THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW
By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
The new Vatican structures for dealing with Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church may have significant and unforeseen consequences. They may in fact provide the Catholic Church with a steady supply of married priests.
Some critics see the new procedures as a blow to relations between Catholics and Anglicans, but leaders from both churches deny this. Cardinal William Levada said that the Catholic Church is still committed to ecumenical dialogue with the Anglican Communion leading to unity in future, but the Vatican felt it could not turn away the many Anglicans who want to be reunited with the church now.
Some would argue that if these Anglicans are going to leave the Anglican Communion anyway, it would be better to have them join the Catholic Church than be off on their own.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Anglican primate, accepted the Vatican explanation and in a letter to Anglican leaders wrote, “In the light of recent discussions with senior officials in the Vatican, I can say that this new possibility is in no sense at all intended to undermine existing relations between our two communions or to be an act of proselytism or aggression. It is described as simply a response to specific inquiries from certain Anglican groups and individuals wishing to find their future within the Roman Catholic Church.”
After the Catholic Church adopted numerous reforms following the Second Vatican Council, many people hoped that Catholics and Anglicans would reunite as ecumenical dialogue progressed. But Anglicanism continued to evolve in directions that led it away from Catholic practices, especially in the ordination of women and in its teaching about homosexuality.
These developments also divided the Anglican Communion, leading some Anglicans who opposed the ordination of women and gays to approach the Catholic Church about union.
The Catholic Church has always been willing to accept individual Anglicans who want to join the church. For more than a decade, it has allowed married Anglican priests to act as priests after they were ordained by a Catholic bishop.
What is new in these procedures is the possibility of admitting not just individuals but groups and even whole dioceses. Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, said that 20 to 30 Anglican bishops have enquired about union with the Vatican.
Also new are provisions for personal ordinariates, headed by a former Anglican bishop or priest, where the new Catholics would be allowed to preserve their Anglican spiritual and liturgical heritage. These ordinariates are similar to ones that minister to the military in various countries and could even have houses of formation to train future priests.
Married Anglican priests and seminarians joining the Catholic Church could be ordained and function as priests, said Cardinal Levada. Married bishops could be ordained priests but could not function as bishops since this is not the practice in either the Catholic or Orthodox tradition.
The consequences of these new procedures are yet to be seen. How many Anglicans will take advantage of them? Only a handful of Anglican parishes took advantage of a much smaller program established for the U.S. in 1980. But this new structure is both more generous and universal.
Catholic liberals, especially Catholic feminists, fear that an influx of conservative Anglicans will further discourage reform in the Catholic Church. In any case, someone should warn these Anglicans that two out of three U.S. Catholics support the ordination of women. They will not find in Catholicism a controversy-free zone.
But if the new procedures are used by large numbers of Anglicans, the result will be a more liberal Anglican Church and a more conservative Catholic Church, especially if liberal Catholics decide to go in the other direction. These procedures may be an admission that leaders in all churches have lost control of the ecumenical movement and people are simply voting with their feet.
The long-term impact of these procedures on the Catholic Church could be significant. We will now have three approved versions of the Roman Catholic liturgy: the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, the reformed vernacular liturgy, and now an Anglican liturgy. Some born Catholics may find the Anglican-Catholic liturgy preferable to the other two and start attending Mass in Anglican ordinariate parishes.
And while we have always had numerous Eastern Catholic liturgies, pluralism has been discouraged in the Western (or Latin-rite) Catholic liturgy since the Council of Trent. But once we have three versions, it is more difficult to argue against more.
Despite all the Vatican attempts to downplay the acceptance of married Anglican priests, many people will ask why not married priests for other Catholics? Cardinal Levada said that not only married Anglican priests will be ordained but also married Anglican seminarians who join the Catholic Church. The Vatican has made clear that married Catholic priests will not be welcomed back to the priesthood, but could a married Catholic man join the Anglicans, enter an Anglican seminary and then return to the Catholic Church? If so, this could become a rich source of priests for the Catholic Church.
The Vatican also says that the Anglican ordinariates would have their own seminarians who could have houses of formation but would study with other Catholic seminarians. I presume this means married seminarians, otherwise the Vatican will deny these former Anglicans what they see as an essential part of their spiritual and liturgical tradition. Married and celibate seminarians in the same course of studies will certainly be an interesting experiment. It will either strengthen a celibate’s vocation or break it.
More importantly, could married Roman Catholic men from the traditional dioceses join the Anglican ordinariate and become seminarians and priests? If so, we have just solved the priest shortage problem and within a generation there will be more priests in the Anglican ordinariates than in the traditional dioceses. The rest of the people will soon follow and the Anglican ordinariate will hold a majority of Roman Catholics.
Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
By Thomas J. Reese |
October 20, 2009; 11:56 PM ET
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