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Vatican opens its doors to disaffected Anglicans

October 29th, 2009

Since the 1980s, the Roman Catholic Church has allowed for individual Episcopal priests to become Catholic priests and remain married if they already were prior to the conversion.

However, on Oct. 20, the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, issued an invitation for the large-scale conversion of Anglicans, who are the original branch from which the Episcopal faith came. 

In fact, through the guidelines of this process, entire parishes or even dioceses will be able to convert through a practice which in the past had been assessed on a case by case basis.

The reasoning behind such a bid would be to encourage traditionalist Anglicans, who like the Roman Catholic Church, oppose the ordination of women priests and openly gay bishops, to join in the Catholic faith.

In order to provide a viable option for traditionalist Anglicans to convert, the Catholic Church has allowed for Anglicans to keep certain tenets of their faith.

For example, under the provisions of this proposal, married priests would be able to remain so and the Vatican would also allow for some differences in liturgical, as well as spiritual, practices. 

While the ramifications of this process will be based largely on religion, should parishes or even dioceses convert as one, ownership rights of formerly Anglican Church buildings and land could cause further grievances.

This concept presents difficulties as to the extent to which the different liturgical and spiritual practices will be upheld, and how it will be decided still remains to be verbalized. 

Paul Lauritzen, a professor of religious studies at John Carroll University,  said, “There are significant differences in liturgical rights and practices and how these will be worked out practically is unclear.”

This arrangement also poses questions as to the stance of the Roman Catholic Church in terms of married priests. The Catholic Church maintains that the situations leading to Anglican priests remaining are entirely different conditions.

However, to simultaneously refuse originally Catholic priests to become married is a predicament that could lead to more internal problems.

Although this conversion process will apply to all sects of the Anglican faith, dissension between traditionalist Episcopals in the United States and Anglicans of the Church of England has triggered a split which has led to a more conservative traditionalist organization in the U.S.  As such, it is presumed that this proposal will have the greatest impact in England.

Another concern addressed by Paul Murphy, Director of the Institute for Catholic Studies at John Carroll University, deals with true traditionalists and theological differences.

“This does not simplify or resolve existing theological conflicts either among Catholics or other churches,” said Murphy. “In some ways it actually highlights them.” 

This idea relates to the effectiveness of the Pope’s policy, whether an Anglican traditionalist will be able to overcome the theological difference and join the Catholic faith is debatable.

In addition to this, Murphy continued by asking, “What if the Anglicans set up a parallel structure to attract Catholics who would like to see women and or gay clergy?” 

This expands upon concerns about what this move by the Catholic Church means to the dialogue between the Vatican and the Anglican faith. 

When this decision by the Catholic Church was announced, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was not present.

Although the ramifications of this process will be based largely on religion, should parishes or even dioceses convert as one, ownership rights of formerly Anglican Church buildings and land could cause further grievances.

The direction of the Catholic Church might not be well-received by Catholics, as well as truly traditional Anglicans.

According to Murphy, it also shows that the Catholic Church is “trying to demonstrate a greater willingness to dialogue with those who are culturally and theologically traditionalists outside of the Church than it is willing to dialogue with progressive voices within  the Catholic Church.  This could exasperate tensions within the Catholic Church.”

Regardless of the outcome, an increase in general members may not be the goal of the Vatican, but rather a greater unity of traditionalist views.