (FiF), which is also present in other English-speaking countries.  FiF was founded in 1992 in response to, among other things, women’s ordination in the Anglican Church.  It has been their intention to seek unity with Rome from the start.  

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is said to be ‘implacably opposed’ to the Catholic Church’s invitation to Anglo-Catholics. In a letter to Anglican bishops, he says he found out about the move from Rome ‘at a very late stage’.  Strange, considering that Damian Thompson blogged on FiF meetings with the Vatican in July. Yet, Williams has been fully aware of the Anglo-Catholics’s dissatisfaction with the direction the Anglican Communion has taken within the past 15 to 20 years, so, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury. (There’s a post about him coming up tomorrow, by the way, written days before this announcement was issued.) 

Yet, the Daily Mail reports that two FiF bishops, Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham and Bishop of Richborough Keith Newton, issued a statment saying:

‘We were becoming increasingly concerned that the various agendas of the Anglican Communion were driving Anglicans and Roman Catholics further apart. It was our task, we thought, to take the opportunity of quietly discussing these matters in Rome.’

Therefore, it’s hard to imagine that Lambeth Palace had no idea what was going on.  Indifference?  Disbelief? Denial? I don’t know.

Dr Williams and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Rt Revd Vincent Nichols, held a joint press conference in London.  Archbishop Nichols, who presides over the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, made clear this was not an ‘aggressive’ gesture but one about the relationship between the two churches.  The offer of an Apostolic Constitution extends to all 70m Anglicans worldwide.     

Don’t expect to see defections immediately.  The aforementioned Bishop of Ebbsfleet has asked FiF parishes defer any decisions until February 2010:

This is not a time for sudden decisions or general public discussion. We call for a time of quiet prayer and discernment. The coming season of Advent and the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas, seem to us to provide a good opportunity for this quiet prayer and discernment to take place, as well as some pastoral discussions. Some Anglicans in the Catholic tradition understandably will want to stay within the Anglican Communion. Others will wish to make individual arrangements as their conscience directs. A further group of Anglicans, we think, will begin to form a caravan … As bishops we would want to reassure people that, whatever decisions people, priests and parishes make, they will find peace and blessing in following what they discern to be God’s will for them. We have chosen 22nd February, The Feast of the Chair of Peter, to be an appropriate day for priests and people to make an initial decision as to whether they wish to respond positively to and explore further the initiative of the Apostolic Constitution. Many, understandably, will need a much longer period of discernment and we would counsel against over-hasty reactions of whatever kind.

My questions are as follows:

  • How many Anglo-Catholic parishes will move to the Roman Catholic Church?
  • Will Anglo-Catholics remaining in the Anglican Communion still be able to receive communion at an Anglo-Catholic church which has become Roman Catholic?

I suspect the answer to the first is ‘a fair number’ and the second is ‘no’, sadly.

My concerns are as follows:

  • This could mean the end of Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Communion, meaning that it will have only ‘liberals’ and evangelicals.  Hardly suited for those of us who love Anglo-Catholicism yet believe in the 39 Articles of Faith.  The Anglican Church can play fast and loose with us and tell us to ‘like it or lump it’.
  • Will the Anglo-Catholics joining the Roman Catholic Church be CINOs (choosing what they wish to believe and ignoring the rest) or are they truly committed Roman Catholics?  If so, why did they not convert in the first place as individuals?  No disrespect intended, just a valid question.
  • This move does more to enrich the Roman Catholic Church: Existing Catholics may enjoy the richness of Anglican liturgy (second best thing to Latin Mass, I have always maintained) and boost the numbers for the Church as a whole.
  • This move will likely increase the calls for the Church of England to be disestablished, which, in turn, will lead for more appeals for the end of the monarchy.  We saw this in the 1990s and there is every reason to think the situation will replicate itself very soon.
  • Should the C of E be disestablished, does this help the EU gain more power under a long-term president and significantly start the removal of the remaining bits of sovereignty that England ever knows? 
  • This move could pave the way towards a more global church by openly picking up Protestants, reminiscent of the Roman Catholic alliances (for lack of a better word) with evangelicals.  Catholics will think of it as a welcome increase in numbers.  I think of it as a greater body that can be controlled if we obtain a global currency, global treaty in Copenhagen in December and requests, like this one, for global control of the economy.  Where does this really lead us? 
  • With the emergent church infiltrating mainline Protestantism  and evangelicalism, will the only choices in 10 years time be a co-opted leftist ‘Protestant’ emergent church with flaky beliefs and the Roman Catholic Church?  That would appear to be an unsatisfactory choice for millions of Christians.

I see more than a set of denominational events here and, therefore, would suggest looking at in a socio-political context.  Things aren’t always what they seem.  It’s not a plot, just a possibility.  Be careful what you wish for.

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