In a move with potentially sweeping implications for relations between the Catholic church and some 80 million Anglicans worldwide, the Vatican has announced the creation of new ecclesiastical structures to absorb disaffected Anglicans wishing to become Catholics. The structures will allow those Anglicans to hold onto their distinctive spiritual practices, including the ordination of married former Anglican clergy as Catholic priests.
Those structures would be open to members of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the main American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. American Episcopalians are said to number some 2.2 million.
The announcement came this morning in Rome in a news conference with two Americans: Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
As earlier rumours suggested, it comes in the form of a “personal ordinariate,” as opposed to an out-and-out rite, like the Eastern Rite Catholics. Such an ordinariate would be implemented by local bishops’ conferences.
The Vatican has made attempts to soften the blow vis-à-vis the Archbishop of Canterbury, as can be seen here. But the true nature of this should not be concealed:
- It’s reflective of the simple fact that the Vatican, in view of the ordination of women and the rise of open homosexuals in the Anglican Communion, has decided to take the risk of messing up ecumenical relations for all of the Communion in order to achieve unity with part of it.
- It will force Anglo-Catholics to “fish or cut bait” on swimming the Tiber.
- It will put the main impetus for orthodox Anglicanism in the hands of the Evangelicals, i.e., the Africans and their allies. That is, to a large extent, already the case, but with the Anglo-Catholics headed for Rome, and able to take the easy road there, the Evangelicals will be the main ones left on the field.
- It undermines the whole concept of the Church of England, a nationalised church under the governorship of the Queen and separate from Rome.
- It will keep many Anglicans awake at night wondering what to do.