Breakaway Anglicans hope to be in communion with Catholics by Easter

  • November 19, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - The primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), feeling “overwhelming joy,” says he hopes to deliver a “yes” before Easter to the Holy See’s offer of Personal Ordinariates that would welcome his members into the Catholic Church.

Archbishop John Hepworth called the apostolic constitution published Nov. 9 by Pope Benedict XVI “generous at every turn” in its description of the Anglican heritage, dogmatic provisions and pastoral language. It followed the Pope’s dramatic October offer to welcome Anglicans into the Catholic Church without abandoning their prayer books or liturgical traditions.

The TAC comprises several Anglican Churches that parted with the 77-million strong Anglican Church’s Canterbury Communion over the ordination of women — some as early as 1977. The TAC, with about 400,000 members, is among the largest group of Anglicans likely to embrace the Personal Ordinariates offered by the Holy See.

Hepworth said Rome went even farther than the TAC had asked in its formal request submitted to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in October 2007. He now expects a positive response from TAC member churches.

The Metropolitan Bishop of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC), Bishop Peter Wilkinson, welcomed the new structure. The ACCC, with about 2,000 members, is part of the TAC. He described the apostolic constitution as being “very pastoral” and a “beautiful document.”

“I think when it’s properly understood there won’t be many stumbling blocks for anybody,” he said. “I think the Pope has heard our plea . . . and has been generous in a way that is creative.”

But Bishop Donald Harvey, head of the Anglican Network in Canada, expected very little interest among his members. “The reason most Anglicans are in the Anglican Network is because they wanted to remain faithful to Scripture and they also wanted to remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion,” he said.

Anglican Church of Canada primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz would not comment but he earlier stated that he did not “foresee a groundswell of response” from his members.

The United Kingdom’s TAC synod voted to accept the document before it was published. Hepworth has received what he describes as “powerful messages that ‘we want it and we want it as soon as we can get it’ ” from Africa, India, North America, Australia and other countries.

TAC bishops will vote on the document in a series of regional and national synods starting in the New Year.

“I want all the votes in by Lent,” Hepworth said. “Then I’m hoping in fact our bishops can meet in Rome after Easter and present the ‘yes’ votes and take advice on what to do next. It’s quite possible there will be Ordinariates in place next year.”

While Hepworth wants to move fast, he said the structure offered does not require anyone to rush into it.

“If (the Pope) deals with other groups as creatively and as warmly and pastorally as he has dealt with us, he is the Pope of (Christian) unity,” Hepworth said.

Hepworth described the Personal Ordinariate structure — which offers the jurisdiction of a diocese without being tied to a geographical area — as a “radical” church structure that could pave the way for other groups to follow, including Lutherans and the Russian Orthodox.

“People are saying the same thing that they said about us — it’ll never happen,” he said. “Well, under this Pope it does happen.”

Anglicans becoming part of the Ordinariate must accept the Catechism of the Catholic Church, something Hepworth described as a generous dogmatic provision.

“The doctrinal position is as generous as it could be made,” he said. “It’s up to us to study (the catechism) and to understand it.”  Most TAC bishops already teach from it, he said.

The issues likely to draw most media attention are the provisions for married priests and for married bishops to potentially serve as Ordinaries in the new structure. The norm is clerical celibacy but there is a provision for married men to be ordained on a case-by-case basis approved by the Holy See, Hepworth said.

“Without married priesthood into the future, it would be very difficult at this stage to sustain the Anglican Ordinariate into the future,” he said.

The new structure forbids married Catholic bishops, but it does allow married Anglican bishops to become Catholic priests and serve as ordinaries with “the dignity of a mitered abbot,” Hepworth said.

He said a number of TAC bishops have taken heart at this provision.

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