LONDON — Last year’s news that the Traditional Anglican Communion is seeking “full, corporate, sacramental union” with Rome raised hopes for Christian unity.
But divisions among Anglicanism are rampant, and positions run the gamut from something akin to Catholic orthodoxy to condoning homosexual lifestyles.
Lately, there have even been Anglicans expressing their enthusiasm for Pope Benedict XVI.
The Traditional Anglican Communion, a fairly small network of churches in various parts of the world — including Britain, the USA and Australia — broke away from the Church of England some years ago, when the ordination of women was first proposed. It has operated for some time as an independent organization with its own bishops, and has a string of parishes linked together.
In England and Wales, this amounts to some 17 parishes, a tiny number compared to the thousands of Church of England parishes across a nation of some 55 million people.
News that the TAC is seeking formal union with Rome came from a meeting at one of its churches, St. Agatha’s at Portsmouth in Hampshire, England. Talks and negotiations will now follow between the TAC and Rome.
“The letter was cordially received at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” said an October statement from the Traditional Anglican Communion. “The primate of the TAC has agreed that no member of the College will give interviews until the Holy See has considered the letter and responded.”
There are other traditional-minded Anglicans who have remained within the “official” Church of England rather than form a breakaway group. They, like the Traditional Anglican Communion, admire Pope Benedict XVI but they are not seeking union with Rome as a group, and it is unclear what their future will be.
There are also a number of other Anglican groups in America and elsewhere that have broken away from the Church of England because of its permissive theology and lack of clear moral teachings, especially on homosexuality.
“In general, what traditional Anglicans think about the Pope is that we revere him as the Patriarch of the West,” said Stephen Parkinson of Forward in Faith, the leading group in the Church of England bringing together those who do not accept women’s ordination. “We like Benedict XVI very much, indeed, and we rejoiced at his election.”
Ironically, in 2006, the Vatican formally renounced the title, Patriarch of the West.
Forward in Faith has a large number of parishes across Britain and regularly holds rallies, conferences and events bringing together substantial groups of people. In addition to opposition to priestesses, the movement is concerned about the increasing support for same-sex “marriage” in mainstream Anglicanism.
Meanwhile, traditional Anglican commentators on blogs and websites have given an enthusiastic response to Pope Benedict’s new encyclical Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope). A sampling of recent comments on the encyclical from the Anglican blogosphere include these:
• “As an Anglican looking in from the outside, as it were, I have to confess to being very taken with some of the things that Pope Benedict XVI has to say.”
• “The Pope needs all Christians to deliver this message to all corners of the world.”
• “One could argue that the text represents a sort of ‘greatest hits’ collection of Ratzinger’s most important ideas, collected over a lifetime.”
A spokesman at Church House, headquarters of the Anglican Church in London, said it was not possible to give a general comment about the Pope’s new encyclical, which is still being studied.
The Episcopal (Anglican) Church in America has seen repeated splits and tensions, especially since the appointment of its first female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports homosexual “marriage” and a generally permissive approach to sexual ethics. She told Time magazine in July 2006 that Christianity does not mean “bickering about fine points of doctrine.”
The Worldwide Anglican Communion is in some disarray, and there is tension about which groups and dioceses will be represented at the decennial Lambeth Conference, the international gathering of bishops, set for this July.
But the official attitude towards Pope Benedict remains polite. A meeting between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in October 2007 was cordial, although the Vatican stated clearly that a lack of coherence on moral issues made future ecumenical progress problematic.
Joanna Bogle writes from London.