The Vatican’s Bid for Breakaway Anglicans

October 30, 2009

maineMany Catholics are becoming more vocal about their support for marriage equality as evidenced in “No on 1 ads” and the organizing efforts in Maine.  The Pope and Vatican leaders, on the other hand, raised eyebrows and hackles in its recent bid to persuade conservative, breakaway Anglicans to become Catholics on the basis of their shared ordination ban for women and LGBT people.

At a news conference on Oct. 20, Cardinal William J. Levada from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that joining Anglicans would retain many of their traditions while still entering in “full communion with the Catholic Church.” The Vatican stresses it was responding to requests from more conservative Anglicans from around the world and in no way meant to undermine Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams leadership. But what seemed like a simple ecumenical invitation has problems—even for conservatives. More progressive Episcopalians noted that the door swings both ways and told a reporter from The Baltimore Sun that three former Roman Catholic clergy have recently joined the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton pointed out that many converts to the Episcopal Church are laypeople from the Catholic Church who are looking for a church moving in a more open and affirming direction. Conservative Episcopalians who broke away tend to agree with the Roman Catholic hierarchy on barring women and LGBT people from the priesthood, but the historical tension between the Anglican Communion and the Vatican is still very much present.  The split between Catholics and Anglicans happened in the 16th century, when King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church in England.  The Vatican has yet to lay out a plan for addressing central theological differences such as papal authority and the meaning of the Eucharist. Meanwhile, news outlets such as USA Today and the Boston Globe report uncertainty from breakaway clergy and congregations in regards to the Vatican’s invitation. According to USA Today, one of the major deal breakers is the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests. Since the 1980’s, after women were first ordained in the Episcopal Church, some married Anglican clergy were allowed to convert to Catholicism and continue on as active priests. Cardinal Levada said the celibacy waiver would apply to priests but not bishops nor future candidates for ordination. Levada acknowledged potential problems still remain. According to Times Online, the Apostolic Constitution, which will lay out the conditions for the new "Anglo-Catholic section of the Church,” is not ready for publication—despite the announced invitation. There are also unanswered questions about what will happen to property of the breakaway congregations and whether or not the Roman Catholic Church would have a claim on them. The property battles could be huge and The Episcopal Church already has too many property law suits with congregations that broke away over openly gay bishops. colbertThe Rev. Dr. Randall Balmer, a guest on the Steven Colbert Show, expressed concern that the church was trying to compensate for the increase of closed parishes and the decrease of men going into the priesthood. Despite Colbert’s comic approach, the conversation raised the important question of whether or not an invitation to membership should be based on who is excluded.