There was a flurry of stories in the UK last week about Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement, but little attention was paid here:
From the Telegraph:
Pope Benedict XVI has paved the way for thousands of Anglicans who are disillusioned by the church’s stance on female clergy and homosexuality to convert to Roman Catholicism.
The unprecedented move, triggered by pleas from disaffected Anglo-Catholics and announced at joint press conferences in London and Rome, allows those tempted to desert Canterbury to become fully incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church instead of forming small breakaway churches, while retaining parts of their Anglican heritage that do not clash with Catholic doctrine.
The Apostolic Constitution approved by the Pope creates a new structure, which will allow Roman Catholic provinces such as England and Wales to have their own “Personal Ordinariate” for ex-Anglicans.
Parishes and individuals can go over to Rome en masse and join the Ordinariate. Although Catholic priests must be celibate, married former Anglican clergy who convert under the Apostolic Constitution could be ordained as Catholic priests although they would not be allowed to become bishops.
As many as 50 Anglican bishops worldwide are expected to convert under the new procedure and Cardinal Levada said the number of ordinary worshippers who had asked for such a provision was “in the hundreds”.
Some 400,000 Anglicans in a breakaway movement called the Traditional Anglican Communion could be the first to convert after they and other groups, unhappy with the Anglican Communion’s increasingly liberal stance on female clergy and homosexuality, petitioned the Pope for reconciliation with Rome.
The clergy alone may number in the thousands. It’s hard to say how many of the laity will be drawn to Rome; in England especially there is strong anti-Catholic sentiment.
Damian Thompson thinks the timing of this move has to do with the beatification process for England’s most famous modern theologian:
Was Pope Benedict XVI inspired by Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom it is hoped he will beatify in England next year, when he suddenly threw open the gates of Rome to disaffected Anglicans on Tuesday morning?
The official website for Newman’s Cause hinted as much when it greeted the announcement with a reminder of Newman’s support for a proposal to establish an Anglican Uniate Church for converts, similar to that provided for Byzantine-rite Catholics. The plan was conceived by Ambrose Phillips de Lisle and Newman rightly guessed that it would be unworkable. But if it could be made to work, he said, he was all in favour. As he wrote to de Lisle in 1876:
“Nothing will rejoice me more than to find that the Holy See considers it safe and promising to sanction some such plan as the Pamphlet suggests. I give my best prayers, such as they are, that some means of drawing to us so many good people, who are now shivering at our gates, may be discovered.”
In the American press, only Francis X. Rocca, the main American interpreter for things Roman Catholic, had a report up at the Wall Street Journal when the news first broke. In some ways, his essay is the most interesting; he looks at the wider ramifications of Benedict’s move:
The Vatican’s announcement this week that it will allow former Anglicans who join the Catholic Church to retain a collective identity, using many of their traditional prayers and hymns in their own specially designed dioceses, is an event with profound implications for both Anglican and Catholic life.
The decision, made to accommodate Anglicans upset with their church’s growing acceptance of homosexuality and of women clergy, is likely to transform ecumenical relations between the churches. It will also heighten the internal Catholic debate over the requirement of priestly celibacy (which is to be routinely waived for married Anglican clergy who convert under the new rules, extending an exception made on a limited basis till now).
Perhaps the most striking effect of the Vatican’s move is the likelihood that, within the next few years, Catholic priests around the world will be celebrating Mass in a form that draws largely from the Book of Common Prayer. This resonant text, in its many versions, has informed Anglican worship since shortly after King Henry VIII led the Church of England away from Rome nearly five centuries ago.
Startling as that may sound, the Vatican’s adoption of a liturgy with Protestant origins is merely the latest-and hardly the most exotic-addition to the Catholic church’s liturgical smorgasbord. The range of worship forms has grown ever wider in recent years as the global church has become ever more diverse.
Rocca gives a world tour on liturgical practices within Roman Catholicism. The whole essay is worth reading. He says:
Though even most Catholics are not aware of it, many sanctioned modes of worship have co-existed within the church over its 2,000-year history. The Ambrosian Rite, celebrated only in certain parts of northern Italy, with its own special prayers, vestments and type of chant, is one of the most ancient, dating back at least to the fourth century. Not to speak of the many Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome, which share a rich liturgical heritage with Eastern Orthodoxy. The Charismatic movement, of course, with its speaking in tongues and emphasis on “gifts of the Spirit,” harks all the way back to the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul.
Today, the New York Times is finally paying attention to this startling news with an opinion piece by Ross Douthat, who calls the announcement “a bombshell”:
…the pope is going back to basics – touting the particular witness of Catholicism even when he’s addressing universal subjects, and seeking converts more than common ground.
But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind – not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.
Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.
Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason – and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.
By contrast, the Church of England’s leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain.
The appeasement/conciliation of the Archbishop of Canterbury has infuriated many Anglicans. Benedict’s sudden welcoming of the disaffected faithful gives them an exit out of a situation that has often seemed suicidal in its political correctness.
Of all that I’ve read about this startling news, nothing has come close to Richard Fernandez’ analysis at the Belmont Club:
The Roman Catholic Church is living through an extraordinary historical moment. It is facing two religious competitors. From one side, there is the religion which pretends to be a political movement – socialism/communism. From the other flank there is the political movement which pretends to be a religion – Islam. Both religions have massive amounts of money, heavy weaponry and great cultural power. Pope Benedict has probably looked at the ancient but fragile ramparts of Rome and realized that unless something turns up, they may not hold. Indeed, any normal assessment of forces would conclude that Benedict’s Church is doomed. The future looks like a face-off between socialist secularism and unbending Islam. How can Christianity even hope to keep the field? The full power of political correctness are marshaled on the one hand, and the multitudinous throngs of the Jihad are arrayed on the other. Never mind Canterbury’s end. What odds would you give Rome? An observer would give none, but for this cryptic prophecy in Matthew 16:18.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
As usual, Richard has the most cogent, thoughtful reasoning. I recommend his whole essay.
I can’t remember now if he covers China’s new-found enthusiasm for Catholicism, but this factor is of particular importance in any calculation about the anti-Islamic pushback around the world. China’s culture and philosophy could manage to tame and modify Catholicism to meet its needs. Islam, on the other hand, would seem an implacable enemy to Chinese culture. That battle – China versus Islam – could be the bloodiest border of them of all.
However, the Sino-Islam conflict is far in the future. At the moment on the main stage is the drama in England. Henry VIII must be rolling in his grave, and Cardinal Newman must be dancing in his. The rest of us are scratching our heads, wondering if Benedict has done an end run around an increasingly homosexual clergy by admitting married priests in via the side door.
The calls for a married priesthood will begin in earnest now, and in justice those calls must be heeded. This is something Benedict obviously knows already; he doesn’t need anyone to tell him the obvious.
I await his response with great interest.