Vatican-Anglican: where in the details will the devil be hiding?

October 24, 2009

tiber-and-st-peters1If “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?”

williams-and-popeIn 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?

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Tom, wouldn’t have been better to check with those former Anglicans who have already created Anglican Use/Rite Catholic parishes in the US? (They have the pope’s approval.) There are six or eight of them out there? I am sure whatever the Anglican Use Catholics are doing, new converts from Anglicanism will likewise be doing.

Why make it all so complicated? Go to the source — the people already in Anglican Use Catholic parishes!

Posted by james | Report as abusive

I am a Catholic writing from Nairobi Kenya. I do believe that Vatican’s step this week is geared towards letting the disillusioned Anglicans rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. A good idea of course but not really necessary because the would-be Anglo-Catholics should be let to go through the normal course of conversion. For their married priests being given equal status as the incumbent Roman Catholic priests, that would mean, saying YES to MARRIED PRIESTS NOW. Will this be prudent of Pope Benedict XVI who presents in his doctrinal stand a strong conservative case for priestly celibacy? I believe NO.

Posted by Victor Onsarigo | Report as abusive

James, thanks for the interesting suggestion. They will probably have interesting insights, so this is something to follow up. My focus here was not on those who have already made the switch but on those who haven’t and the problems they might have in doing so. I’m afraid there won’t be a single story here, but several. Some Anglicans will have no problem, some will have only small problems that may be overcome and others will find they have major problems in fully accepting Catholic teaching. This will be the story to watch.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

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Should not our Lord’s prayer on unity, ‘that they may be one’ (St John 17:22) be foremost in our hearts and minds? I believe so.

Posted by Fr Stephen Smuts | Report as abusive

I say “AMEN” to Fr. Stephen Smuts’ comment. Can we hear more AMENs about his comment?
For those of us who are RCs, remember, “What is bound on earth… etc.”
All Papa Benedict has to say is: “Let it be so.”

Posted by Peter McBrien | Report as abusive

I only learned of this from CNN this Sunday morning. I have always felt that I am a Catholic priest. Even though I am retired from active ministry and have nothing to offer to Rome, I feel encouraged by the Holy Father’s act of reaching out me. I have believed in the primacy of Peter since seminary days. I have always believed in the perpetual virginity of our Lady as well as the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I would not have to change any thing that I believe in to become a Roman Catholic. I would just have a place to call home, which I do not at the present time. My biggest concern is being deposed or losing my retirement pension. Deposition would be a heart breaking moment. I can’t imagine the Episcopal Church just releasing me from my ordination vows. Yet my vows made in 1963 seem so far removed from the church today.

Posted by Father Charles Cason | Report as abusive

I beleive the next sensational thing you will hear from the Vatican is the lifting of mandatory celibacy for the Roman Catholic Clergy. Some US cardinals have been giving a hint that is being discussed by top level Catholic officials. Now I do not know if this is retroactive for those who have been ordained priests already because the practice will be like the Eastern rite in which a seminarian should get married before ordination to the priesthood if he wish to be a married priest. Since the current Catholic priests were not given that choice to be celibate or married priests before ordination, I think it is just and right that the optional celibacy rule should be retroactive for a period of time if this will be the norm. We’ll see soon that there will be no more difference in the civil status of Anglican and Roman Catholic priests for both groups of priests will be able to marry in the near future.

Posted by Bren Kryg | Report as abusive

[…] there’s the rub. Over at the Reuters blog FaithWorld, editor Tom Heneghan has detailed the reasons why the new model might present challenges for some Anglicans. But it could be most appealing to British […]

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This is one of the Vatican’s cleverest power moves in several years. Not only will it undermine the last vestiges of Anglican power in the UK, but it will also lure in millions of Anglican conservatives located in Africa (where that church derives a full half of its membership). It seems more than coincidental that the timing of this announcement coincided with the conclusion of the great African Synod in the Vatican.

The details? I wouldn’t worry about them. Rome will do whatever is necessary to accomodate as many Anglicans as possible. As we know, the tireless “dialogue” that has been going on for decades is all about subjugating outlying sectors of Christendom to the Bishop of Rome. Greek and Russian Orthodoxy is next (watch the meeting in Cyprus that is scheduled for 2010), and who knows what will follow.

