(Photo: Anglican Bishop of London Richard Chartres with wife and children, 5 Sept 1995/Russell Boyce. Under the Vatican offer, bishops could not be married and Anglican bishops who join the Catholic Church must give up their episcopal rank.)
Pope Benedict’s decision to fling open Catholicism’s doors to disaffected Anglicans could challenge centuries of Catholic opposition to married priests and may bring the Church closer to married priesthood.
The opening announced last week could lead to as many as half a million Anglican faithful, some 50 of their bishops and thousands of married Anglican priests converting to Catholicism.
The conservative Anglicans, who oppose female priesthood and gay bishops, now have an exit strategy. They will have their own niche within the Catholic Church and will be allowed to convert as individuals, parishes or even as whole dioceses.
They will not have to jettison their Anglican traditions and many will find their new parishes headed by formerly Anglican married priests who will become de facto married Catholic priests after they convert.
Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the pope’s job until he was elected in 2005, acknowledged that the Vatican will have some serious explaining to do to groups that have been pushing for a married priesthood: “I think for some people it seems to be a problem because as you know there have been many Catholic priests who have left the priesthood to get married, and the question arises, ‘well, if these former Anglicans can be married priests, what about us?’”