New Vatican Policy on Anglicans


BOB ABERNETHY, host: The Vatican announced plans to make it easier for disaffected Anglicans to convert to Catholicism. Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, said new structures will be created to accommodate growing numbers of Anglicans who want to leave the worldwide Anglican Communion because of disputes over homosexuality and female clergy. Under the new plan, those Anglicans can become Catholics while still maintaining some of their distinctive beliefs and practices, including the tradition of married priests. Our managing editor, Kim Lawton, is here, and so, from Denver, is John Allen, longtime Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Welcome to you both. John, what’s the Vatican up to here? Is it fishing for converts?

JOHN L. ALLEN, JR (National Catholic Reporter): Well, officially, Bob, the answer to that question is no. I mean, some Anglicans may see it that way, but the Vatican’s position is we didn’t go looking for these folks. They came to us. That is, there is a small but significant number of more traditionalist Anglicans who very publicly have asked to be received into the Catholic Church, and the Vatican’s line is that even though we didn’t solicit them, when people knock on our door we have a responsibility to open it up.

ABERNETHY: And Kim, what do you hear—reaction from the Anglicans?

KIM LAWTON: Well, officially, the spiritual head of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has been, you know, somewhat positive about this. He says he does not see it as an act of aggression from the Catholic Church, but certainly his church body has been under enormous pressure from a lot of fronts, and this one more front, one more sort of exit possibility for many Anglicans who are unhappy with what’s been going on in their church.

ABERNETHY: What do you both think, John first, what do you think about the numbers that will be involved here? Will it be a lot of people that are switching, or just a few?

Cardinal William Levada

ALLEN: Well, the signals from the Catholic side, at least, is that expectations are this is going to be a fairly small number of folks. When Cardinal Levada was asked this question at a Vatican briefing earlier in the week, he said that there were 20 or 30 Anglican bishops in various parts of the world who had put out feelers, but of course putting out feelers is different than signing on the bottom line. And at the grassroots the expectation is that at least in the early stages you’re talking about fairly small pockets of people who will be coming over.

LAWTON: And especially, well, here in the United States, the people that are unhappy with the Episcopal Church, which is the US branch of the Anglican Communion—they come from two different wings of the church. One certainly are those who are more Catholic in their traditions and their style of worship, but there are also evangelicals, who are conservative theologically but not so comfortable with the idea of Rome and the pope, and those two groups here in the US have come together. They’ve formed their own structure, the Anglican Church of North America, and they’re really focusing on building that. So I think a lot of the traditionalist Anglicans here in the US may not immediately head to the Catholic Church.

ABERNETHY: But is there a possibility that out of this, Kim, will come a more conservative Catholic Church and a more liberal Anglican Communion?

LAWTON: Well, of course, if a lot of conservatives leave the Anglican Communion it will become more liberal overall, but another scenario is that it puts more pressure on the worldwide Anglican Communion to itself become more conservative so it doesn’t lose more members.

post0a-vaticannewpoliciesABERNETHY: John, what about the effect on the Catholic Church of having more Anglicans in it, and especially with regard to married priests? I mean, is it a step, inevitably, toward a change in that position? If you let in a lot of married Anglicans, don’t you then have to change your position about existing Catholic priests?

ALLEN: Well, that’s certainly an argument some people are going to make. I mean, what we know for right now is the Vatican has clearly said that current Anglican ministers who become Catholics and become ordained as Catholic priests, if they’re currently married can remain married. The Vatican has also clearly ruled out married bishops. But what the policy is going to be going forward we don’t know. I mean, we should say that while the Vatican has made this announcement, they haven’t yet given us the legal document that provides all the fine points, and this is certainly one of those fine points people will have their eyeballs on. What Vatican officials are saying on background is that, whatever happens, they want to make sure that this doesn’t become a loophole that in the short term erodes the broader discipline of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church.

