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BY The Editors
Is it sheep
The Vatican’s historic announcement
Oct. 20 that a structure will be established in the Church to streamline the
process for Anglican groups and individuals seeking union with Rome was greeted
by celebratory cheers and derogatory jeers.
“It was unclear why the Vatican made
the announcement now,” The New York Times
stated Oct. 21. “But it seemed a rare opportunity, audaciously executed, to
capitalize on deep divisions within the Anglican Church to attract new members
at a time when the Catholic Church has been trying to reinvigorate itself in
Though that sounds like it was from
a Times editorial, it was actually from a news
story — the lead story on page one, in fact, which carried the phrase “Luring
Conservatives” in its headline.
“Rome Goes Fishing in Anglican
Pond,” blared a BBC website headline.
Other reactions showed similar
suspicions. While a Kansas City Star
opinion writer spoke of it as “poaching,” a columnist in The
Baltimore Sun scored the “brewing hypocrisy” he finds in the Church
accepting possibly hundreds of married Anglican priests while continuing to
impose celibacy on regular Latin-rite Catholic priests. The writer, Dan
Rodricks, dismissed the new Vatican plan as merely a “way to deal with the
shortage of priests.”
“Reaching out to pull in those who
oppose female priests, or openly gay prelates or same-sex ‘marriage’: This is
Vatican marketing at its best. Disgruntled, conservative Anglicans represent a
potentially rich customer base for the Roman Catholic Church,” he wrote Oct.
22. “But there’s stunning irony in the ‘apostolic constitution.’ According to a
Vatican official, the new process will allow Anglicans ‘to enter full communion
with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican
spiritual and liturgical patrimony.’ That includes the married priesthood.”
This kind of criticism ignores the
generous spirit that has driven the Vatican’s hard work over the past few years
to develop the forthcoming apostolic constitution concerning “Personal
Ordinariates for Anglicans Entering the Catholic Church.”
The move was announced in a meeting
with journalists in the Holy See Press Office Oct. 20. As the Register’s Rome
correspondent, Edward Pentin, reported at NCRegister.com that day (and on page
one of this issue), the apostolic constitution was prepared in response to
“many requests” from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful wanting to enter
into full communion with the Church. Cardinal
William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said
at that meeting that the constitution “provides a reasonable and even necessary
response to a worldwide phenomenon.”
It’s no secret that many Anglicans
have expressed wishes to become Catholic particularly as that church continues
to take steps toward opening its priesthood and episcopate to women and active
homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions. Reportedly, between 20 and 30
Anglican bishops have made such a request.
So is the Vatican action sheep
stealing? To call it that would be to insult the Anglicans who have thought
long and hard about the trends in their church and the best thing for them to
do to save their souls.
It’s not as if the Church has to
lure or deceive Anglicans who feel shepherdless in a church that has lost its
own moorings in many ways.
These sheep can clearly decide for
The Holy See’s gesture might better
be characterized as shepherding — concern
for the flock, opening the gate of the sheepfold.
Granted, not all Anglicans
disenchanted with the theologically splintering Anglican Communion will flock
to the Catholic Church. Many still have theological difficulties over Marian
questions, for example. They reportedly plan to continue being Anglicans in
newly formed offshoots of the Anglican Church that refuse to have women priests
or bishops or openly homosexual clergymen.
And, it must be admitted, conversion
is rightly a matter of coming to acknowledge the truth of doctrine, rather than
the result of being disgruntled over particular practices in one’s church.
The sort of graciousness with which
the Catholic Church is welcoming traditional Anglicans is not new. Many
centuries ago, Rome welcomed home many Orthodox, allowing them to retain their
own liturgical traditions and practices, such as a married priesthood. More
recently, this graciousness has fed Pope Benedict’s openness to traditionalist
Latin-rite Catholics, many of whom find spiritual fruitfulness in the Mass of
Pope John XXIII (the traditional Latin Mass). Some of them even continue to
have theological difficulties with certain pronouncements of the Second Vatican
Council. Benedict, like the Good Shepherd, still feels it’s important to find a
way to heal those divisions. He feels the necessity to go out to carry home the
Thus it is that, in addition to the
possibility that Anglican priests who are married will be able to petition for
holy orders when they become Catholic, Anglicans taking advantage of the
Vatican’s new offer will be allowed to retain their liturgical traditions.
Such a gesture certainly doesn’t
support the stereotype that the Catholic Church is a “monolith.” Yes, we all
believe alike in essential matters of faith — summed up in the Creed — but our
ways of worship run the gamut from the whispered prayers of consecration during
the extraordinary form of the Mass to the impassioned preaching of a
charismatic pastor, from the Arabic chants of a Maronite choir in Lebanon to
the frenzied hand clapping of Gospel music in Harlem.
Now we are poised to welcome another
style of worship, characterized by stately language in its well-honed prayers,
crisp English chant and stirring anthems, reasoned and eloquent preaching, and
The Church, the mother of many and
diverse siblings in Christ, smiles on all of us as we find our way to truth and
Sheep stealing? Hardly.