Insights from the UK and beyond
RC archbishop to Anglicans: we don’t want cafeteria Catholics
(Photo: Archbishop Vincent Nichols, 21 May 2009/Kevin Coombs)
Those disaffected Anglicans in England and Wales who think they can take up Pope Benedict’s offer and switch to Rome with a “pick and choose” attitude should think again, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols has said.
Many Anglicans unhappy with women’s ordination and gay clergy cannot just convert to Roman Catholicism as a way out, but must accept Catholic doctrine wholeheartedly, he said.
“Nothing is envisaged in this provision that the Pope has put in place is a kind of minimalist approach to picking bits of the Catholic faith that I like and then seeing myself as it were contained as a quasi-Catholic, not a real Catholic, under the umbrella of this constitution,” he said, referring to a “buffet approach” to the faith that some Catholics dismiss as “cafeteria Catholicism.”
It is still unclear how many Anglicans will convert, but the invitation, in the form of what’s called an Apostolic Constitution, has opened up old wounds between the Vatican and Lambeth Palace.
It has also crystallised divisions within the Church of England, the Anglican mother church.
A debate is raging over whether the Pope’s offer was an act of undisguised poaching, tapping into discontent among some Anglicans. or whether it was an act of generosity, responding to calls of help.
It has also raised questions about the approach adopted by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, towards the offer – details of which he did not know until two weeks before the announcement. Some say he has been too soft, while others say he has been judicious.
A meeting between the pope and the archbishop this weekend was said to be short but courteous – though the BBC pointed out the pope spent more time with artists visiting the Sistine Chapel than he did with Williams.
(Photo: Archbishop Williams and Pope Benedict, 21 Nov 2009/Osservatore Romano)
One thing that is clear is Nichols’ call for complete devotion to the Roman Catholic Church.
“I clearly want to say unambiguously that anybody who seriously wants to perhaps take up the initiative that Pope Benedict has put in place needs to do it out of a conviction that this is the context in which they desire, long to live their Christian discipleship,” he said.
“It therefore must be a positive desire in their heart, and one that centres around not questions of the ordination of women to the episcopate, not questions of sexual ethics, but must centre around an understanding of the role of the office of the Bishop of Rome…in the ongoing life of a Christian.
“So a person must be embracing of that concrete aspect of Catholic life which is the authority of the Holy See in the person if they are hoping to make this journey with integrity.”
Williams seemed to say the same thing when, in an interview with Vatican Radio, he stressed that Anglicans who switch to Rome should do it because they genuinely want to become Roman Catholics, not out of protest against something in Anglicanism. “People become Roman Catholics because they want to become Roman Catholics, because their consciences are formed in a certain way and they believe this is the will of God for them. I wish them every blessing in that,” he said.
Archbishop Nichols’s comments came as he announced that a commission of Catholic bishops and advisers had been set up to consider in detail the next steps with regards the Apostolic Constitution. It will liaise with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and offer advice to diocesan bishops.
It will be interesting to see whether his comments influence the number of Anglicans wanting to switch.