Vatican-Anglican: where in the details will the devil be hiding?
If “the devil is in the details” when two groups seek a merger, where will he be hiding when the Vatican talks with disaffected Anglicans who want to join the Roman church? Neither the agenda nor the schedule for these talks are clear, but some issues are starting to emerge as possible hurdles to a smooth switchover for Anglicans who want to “swim the Tiber.”
(Photo: St. Peter’s Basilica and the Tiber River, 23 Dec 1999/Mario Laporta)
There is little clarity yet on either side. The Vatican has not spelled out the conditions of the “Apostolic Constitution” to accept Anglicans who want to join Catholicism while maintaining some of their own traditions. Additionally, there are varied faces of Anglicanism, which in its dogmas and practices stands somewhere between Roman Catholicism and Protestant traditions such as the Lutheran or Reformed churches. This will clearly take a while to work out.
The spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, played down any problems when the offer was announced. But several reactions from Anglicans to Tuesday’s announcement, including from some inclined to make the switch, have begun to trace the outlines of the looming doctrinal debates among Anglicans worldwide and between the Vatican and Anglicans knocking at its door.
Bishop Donald Harvey, moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), posted a succinct summary of sticky issues on his group’s website. This group of about 3,500 regular churchgoers is a diocese of the breakaway conservative Anglican Church in North America, which claims over 100,000 members across the continent. Harvey asked:
1. “Will the Roman Catholic Church require Anglican priests who choose this option to be re-ordained?
(NB: The Vatican has traditionally said that Anglican ordinations are not valid.)
2. “Will people who accept this invitation have to subscribe to Roman Catholic dogmas to which the Anglican Formularies are diametrically opposed – such as “Papal Infallibility”, the “Immaculate Conception” and Transubstantiation?
(NB: Papal infallibility says the pope cannot err when he rules on matters of faith and morals. The Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary was born without Original Sin is not a dogma in Anglicanism, although some Anglo-Catholics believe it. The Catholic dogma of transubstantiation says bread and wine actually become the flesh and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, while Anglicans believe this transformation is only symbolic.)
3. “Will Anglican priests – especially married ones – choosing to accept the Roman Catholic Church’s invitation have equal status with existing Roman Catholic clergy and will their ministry be interchangeable and welcomed in Roman Catholic parishes?”
In his statement, Harvey brought up another issue that could lead to disagreement — the meaning of the word “catholic.” Anglicans say they are a part of an undivided catholic (i.e. universal) Church, while Rome says it represents the true Church and churches that split off at the Reformation are not churches in the true sense. Pope Benedict has been quite clear on this point, most notably in his 2000 doctrinal document Dominus Iesus. Harvey quoted an ANiC priest as saying: “As for me and my house, we will remain ever faithful to the authority and primacy of the Holy Scriptures and the Faith and Order of the undivided Catholic Church. I need not become a Roman Catholic to be a Catholic Christian. As an Anglican, I am a Catholic Christian.”
(Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 23 Nov 2006/Alessandro Bianchi)
Bishop Jack Iker, head of the Episcopal (U.S. Anglican) diocese of Forth Worth, Texas, touched on the same issue in his reaction: “Not all Anglo-Catholics can accept certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, nor do they believe that they must first convert to Rome in order to be truly catholic Christians.”
Pittsburgh-based Archbishop Robert Duncan, Primate of the Anglican Church in North America formed by that split off from the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada last year, wrote on the ACNA website: “This significant decision represents a recognition of the integrity of the Anglican tradition within the broader Christian church” and added that “our historic differences over church governance, dogmas regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary and the nature of Holy Orders continue to be points of prayerful dialogue.”
Another point is ecclesiology, or what the precise nature and role of a church are. The Roman Catholic Church is hierarchical, with an authoritative pope at its head, a set body of dogma and a clear chain of command through bishops down to the parish level. Anglicanism is organised around national churches with considerable autonomy and its spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has influence but not authority over them.
As Rev. Rod Thomas, chairman of the evangelical Reform group in the Church of England (C of E), noted on his website: “If priests really are out of sympathy with the C of E’s doctrine (as opposed to the battles we are having over women’s ministry and sexuality), then perhaps it is better they make a clean break and go to Rome. However, when they do, they will have to accommodate themselves to Rome’s top-down approach to church life, whereas the C of E has always stressed the importance of decision making at the level of the local church.”
(Photo: All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi, 3 Nov 2003/Antony Njuguna)
Reactions from Africa, where traditional Anglicans opposed to female and gay bishops are the majority, showed that some heads of the national churches there prefer the Anglican Communion’s “unity in diversity” to Roman discipline. “Anglo-Catholic Anglicans have been disillusioned by the liberal churches in the West that created a theological crisis with their liberal attitude to sexuality. Many of them would be happy with the Pope’s initiative. But the African Church does not need that because it is strong on biblical theology,” the primate of the Church of Uganda, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, was quoted on the local New Vision website as saying. “The African Anglican Church has undertaken measures to deal with the excesses of liberalism that invaded the western church. We are a Bible-believing Church.”
What do you think? Where do you see potentials bumps on the disaffected Anglicans’ road to Rome?