Dozens of pastors and hundreds of believers are returning to the Catholic Church because of its acceptance of female bishops and gay clergymen
It is now more like erosion than an exodus. Dozens of pastors and hundreds of believers are leaving the Anglican Church every month and with the introduction of the female episcopate in July, it seems likely that more and more will escape. The phenomenon of Anglican clergymen and believers returning to Rome is noting a continuous increase as a result of an agreement reached with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which allows the clergy to be re-ordained as Catholic priests. This unstoppable trend is one of the reasons that induced Archbishop Rowan Williams to resign.
According to some surveys, practically half of the flock of the Church of England is favourable to a reunion with their “separated Catholic siblings”. And the “contagion” is extending from the Anglicans to the Lutherans. Several North American and Scandinavian groups have asked the Holy See to be received into the Catholic Church. This has led to the establishment of an appropriate Ordinariate for them based upon the “Our Lady of Walsingham” model designed for former Anglicans. This is a path of return towards the Catholic Church that involves a growing number of clerics and laypeople from all over the world. The Anglican Communion has not been able to identify effective ways of stopping a trend that has weakened the leadership of the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who, twenty days ago, announced he will step down from his post at the end of the year; a decision he took after ten years of service and after accepting the position of Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge. The Primate is the “primus inter pares” of the world-wide Anglican Communion and he presides over the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and the Assembly of Primates.
Meanwhile, conversions to Catholicism keep increasing, favoured by the institution of the personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on 15 January. Several dozen groups scattered all over Great Britain are entering the Catholic Church. After a preparatory path for official entry to the Catholic Church, the converted are accepted through the sacrament of Confirmation. The apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus”, published in November 2009, made the entrance to the Catholic Church for Anglican communities possible, through the institution of personal ordinariates with characteristics similar to those of a non-territorial parish (a new canonical structure). Thus it is possible for them to recognize the supremacy of the Pope while maintaining elements of their liturgical and spiritual tradition. Up to now the change from the Anglican Church to the appropriate Ordinariate of the Catholic Church instituted by Benedict XVI has involved bishops, priests and believers who wish to return to the ancient liturgy of the Latin Mass.
In July the Anglican Church in England will authorize the ordination of female bishops, whilst also approving some measures to please the traditionalist wing which was contrary to such change. In 1994, when it approved the sacerdotal ordination of women, the Anglican Church lost approximately five-hundred members of the clergy who changed over to the Catholic Church. In July 2010, the Anglican Synod of York approved the ordination of female bishops; a decision that is prevailing little by little in all the Anglican Communion contrary to the opinion of the traditionalist communities.
The Anglican Communion is composed of thirty-eight independentprovinces, one of which is England. Several provinces already have female bishops. Eventually, because of the Episcopal consecration of women, the haemorrhage could worsen. The Catholic Church is opposed to the process that will introduce the legislation leading to the ordination of women to the episcopate next July. The position of the Catholic Church in this regard has remained unchanged since the times of Paul VI. The approval of the female episcopate is considered by the Holy See as a split from the apostolic tradition maintained by all the Churches of the first millennium, and it is therefore an ulterior obstacle for the reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. So, the opening of the episcopate to the other half of the sky will have negative consequences for the dialogue with the Vatican. And it will cause an ulterior departure of clerics and laypeople towards Rome.
There is a clear trend being followed: next July will see the ordination of female bishops, then the ordination of openly gay clergymen. It is the path the Anglican world has decided to follow, regardless of the numerous communities that, because of this “liberal” turn, choose the Diaspora and the return to the Catholic “mother Church”. The Holy See has warned on numerous occasions that the decision to consecrate female bishops would compromise the ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church. All Churches of the first millennium, Catholic, Oriental and Orthodox, assert that only men can be ordained. These Churches see the ordination of women as an illegitimate abandonment of the authentic tradition. With the acceptance of female bishops, the Anglican Communion would abandon that which Rome considers the essential tradition of the Church since its origins. Two issues are at the centre of the tensions within the Anglican Communion and with the Catholic Church: the ordination of women and homosexuality.
The Vatican blames the Anglicans for the impossibility of offering one common testimony of human sexuality and marriage. Moreover, the ordination of women to the episcopate would substantially and definitively block a possible acknowledgment of Anglican orders by the Catholic Church. The “female episcopate” is a big obstacle on the road towards the common participation to the Table of Christ. And so the “escape” of Anglicans towards Rome intensifies.