Is Benedict planning to take in traditionalist Anglicans?
There is speculation in Rome that Pope Benedict might receive about 400,000 (yes, 400,000) Traditional Anglican Communion members into the Roman Catholic Church this summer, after the official Anglican Communion finishes its ten-yearly Lambeth Conference on August 3. Both the Church of England Newspaper in the U.K. and the National Catholic Register in the U.S. have run stories on this. Both sides are subscribers only, so all links here are to reports about them.
According to the Church of England Newspaper, talks between the Vatican and the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) focus on the question of whether a group can enter into full communion with Rome as an independent rite, similar to the Eastern rite churches that keep their own traditions and leadership. That sounds like it means they would want to use the Book of Common Prayer, keep their married clergy and retain some autonomy of member churches.
The newspaper quotes the Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, the Rt Rev Jack Iker — now in Rome on study leave — that “it is thought that the Pope is sympathetic to the dilemma of traditionalists in the Anglican way.”
It noted that “no formal dialogue exists between TAC and the (Council) for Promoting Christian Unity — the Vatican agency tasked with ecumenical relations.” Catholic Online commented:“The TAC may be getting ahead of itself on how quickly such a request will be acted upon.”
This is still speculation and we have no inside track on this. But it should be noted that Benedict has shown a taste for surprising us on such issues. Remember the baptism of the Italian Muslim Magdi Allam at Easter? The Vatican dicastery following Islam reportedly knew nothing about that in advance, even though it caused a flap in Vatican-Muslim relations.
Benedict also kept his cards close to his chest when he wrote the text of the new Latin Good Friday prayer that upset Jews when it came out. Cardinal Walter Kasper, whose Pontifical Council for Christian Unity includes the office for relations with Judaism, was not informed about the exact wording until near its publication, at which point it was also a fait accompli. One would have thought he should have been told, but…
Those weren’t the only rabbits he’s pulled out of a hat. Benedict upset French bishops in 2006 by recognising the Institute of the Good Shepherd, a group of five traditionalist priests in Bordeaux who had fallen out with the schismatic SSPX group and asked to return to Rome. The pope made them answerable to him, not the local archbishop (Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who also happened to be the head of the bishops conference at the time). Benedict let these returning priests use the old Tridentine rite that the French bishops did not want to see restored (and had not yet been boosted by the pope’s motu proprio ). All this was presented to the French bishops as a fait accompli and the official statements they made about it afterwards, when loyalty to the pope meant they had to defend the decision, were noticably lukewarm.
The TAC, which has 14 member churches around the world, has been talking with the Vatican since 1990. It asked for full communion last year. In its letter, it wrote: “We seek a communal and ecclesial way of being Anglican Catholics in communion with the Holy See, at once treasuring the full expression of catholic faith and treasuring our tradition within which we have come to this moment.”
If — repeat if — this happens, it would be quite a coup. Although the TAC is not part of the Anglican Communion, it would most probably be seen as another blow for mainstream Anglicanism. Do you think Benedict would do that to Rowan?