More than a week has passed since Pope Benedict XVI put out a call for disgruntled Anglicans to cross the Tiber after a nearly 500-year separation.
Some are calling this an open door. I see it as Pandora’s box. It raises myriad tricky questions that hopefully will be answered with the Vatican’s release of Apostolic Constitution, the document that will spell out the details of how whole congregations, even minidenominations along with their bishops, can transfer their allegiance.
Numerically, it’s tough to tell how many may take the pontiff’s offer. At the initial press conference, Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal officer, estimated 20 to 30 bishops along with groups of “hundreds” of laity would switch over. Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, who was also at the press conference, said the number of bishops was closer to 50.
But the bishops who want to defect all seem to be overseas, notably in Britain. The reaction on this side of the pond has been cool.
“The pope has invited Anglicans to join him, sort of,” said the Rev. Larry Johnson, the bishop of Virginia for the Anglican Church International Communion, an 800,000-member group that includes former Episcopal clergy. “In reality, it appears he has made only slight provision for us. What I understand is that our people will be accepted fully, but bishops will be what is called “ordinariates” or “personal prelates.”
He adds, “Anglicanism as we know it will have no place in the Roman Catholic Church. The pope has called the people while only vaguely accepting their leaders.”
And which elements of the Anglican liturgy will these converts will be allowed to retain? Anglicans have multiple versions (1662, 1928, 1979 to name a few) of their Book of Common Prayer. Will they have to accept Roman Catholic theology on transubstantiation (the bread and wine really becoming the body and blood of Christ), on papal infallibility, on the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven, not to mention the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which holds that Mary was born without sin?
Scanning the remarks by various continuing Anglican groups - the ones who have left the Episcopal Church and who presumably would be most apt to go to Rome - I see a lot of negativity.
The Rev. Robert Hart, priest-in-charge of St. Benedict’s Anglican Church in Chapel Hill, N.C., noted that Anglicans converting to Catholicism would lose their bishops. Their new head would be selected by the Vatican, not elected, as has been the Anglican/Episcopal custom.
“In the ‘pray, pay and obey church,’ your bishop will be appointed - maybe even someone with an Anglican past if you can find a celibate clergyman, and one hopes, a clergyman who is cream of the crop,” he wrote.
Also, although Rome accepts Anglican baptisms as valid, will the new converts have to be re-confirmed because the Anglican/Episcopal prelate who originally confirmed them was not a bishop in the eyes of the Catholic Church?
And will Anglican-turned-Catholic priests have to be re-ordained? Will they be limited to these Anglican-rite parishes or allowed to minister in other Catholic churches?
The road from Canterbury to Rome still has some potholes in it.
• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.