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Rome Gives Details on 'Church-Within-a-Church' for Anglicans

4 years ago
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The devil is in the details, as they say, and the details were released today of the Vatican's new parallel church for traditionalist Anglicans upset with their the ordination of gays and women -- a move first announced last month, as we wrote here.

It looks as though you'd need a canon lawyer to understand the full text of the Apostolic Constitution, as it is called -- or Anglicanorum coetibus, if you prefer the formal Latin title -- posted at the Vatican's Web site. But the official language does make it seem more than ever as though Benedict is setting up a parallel Catholic Church, with Anglican convert bishops alongside pre-existing Catholic bishops in Catholic dioceses -- details to be worked out later. That seems a recipe for problems on the ground, doctrine and tradition and such aside -- though some are optimistic.

"What is interesting is how far they [the Vatican] appear to be willing to go to find a home for Anglicans who are cheesed off with the situation," Anglican Bishop Broadhurst, chairman of the traditionalist group Forward in Faith, whose members are considering taking up Rome's offer, told Reuters in London. "It will effectively be a Church within a Church, accepting Roman authority, but actually effectively self-governing, which I think is fascinating."

"The real question is whether this can be made to work. I think it can be," he said.
The new regulations also appear to forbid former Catholics who became Anglicans from becoming priests, and says those already baptized Catholics cannot take part in Anglican-rite Masses -- unless they are members of the family of an Anglican convert priest. No one said this would be easy, or comprehensible.

But the newsworthy point is, as we also reported earlier, that celibacy will still be the norm for priests and bishops. Currently married (or engaged) seminarians and priests will be permitted to be re-ordained as Catholic clergy, but they will effectively be "grandfathered" in. Going forward, it seems most all will have to be celibate.

Interestingly, while the Vatican had said married Anglican bishops who "swim the Tiber" will not be permitted to be Catholic bishops -- yes, it's a brain-twister, but Catholic bishops can never be married, though some Catholic priests can -- some of those married bishops will be bishops "in all but name," as the Times of London's Ruth Gledhill puts it in her rather enthusiastic welcome ("It is all that Catholic Anglicans hoped for and more") of the details on the special Anglican provinces, known as an "ordinariate":

"They will officially retain the status of presbyter [priest], but will be allowed to be the Ordinary or head of the Ordinariate, will be allowed to be a member of the local Bishops' Conference with the status of retired bishop and, significantly, will be allowed to ask permission from Rome to use the insignia of episcopal office. This leaves the path clear for Bishop of Fulham Father John Broadhurst, married father of four, to head the new Ordinariate in Britain. Heady stuff indeed -- and I mean that theologically and metaphorically."

"It will be some time before we fully grasp the enormity of its implications and the breadth of its imagination," Gledhill says.

So will de facto married bishops and priests mean de jure change down the road?

Maybe. Maybe not. For one thing, the numbers coming over may be far smaller than many hoped, or feared.
Since the offer to Anglicans was made last month, leading conservatives who threatened to leave the Anglican Communion or set up shop on their own have told the pope, in effect, "Thanks but no thanks." These have included heads of churches in Africa and the developing world, where anti-gay sentiment is especially strong, as well as in Canada and the United States.

Also, there has been a provision for individual married Anglican-Episcopal priests to convert and be re-ordained as Catholic clergy since 1981, and there are fewer than 100. They are growing in prominence and importance as the number of celibate Catholic clergy continues to shrink. But the practical problems are imposing, such as how Catholic parishes who barely support a single childless priest will be able to support a married-with-children pastor.

Hence the provision in the newly-released constitution that married priests "may engage in a secular profession compatible with the exercise of priestly ministry." In other words, work two jobs to support yourself and your family. Not exactly an inviting prospect.

Moreover, the new apostolic constitution reaffirms that the provisions for the new Anglican-Catholic Church do not "signify any change in the Church's discipline of clerical celibacy," adding that "priestly celibacy is a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and radiantly proclaims the reign of God." So what do married priests proclaim?

The other challenge will be for Anglicans who do convert to wrest their church property from the Anglican Communion, or the Episcopal Church, as the American branch of Anglicanism is known. Such tussles have produced nothing but ugliness and huge legal bills all around so far.

Perhaps more realistic is the attitude taken by Robert Duncan, archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, a breakaway church of Episcopalian traditionalists, who was the subject of an interesting New York Times Magazine weekly interview on Sunday.

Duncan says he isn't about to convert to Rome, but he is still facing a lawsuit from the Episcopal Church, which is trying to reclaim the money and property he took with him when he and his group split off in 2008:

"There is an ongoing lawsuit," Duncan says. "They may get the stuff, but we'll get the souls. They may get the past, but we've got the future."

But is it an Anglican or Catholic future?

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