ORLANDO, Fla. — As 2010 gets under way, many in the Church are anxious to see how last year’s apostolic constitution inviting disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church will play out.
While the expectation is that more significant numbers of Anglicans in Britain, Africa and India will accept the offer outlined in Anglicanorum Coetibus, observers say that the decree will impact traditional Anglicans in the United States, as well.
The Traditional Anglican Communion includes approximately 400,000 Anglicans worldwide. The American province, known as the Anglican Church in America, includes approximately 5,200 communicants in four dioceses. Over the next few months, all of the provinces will be holding synods to put forward the question of how they will be responding to the apostolic constitution.
“The expectation is that our general synod will accept the Holy Father’s offer,” said Christian Campbell, senior warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Orlando, Fla., and a member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Church in America’s Diocese of the Eastern United States. “It is not so much a question of whether or not we desire to avail ourselves of the offer — inasmuch as it is a direct and generous response to our appeal to the Holy See. The question now is how the apostolic constitution is to be implemented. We have practical concerns, and we are presently working with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to resolve any outstanding questions.”
Campbell said that the first Traditional Anglican Communion provinces will be entering the Catholic Church within the next six months.
One example of a parish that stands ready to enter en masse is suburban Philadelphia’s Church of the Good Shepherd, an “Anglo-Catholic” parish.
“We’ve been praying for this daily for two years,” said Bishop David Moyer of the Traditional Anglican Communion. Moyer was one of 38 bishops in the communion who signed a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and petitioned Pope Benedict XVI in October 2007 for a way for disaffected Anglicans to be united with Rome.
“The majority of our members will be on board with this,” said Father Aaron Bayles, assistant pastor at Good Shepherd. The parish has approximately 400 members who could come into the Catholic Church.
Anglicans Who Won’t Join
Yet, many Anglicans will not be embracing the offer.
“The Episcopal Church will be only mildly impacted,” said Father Douglas Grandon, a former Anglican pastor who was ordained a Catholic priest in May 2008 and serves as associate pastor at Sacred Heart in Moline, Ill. “Most of those clergy and bishops have already left who had any Catholic sense. In the U.S., the primary ones who will consider this would be the Anglo-Catholics.”
Some Episcopal pastors and parishes upset with the direction of the national Episcopal Church (it has elected two bishops who are openly homosexual and has given the nod to blessing same-sex unions) have placed themselves under the leadership of more conservative bishops in the U.S., Africa or the Americas. For example, approximately 20 Episcopal parishes in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Canada have left the Episcopal Church to join the Southern Cone of the Americas, an Anglican province in South America.
For those seeking to accept the Vatican’s offer, examples do exist of communities that have already done something similar. Since the implementation of the Pastoral Provision in 1980 — which allowed for the Catholic ordination of married Episcopal priests and authorized the establishment of personal Catholic parishes that retained certain Anglican liturgical elements — several Anglican-use communities have been created in the United States.
San Antonio’s Our Lady of the Atonement became the first to enter the Church in 1983. At the time, it consisted of 18 people. Today, the Church has more than 500 families. Three Anglican-use communities exist in Texas. In addition, since the Pastoral Provision was made available, more than 100 Anglican priests have gone through the process to become Catholic priests.
The Pastoral Provision, however, differs from the apostolic constitution.
“The story of the Pastoral Provision is that of a hard-fought battle by a few courageous pioneers,” said Campbell. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t implemented in such a way as to bring a large number of people into the Church. It was perceived as being primarily a mechanism for the reconciliation of individual Episcopal priests. By comparison, the apostolic constitution is not about reconciling individuals, but groups of Anglicans in a corporate fashion.”
While many mainstream media reports have described the Catholic Church’s actions as “sheep stealing,” those who have been involved in the process describe it as anything but.
“There have been negotiations going on for decades,” said Father Grandon. “Since the time of [Cardinal John Henry] Newman, there has been a Catholic party within the Church of England. They’ve maintained a strong commitment to the liturgy, the sacraments and the historic understanding of the papacy. They’ve been making overture after overture, either individually or corporately, to try to find some way to re-enter the Catholic Church.”
“Rome’s generosity is evidence of its openness and its willingness to allow true Christian diversity within the unity of the faith,” said Francis Beckwith, professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University. “These churches don’t have to accept Rome’s invitation.”
Beckwith, a prominent evangelical, surprised both the Catholic and evangelical world when he returned to Catholicism in 2007, resigning at that time as president of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Campbell said that they’re starting to see another interesting phenomenon: Protestants considering coming into the Church but who want to be part of a group are considering the possibility of forming new, individual “Anglican” groups; they could then come into the Church under the constitution and have their own Anglo-Catholic parish and ability to use the Catholic-Anglo rite.
“We’re beginning to see a tremendous groundswell of interest in Anglicanorum Coetibus from individuals of diverse backgrounds,” said Campbell. “Over the past month, I’ve been contacted by several people each day who are asking how they can join an Anglican group to get in on this. This may be an opportunity to reconcile not just a peculiar breed of Anglo-Catholics, but a means of healing the larger wounds of the Protestant Reformation.”
It’s uncertain just how many American Anglicans will come into the Church.
Father Grandon cautioned that it will not happen immediately.
“We ought not be discouraged that they don’t all come immediately,” he said. “There will be a first wave, and the others will come in over time.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.