Opening doors or building allegiances?

My submission for In God’s Love, a weekly article written by local clergy in our newspaper, the Casket.

On October 20, I was leaving town to conduct a committal service in Pt. Bickerton, then on to Halifax for a hospital visit, then around to Truro for a clergy conference. Before I left Antigonish at 9:30 am I had already had two lengthy, in-depth conversations about that morning’s news. Do you remember the headline?

Vatican opens door to Anglicans

As a member of a church that is used to wide consultation and years of discernment on major changes in doctrine as that described above, I was as surprised as everyone else.

In the weeks following, I have been asked questions that express the confusion that the Apostolic Constitution has caused. “Are the Anglicans joining the Catholics?” (Funny that no one has actually put it the other way around). “Does this mean Catholic priests can marry?” “Does this mean the Catholic Church will have female priests?” The answer to all of these questions is, “No.”

Who is being invited into the Roman Catholic Church and what are they being invited into? Over hundreds of years of Anglican history, there has been a tension between those who hold firmly to the old ways and those who see tradition as something that evolves. This is true for all churches, but as Anglicans, we have dealt with this by doing our best to make space for many expressions of theology, liturgy and tradition, just as many of these expressions are present in our Holy Scriptures. This is often expressed in the statement, “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”. This via media, middle way, has been a firm tradition over hundreds of years. Understandably, not everyone is willing to share space with those with whom they hold major difference.

The Apostolic Constitution from Pope Benedict XVI comes as a response to several years of appeals from a group of Anglicans, mostly residing in Europe, who have been seeking to join the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining some Anglican traditions. The movement has popped up over the centuries and then gone away again. Most recently it began again in the 70s and 80s over the ordination of women in the Anglican Church. These groups wanted to worship in their Anglican churches in Anglican liturgical traditions while being in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

What would this look like? The Roman Catholic Church will establish “personal ordinariates”, communities similar to Roman Catholic dioceses. Anglican male priests who are married may be accepted for ordination in the Roman Catholic Church on a case-by-case basis. This has been happening in recent years throughout the US and most recently in Charlottetown, PEI. Single male clergy can also apply to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, but will be expected to remain celibate. Anglican lay people can join these ordinariates by converting to the Roman Catholic Church and accepting the Roman Catholic Catechism. The interesting irony is these same groups of people have for many years defended their views with such historic documents as the Articles of Religion (1563), which negates the authority of the Bishop of Rome in the realm of England.

This invitation would not have happened without prolonged efforts in dialogue between our two churches, however, this invitation is not the result of such a dialogue. There was no consultation with the Anglican Consultative Council or any official Anglican bodies on this process.

This is not a joining of two churches. It is a building of allegiances of those who have rejected evolutions of tradition over the centuries after an arbitrary time period. It is questionable how a group could maintain the traditions and liturgy of the Anglican Church while abandoning historic teachings out of which these traditions are founded. There has been no promise from the Anglican Consultative Council that the personal ordinariates will be recognized as part of the Anglican Communion, in fact, the reaction has been quite the opposite.

The unity of the church universal is not a uniform unity. It is a unity that allows us all to express our love of God and the fellowship of Jesus Christ in a vast expanse of theology, worship, liturgy, tradition and doctrine. The Apostolic Constitution opens a door to a small group of followers to practice their faith in a legitimate but unique way within the Roman Catholic Church. Whether or not they will remain as Anglicans, in the end will not be decided by them or by the Roman Catholic Church, but through the processes of the Anglican Communion.

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