Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave a hastily called press conference early today to make the announcement. You can read Catholic News Agency’s account of that conference here.
This is news that has been in the making for several years. Smaller groups of Anglicans have entered the Church over the past few years, either as individuals, families, or even parishes. But this is a huge wave of converts that the Holy Father is dealing with here. They are members of the Traditional Anglican Communion and number over 400,000 souls with sixteen member “churches,” and somewhere between thirty and sixty bishops. The largest representation of the TAC is in Africa’s Zimbabwe and Tanzania, while about five thousand are in the United States. The Traditional Communion is headquartered in Australia under the leadership of Archbishop John Hepworth. The motivating factor that initiated the movement towards union with Rome was the Anglican community’s official approval of abortion, contraception, active homosexual clergy, same sex “marriages,” and women “ordinations.”
Archbishop Rowan Williams, leading prelate of the Anglican Community, is not pleased. Damian Thompson, writer for Telegraph.co.uk, reads Williams reaction as “humiliated – and, I suspect, furious that the Vatican sprang the plans to welcome ex-Anglicans on him ‘at a very late stage.'” Losing the half million shouldn’t bother the archbishop anyway — they were just an annoyance — but what apparently miffs him is that he wasn’t notified beforehand about the Vatican’s unusually hurried decision to announce this coming Constitution now.
Of course, dissatisfaction with a heretical “church” is not sufficient doctrinal matter for reception into the one, true Church of Christ; however, it certainly can be an actual grace moving one toward divine and Catholic Faith. Our God is a God who does bring good out of evil. In order to be received into the Catholic Church these disaffected Anglicans must accept all the teaching of the Roman Catechism, including the supreme authority and infallibility of the pope.
To be sure, the Holy Father must have given this Constitution much fatherly consideration. It is the product of long deliberation. In his heart, no doubt, Pope Benedict immediately rejoiced upon receiving two years ago the formal request of the TAC, but the logistics, so to speak, of accommodating so many converts as ecclesial communities of their own, required canonical and pastoral preparation. Add to this a vocal opposition among some of his own hierarchs, such as Cardinal Kasper, the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who objected that such an en masse conversion would ruin ecumenical relations with the larger Anglican community.
The TAC had a specific request, contingent upon the pope’s approval, that they be allowed to keep their ecclesial structure and whatever in their liturgy was consonant with Catholic sacramental doctrine. This means that they wish to maintain certain elements of the Anglican liturgy that are based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as derived from the Catholic Sarum Rite. A number of the married ministers of the TAC also requested permission to be ordained priests and serve the flock that they had served before in the married state. Rome had already granted permission for this Anglican Usage arrangement in the past. I know of two such churches in Texas, one in San Antonio where Father Christopher George Phillips heads the parish of Our Lady of the Atonement, and the other in Arlington, where, in 1991, all the parishioners joined their minister in becoming Roman Catholic. St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church became St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church. The pastor, William Saunders, was ordained three years later and now serves his original flock as a priest. These special permissions for priests’ dispensations from celibacy in the Latin Church had only been granted where a congregation came into the Church as a body. An Anglican convert who is not a minister cannot get married, and then ask for holy orders. Nor can any married man who is a member of such a parish ask to be ordained in the Latin Rite. I assume that when the pastor in such a parish dies only a celibate priest can succeed him.
More recently, however, in the U.S., there have been some married Protestant ministers who have converted and, in view of the special pastoral provision granted Anglican ministers, they’ve asked if they could be ordained as well. The problem here, however, was that they did not bring a congregation in with them, and, obviously, they had no liturgy. Even still, Rome made an allowance for them. One of the more traditional-minded priests in our country, who has written many books on winning converts, is Father Dwight Longenecker, an ex-Bob Jones University Fundamentalist minister. The father of four doesn’t serve as a parish priest, but as a college chaplain.
It is important to remember that this issue of clerical celibacy is one of discipline not doctrine and, therefore, the special permission granted to married ministers who become Catholic priests of the Latin Rite could be rescinded in the future. After all, it is a concession that could easily be abused and could easily prove divisive. Why, for example, should a converted heretic, who, as a married minister, preached false doctrine, be allowed into the priesthood, and a married Catholic deacon is not? More important still, will this concession weaken the attraction that total, Christ-like sacrifice of body and soul presents as such a chivalrous challenge to a young aspirant with holy desires? When the Apostolic Constitution is made public perhaps these questions will find their answer therein.
The Vatican website has posted this notice from the Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning the “personal ordinariates” for Anglicans who are entering the Catholic Church.