The Vatican is, indeed, perhaps the most cunning political actor in the world today.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

While I believe this is a positive step for the church; we are a long way from seeing this come to pass. There so many things that we share in common compared to the few that we see from different points. But in the end the church was torn apart by man – no need to dicuss the reasons here – and men are trying to repair that damage. That is a good first step and gives me hope. God Bless the Catholic church and the Holy Father.

Posted by marcus | Report as abusive

The Vatican should do its’ best in bringing back the Holy Traditions,Latin Masses,Arrangement of the Holy altar,Prayers,the reverence,and honor due God in the mass offering of the Eucharist,then check the late comers
for their adherence to the magisterium of the Church.
They protested in the past that they should only repent of that errors and start anew.
I hope the pope,for the sake of those clergies who have personal issues themselves may take upon himself the changes needed before full acceptance.Let us not forget that some Catholic priest also were infected/influenced by novelties,modernism,humanism all the “ism”/

Posted by lome | Report as abusive


The Catholic Church could no loner return to Latin mass and other traditions of post-tridentine pre-vatican ways. Before there was a mandatory Latin mass, masses were done in different languages. There was unity in diversity instead of unity in uniformity in the Catholic Church. What Vatican II did was to push the Church to its older traditions which some traditionalists think were “new.” In fact Vatican II tried to move the Church to return to our roots. Remember Jesus did not say the Last Supper in Latin. Traditionalist Catholics think that the Catholic Church was established in medieval times much like some Protestants who think the original Bible was the King James Version.

Posted by Bren Kryg | Report as abusive

No brainer for the Vatican here…trying to pilfer some rich western parishes to slow the loss of their own flock in the west. Conservatives to boot, but the church may have to accepting diversity from those that it swallows, including (gasp!) married priests. ‘At least they ain’t gays’ will probably be the rebuttal in Rome…all others pay cash.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

On the face of it, Pope Benedict XVI’s offer to Anglicans of a ‘Uniate’-type institutional integrity within Rome’s jurisdiction could be a significant step forward in the centuries-old efforts worldwide to resolve inter-Christian schism. Despite their off-and-on dialogical flirtation with my own communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church and churches, as the saying goes “when the rubber meets the road,” Anglicans are after all Rome’s estranged & dissident daughter, between whom there are numerous affinities and ecclesial nostalgia to draw upon. However, having converted 40 years ago from one of Rome’s captive ‘Uniate’/Eastern-rite Catholic bodies, a few words of caution to dissident Anglican/Episcopalians: 1st, prior to the so-called ‘Uniate’ reunions – many of which were the product of Crusades/political-based force & Latin ecclesial intolerance of diversity – the former were fully autonomous regional Orthodox churches, practicing their own heritages of worship, conciliar governance, theology, canons, and pastoral life. 2nd, in many instances, within but a few generations the ‘Uniate’ dioceses, clergy and faithful found that their leadership had – in effecting socalled “reunion” with Rome – instead, to use an American expression, “signed Indian treaties” and were now decidedly subordinate to & in inferior status with Rome and her majoritarian Latin-rite jurisdictions and the Vatican curia. 3rd, their venerated Liturgies and sacramental traditions not only came under Latin scorn; more often than not they were at the very least increasingly “infused” with, for example: statues and statuettes in place of icons & iconstasis, altars against the wall, and confessional boxes in place of face-to-face pastoral encounter at the foot of God’s Altar…the Dominican rosary, novenas and benedictions either added to or substituted for their own liturgical & sacramental tradition…distinctive age-old Byzantine, Slav, Asian and African architecture of basilica, cross, dome and mystical sacred space gave way to Western church usages…to greater or lesser degrees, the Eucharist of family-baked leavened loaves, Communion “in both kinds” for both laity as well as clergy, the “Proclamation of the Word” and “Consecration of Gifts” as Liturgy/erga tou Laou (the sacred Works of the People of God) were de-emphasized or outright set aside in favour of Latin unleavened wafers, clergy-dominant “Mass” etc. 4th, the Roman Pope and bishops of neighboring Latin-rite dioceses “ruled the roost” with their authoritarian dicta, canons & unilateral encyclicals in lieu of the early-Church tradition of synods, local councils, and pastoral consultation…in Roman Catholic eyes, married parish priests and deacons were – as one 19th-century American Catholic archbishop disdainfully complained to Pope Leo XIII – “in no way worthy to handle the Holy Eucharist and to administer the Church’s Divine Sacraments, given that they have surrendered to lust and touch the unclean, inferior body of woman – a practice that we of the Western, Roman Church wisely banned early on…!” So virulent was that attitude, and so fearful that Latin clergy & faithful might thereby become contaminated, that the Irish, German and Polish Catholic bishops on these shores persuaded the Vatican – in flagrant violation of the ‘Uniate’ reunions – to unilaterally & outright ban the ‘Uniate’/Eastern-rite clergy in North America from being married: a prohibition which is in force today.
In view of Vatican II, ecumenism, and other developments, might such happen today, it’s asked? There is much in the Roman Catholic tradition & Papal moral influence which is commendable, historically as well as in our contemporary world. However, the above should offer a caution to those Anglicans, Lutherans, Polish National/’Old Catholics’ and others who are pondering Rome’s overtures. I.e., what Rome offers and affirms one day can just as well be swept away another day in the future by “the stroke of a Papal pen”!