ABERNETHY: And, John and Kim, very quickly, Kim first, what do you see as any larger effects, very quickly?

LAWTON: Well, certainly Christianity is realigning in many ways around the world, and you’re finding people grouping together in new and different ways than they had in the past.

ABERNETHY: John, what do you see?

ALLEN: Well, I think in many ways ideology has replaced theology as the thing that drives Christian behavior at the grassroots. I mean, in the old days it was debates over things like the authority of the pope versus the Bible. These days it tends to be where do you stand on the culture wars, and that in many ways is what’s in play here.

LAWTON: Although a lot of the traditionalists would say those are theological issues, too.

ABERNETHY: Yeah. Kim Lawton, John Allen—many thanks.

  • Dr. B. D. Bills

    Bob Abernethy’s use of “Catholic Church” for “Roman Catholic Church” bothers. Precision and specificity of terms could help in this discussion. I am an Episcopalian; I am a Catholic.. . . That you are covering this development is a good thing.

  • robert harper

    As a practicing Catholic I welcome anyone that wants to return home to the first church established by Christ.

  • alice elaine

    First Benedict welcomes the Holocaust deniers. Now he welcomes angry homophobes and mysogynists.
    Just what the Catholic Church needs! NOT!!!

  • Robert Mazzella

    I think the Vatican ought simply to try and undo what Henry VIII did nearly 500 years ago.

  • Marian Ronan

    I disagree with John Allen. It’s as if the couple next door are having serious difficulties. You think the wife is in the right. It’s one thing to smile warmly at her, even offer to have coffee with her. It’s another thing to inform her that there’s a bedroom in your house ready for her. This is not what ecumenism is supposed to be about, and many veterans of dialogue between Christian denominations are saying so.

    I might add that I am a second generation Irish Catholic. My Catholic grandparents emigrated here before the Irish revolution to escape British (and Anglican) oppression. Part of my loyalty to the Catholic Church has to do with the Irish experience. So are these Anglican guys (I use the term advisedly) going to be able to pastor Roman Catholic congregations? The traditional Anglican parish featured in Laurie Goodstein’s article in yesterday’s New York Times is in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, on Philadelphia’s Main Line (and worth $7 million.) Let’s be clear here: the Philadelphia Catholics I’m descended from did not live on the Main Line, except in the servants’ quarters now and then. But the current pope would seem to be oblivious to these deeply inscribed wounds and concomitant loyalties. All that matters is agreement on sexual prohibition.

  • Doug

    John Allen is clearly correct in that there will be very few Anglicans to make the move. The Traditional Anglican Communion, which has closer to 40,000 members, not 400,000, and hasn’t been a part of the Anglican Communion for decades will go, and the 20 or 30 bishops he spoke of will go as well. All of the hysteria on both sides is silly. Papal authority and other RCC dogma are just too much for almost any Anglican to accept. The AC has become a much better example of the catholic faith.

  • Ted Foley

    As an Episcopalian who has worked for the full inclusion of our GLBT brothers and sisters, I was struck by John Allen’s characterization of this as a “culture war” rather than a theological issue. I have met hundreds of Episcopalians who are the same mind as me and every one of them has discerned full inclusion from a theological perspective. Characterizing this as a culture war is disrespectful of the Baptismal Covenant which we renew on a regular basis – to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (BCP 305)That is a theological issue!

  • Lee Willis

    In the very first sentence, and on the broadcast, you talk about “plans to make it easier for disaffected Anglicans to convert”, but of course this is not the case. The Vatican has made plans to make it eariler for disaffect MALE Aanglicans to convert. The general term does not equal men. This sloppiness is part of the unconscious slant of English usage that marginalizes women. Please be more accurate in the future.

  • Allison

    Well, considering that my Episcopal church is made up of at least 50% former Roman Catholics, I think there is plenty of flow both ways. People will figure out where they need to be. I’m sure the attitude on both sides has a bit of “good ridance to those who leave”.