There is one hitch. You have to be a disgruntled Anglican who has left the Episcopal church because you object to either women and/or gay/lesbian people in the priesthood. Then, it is OK if you are already married. Let me explain.
For years, the Episcopal church in the US (part of the worldwide Anglican Communion) has been in a struggle over the issue of (consciously) ordaining gay and lesbian people. Before that, there was a struggle over ordaining women. Some clergy (and in some cases their congregations) decided to leave the Episcopal church in the US because of one or both of those "issues". This gets very complicated because not only is it soul-wrenching for a lot of people, but there is also a lot of money involved -- pensions, real estate, buildings. Who owns what and who owes what when a congregation leaves is a big argument.
The people leaving say that THEY are the "authentic" Anglicans, and that they have been abandoned by the other group. The people staying say that THEY are being left, as they represent the legally constituted denomination. There is a mixture of church law and civil law involved that will be an unholy tangle for a few years to come.
OK. Hold that thought. Now we will jump in the "Way-Back-Machine" and look at the beginnings of Anglicanism. Anglicanism is commonly understood as representing a middle ground between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. It is often referred to as being a via media (or middle way) between these traditions. Here is how it got there.
You remember the Henry the VIII story about the divorces, right? In 1534 there had already been rumblings about an English Reformation. But it got political support when Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Pope Clement VII refused. Henry, although his beliefs were largely still Catholic, appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church. He was excommunicated.
Voila! Church of England.
This is, with some exceptions, the birth of Anglicanism.
It left bad blood. But it also left many of the Anglicans, even as they changed some of the traditions, longing for the connection to Rome. Even today, some Episcopal churches look/feel/act more Roman Catholic than the local Catholics. The separation has always felt a bit vague.
Yet Rome would have none of it -- no reunion there unless they accepted the Pope, had celibate clergy, tightened up their theology to levels of Catholic strictness -- essentially, unless the Anglicans fully converted back.
Zoom forward to 2009. We have a large group of disgruntled Anglicans with people, money and property. The Catholic church has a shortage of priests and funds.
The Catholic church has resisted internal movements to ordain women and/or non-practicing gay men. There is support for the Vatican's position among these disaffected Anglicans, here and abroad.
According to the New York Times "...the Vatican said it would help Anglicans uncomfortable with female priests and openly gay bishops join a new Anglican rite within the Catholic Church. The invitation also extends to married Anglican clergy. "
How is the Pope doing this? He is suggesting that a special area be set up within the Roman Catholic church in which the Anglican Book of Common Prayer will be used, the liturgy will be Anglican, and the priests who are still married can stay that way. It will be like a sect or an order within Catholicism.
The Times also observed: "Many liberal Catholics in the United States lamented that the decision over the Anglicans again demonstrated that Benedict reached out only to the most conservative elements on the Catholic spectrum, not the more progressive ones."
It was interestingly summed up by my friend, Sandra, who is a practicing Catholic. When I told her of the Pope's decision she said, "It just shows you how far he will go not to ordain a woman."
And now let's hear from bloggers directly affected by this decision:
Mary Hunt a Catholic Ph.D. and theologian calls the move "a scandal" and says:
These Anglicans can even make the transition as congregations or whole dioceses if they choose. They will be Catholics, but like the Eastern Rite Catholics they will do it their way. They can bring their own smells and bells and their Book of Common Prayer; even their own priests and bishops who will head the “Personal Ordinariates” which will function like dioceses. Come as you are, welcome to discriminate to your heart’s content in the name of God.
Rome changes not one whit on the arrival of the dissident Anglicans. It keeps in place its celibate clergy while welcoming married Anglican men with gusto. I predict more than a little consternation in the Roman ranks on that score. Current policy allows Lutheran and Episcopal married priests to jump the fence with the family in tow. Yet Roman Catholic men who wish to marry, never mind Roman Catholic women who might even agree to celibacy, are prohibited from being ordained. No Roman Catholic official seems to be able to say in a straightforward way why this is the case. They mumble something about tradition and certain distinctions. But the rhetoric is increasingly thin as they defend the indefensible against their own practice. It is not pretty.
Cassandra finds pluses and minuses in the move, but is saddened.
It's this last that leads me to doubt whether absorbing Anglicans into the Catholic communion will work? The heart and soul of the Episcopal church, to me, was always that we loved and understood the need for rules and structure and an attempt - however imperfect that might be - to live up to God's word. But we also appreciated how God's word can be corrupted by self-serving and fallible human beings. Therefore, we deeply distrusted the politics and power plays involved with church life. That healthy (in my view) skepticism resulted in a congregation and celebrants who tend to be tolerant of human foibles while we're aiming for a standard few if any of us will ever measure up to.
Caitlin an Episcopalian says:
Nora was recently installed as the rector of our 150-year-old church. I wept with pride and pleasure. I was thrilled and surprised to see so many other women ministers show up for this important ceremony, offering her their moral, emotional and spiritual support. It felt like having a crowd of unicorns in our pews to see so many women at once wearing clerical robes and collars.
Power is something women everywhere fight for daily, in ways small and large, whether political, economic, intellectual, sexual, spiritual. No church that refuses women the pulpit can woo or win me.
Sarah points to the vast number of questions that this move raises:
Now some Catholic priests are starting to wonder if the Catholic Church will be moving to allow married priests. Also, would a unmarried Anglican priest have to take a vow of celibacy? There are also some loopholes created by this arrangement with the Anglican Church. Can people convert to Anglicanism to get married an then convert back? It seems like taking advantage of the system, but I think technically it would be ok, even if it’s not alright morally. Celibacy is a foundation of Catholic tradition for its priests and bishops. Would changing this rule change the religion too much? Or could it simply be adapting to modern times? There is a shortage of priests in the world because it’s getting harder to get young men to agree to being celibate and giving their life to the church. The modern world doesn’t seem to view it as much of an honor as it once was thought. I know it is still an amazing honor to many men and many families, but there certainly are less of them.
Is this move to allow Anglicans to come back into the Catholic Church married a bad one? Does trying to unite Christianity come at the cost of changing traditional church doctrine?
Mata H, in the interest of full disclosure, is an ex-Roman Catholic. She blogs at Time's Fool.
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