Catholics applaud move to unite Anglicans with Rome

  • October 22, 2009
{mosimage}CORNWALL, Ont. - The primate of Canada’s Catholic Church has welcomed the groundbreaking news that the Vatican has established a special canonical structure to bring disgruntled Anglicans into the church, but the primate of Canada’s Anglican Church predicted tensions may emerge.

The Vatican surprised Catholics and Anglicans alike on Oct. 20 with a bold announcement of a new apostolic constitution that will open the Catholic Church to Anglicans who are disenchanted by a liberal theology that permits women priests and a growing acceptance of gay marriage and openly gay bishops. Under the historic arrangement, Anglican priests who are married may be ordained Catholic priests, but married Anglican bishops will not be able to function as Catholic bishops. Anglicans will also be able to retain much of the Anglican liturgy that has been developed since Henry VIII split from Rome in 1534.

To accommodate Anglicans, new dioceses, called personal ordinariates, will be created to oversee pastoral care, with each ordinariate headed by a bishop or clergyman who had Anglican roots.

“It seems to be a very good news to facilitate the integration of people who are interested in joining the Catholic Church,” said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec.

Canada’s Catholic bishops received notice of the initiative on the eve of the announcement in the Vatican, the morning that the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, was scheduled to address the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops annual plenary.

Hiltz did not mention the announcement in his prepared remarks. In a later interview  he said he was not surprised because some Anglican groups had “been in conversations for some time with the Holy See.”

“It has been a painful experience for those Anglicans who were unable to remain (in the church) over issues around human sexuality and for those who remained with the Anglican Church,” he said.

“Essentially when they leave, we will see that as the breaking of communion.” The fact that “another communion takes them under their wing” could mean “some tensions will emerge.”

The bishop and metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, which is part of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), said he was overjoyed by the news.

“Pope Benedict continually amazes me,” said Bishop Peter Wilkinson. “Not only is he a genius and a holy man, but he can do something new, something that has not been done before.”

The TAC has been in talks with the Vatican for two decades and formally petitioned two years ago for acceptance into the Catholic Church. Wilkinson said he has no problem recognizing the Pope’s juridical authority.

“Good grief, what has been suffered because we do not have authority,” he said of the Canterbury Communion.

In the new apostolic constitution, Pope Benedict responded to “many requests” submitted by individual Anglicans and by Anglican groups — including “20 to 30 bishops” — asking to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the new provision does not weaken the commitment of the Vatican to promoting Christian unity, but is a recognition that many Anglicans share the Catholic faith and that Anglicans have a spiritual and liturgical life worth preserving.

He would not predict how many Anglicans may join the church. The TAC has approximately 400,000 members worldwide.

“It has always been the principal aim to achieve the full, visible unity” of the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion, he said.

Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Communion, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, issued a joint statement saying the new provisions are a recognition of “the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition.”

“Without the dialogues of the past 40 years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured,” the two leaders said.

(With files from Catholic News Service.)

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