Posted by Fr.Gregory Wingenbach | Report as abusive

Mike, your comment is ill informed. You are correct that on the surface this may be how it appears. However, the acceptance of “(gasp!)” married priests is not a liberalization of the Roman Catholic Tradition. Merely, as was touched on earlier about Vatican II, it is a return to older ways. The tradition (note the lower-case “t”) of celibate priests has been a matter of practicality for hundreds of years. That is, the priestly duties were and somewhat are still very time consuming. It was and is believed that a married priest could not fulfill those duties as well.
Some have also been discussing a “grandfather clause like practice with the ecclesiastic union hopefully to come. Whereby Traditional Anglican priests currently married can be welcomed into full communion with the Holy See but those ordained afterward will have to take a vow of celibacy.

Posted by Gabriel | Report as abusive

Tom H,
If the choice is between the small ‘devil in the details’ of the administrative hurdles involved with union and the huge devil of a institution that disregards ‘straight’-forward biblical principles, then the orthodox minded will probably choose the little devil.

Posted by Peter K | Report as abusive

I have been a Catholic church member for 53 years. I have supported the church with my time, talent, and treasure and have worked to include women in equality in all areas of the church hierarchy. With the hope of achieving a healthy and respectful church for all, I continued to be a member of a church that did not meet my values toward humanity. I have served as a parish council member, a long range planning commission member, and a long time befriender. In light of this recent move to facilitate the disintegration of a church which has moved forward on its plight to include all human beings as equal, I will be leaving the “Catholic” Church and joining the remaining Anglicans who respect and accept all human beings as equal. Please take a stand against the exclusionary and unhealthy rules of the Catholic Church as it exists today. We faithful servants of the Catholic Church need to show the hierarchy that, in fact, this latest decision is a final step in dissolving the Catholic Church and its abuse of power. In a world of people who do not recognize these exclusions and prejudices as acceptable treatment to any human being, we need to support a church that is moving in the right direction. I will miss my church community and what the mass has brought to my life, but I will join a church community that supports my values of treating all people as equals. I hope others will also take this stand and maybe someday the Catholic Church will be a church that we can say we are proud to be a member.

Posted by Susan Turner | Report as abusive

[…] FaithWorld (Reuters blog) – Oct 24 2009 – Vatican-Anglican: Where in the details will the devil be hiding?  […]

Posted by ANiC newsletter – 29 October 2009 « Occasional Christian | Report as abusive

“Where in the details will the devil be hiding?”

I think the devil will be hiding in the detail dealing with Anglican seminarians. Will they be allowed to marry if or when they become Catholic, especially in the UK and Australia? It could affect US Anglican Use parishes too.

Recently I was in Lituania, a predominately Catholic country, and was surprised to see how the various rites worked together: Greek Catholic, Uniate, Latin Rite, etc. If the Anglican Use parishes corporately become an Anglican Rite Church, one hopes that the US Church can have an equally accepting interralationship between the different Rite Churches in the same Catholic Church.

I know the whole country of Lithuania is less than 4 million people and that there are around 72 million American Catholics. That’s a huge difference. So whether the American church — overwhelmingly the Latin Rite church — can work something out with a new Anglican Rite (or Anglican Use Church) remains to be seen.

Posted by bellowser | Report as abusive

What kind of idiot would reject a church because it ordains women in order to join one that brutalizes and buggers children?

Posted by kildare dobbs | Report as abusive