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Anglicans and Catholics


The English Catholic Church is preparing to welcome five Anglican Bishops and over 40 priests under arrangements earlier made by the Vatican. Some time earlier, too, an English congregation decided to become Catholic. Some breathless commentators speculated whether this trickle would become a flood and lead to England again being Catholic.

But for Anglicans and Catholics more generally it was an opportunity to reflect soberly on the significance of these events, and indeed on the regular movement of members of each church into the other.

The heart of the matter is that people are involved in a significant personal journey. So they must receive the respect that is due to them. When church allegiance was more tribal and the identity of a church was often defined in terms of what it was not, those who changed churches received little respect. The churches which they left often saw them as traitors, and the church that received them saw them as trophies or as foreigners.

It is heartening that now people who leave one church for another are generally farewelled and received courteously, and wished well. In this case Rowan Williams spoke with exemplary graciousness of the Bishops who were leaving the Anglican Communion.

From one perspective, too, the procedures for receiving Anglicans into the Catholic Church embody respect for the people involved. They recognise the importance of spiritual and liturgical traditions within a person's faith and make space for them in the Catholic Church.

But these events do not simply touch on the individuals concerned. They also ask what kind of respect is due between churches. This is a complex question, because many churches see these relationships as asymmetrical.

The Catholic and Orthodox churches, for example, see their church as being exceptional and see other churches as lacking important qualities. In earlier Catholic theology, this was spelled out in terms of the Catholic Church being the true church and other churches as non-churches. This radical asymmetry made any relations, let alone respectful ones, very difficult.

In more recent theology, the Catholic Church has seen itself as embodying in flawed ways the full reality of Church. Other churches share in that reality to greater and lesser degrees. This gradated view of churches explains why the Catholic Church might be eager to enter into special relations with Anglican groups which share similar liturgical practice and doctrinal and moral views with the Catholic Church.

The acceptance that churches are linked by a common baptism means that, even if they do not see one another as equals, they must respect each other as family. In the case of the relationship between the Catholic and the Anglican churches, this means that when either side makes decisions that address members of the other church, the approach should follow consultation and communication between the churches.

In the Vatican's dealings with the Anglicans, the detail of how Bishops, priest and congregations should be received into unity with the Catholic Church was properly a matter for the Catholic Church alone. The establishment of a secretariate to reflect on such questions as the criteria for deciding whether people approved for ministry in one church should be accepted into Catholic ministry, and how the new group should relate institutionally to other groups within the Catholic Church, was an internal Catholic decision.

But respect would seem to demand that public announcement of special provisions for Anglican congregations and clergy were preceded by consultation and proper communication. It is clear from Archbishop Rowan Williams' response that this was not done satisfactorily. That the failure represented an older view of Catholic exceptionalism is suggested by the fact that the documents grounding the Vatican initiative maximised Catholic uniqueness.

Respect also normally demands reciprocity. This is germane in deciding whether congregations and other groups that move from one church to another should retain the use and ownership of their churches and other property. Under this principle, Catholic groups which decided to associate with the Anglican church would have the same rights to property as Anglican groups who wished to become Catholic.

Predictions that massive numbers of Anglicans will become Catholic seem far-fetched. Certainly, the Anglican communion was divided by the ordination of women as priests, and is sharply divided by proposals to ordain women Bishops and to ordain as Bishops men in openly homosexual relationships. But only some of those opposed to these initiatives would feel any attraction to Rome.

The response of the Anglican Church in Sydney to the ordination of women, for example, has been to explore the possibility of instituting lay celebrants of the Eucharist. Those attracted to this proposal would not find a natural home in the Catholic Church. So the number of Anglicans who might be expected to become Catholic is relatively small.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Anglicans, Catholics, communion, gay bishops, women priests



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Existing comments

A thoughtful article but an important aspect of this matter is only touched on. Andy's observation that "only some" of those opposed to the ordination of women as priests and to the ordination of women and homosexual men "would feel any attraction to Rome" is no doubt true, but they are the Anglicans being targeted.
It seems to me that this is simply an initiative to further bolster the numbers and influence of those in the Catholic Church similarly opposed to the ordination of women as priests and to a Christian acceptance of people who are homosexual.

Peter Johnstone | 18 November 2010  

A very interesting and objective article. The priests and bishops leaving the Church of England will no doubt be the first of many, and I suspect that the C of E is underestimating the number. Nevertheless there will not be a 'flood'. Two priests from England have already told me that they are going to hang on for a few more years to secure their pensions and do their best to care for the people in their charge in the meantime.

In Australia there will be very few clergy from the Anglican Church of Australia taking up the Ordinariate option. Most of us who might have done so have already left and been accepted into the Catholic church. It is likely that any recruits for the Ordinariate from Australia will come from the Traditional Anglican Communion, and it remains to be seen whether they will be accepted under the protocols.

Nigel Mitchell | 18 November 2010  

Some of my best friends are Protestants, some of them are Anglicans. As they witness the trials the Catholic church is undergoing in the West, over liturgical reform, celibacy, women's rights within and without the church, etc., they chip me and say: I see you Catholics are catching up on us.

There was a time when I saw division and disputes as the work of the devil. Now I see it simply as evidence of the broken nature of human beings.

For people who try to find some meaning in life, some purpose, Jesus Christ, is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Alas in some ways carrying the message of Jesus Christ has become a competitive enterprise. And purveyors of the message are prepared to use all the skills and tricks of commerce and public relations to sell their product.

But, as Henri Nouwen writes, "Ministry is acting in the name of Jesus." This doesn't mean to act as a representative of Jesus or as his spokesman. It means to act in an intimate communion with him, like Mary MacKillop did, not like her ecclesiatical critics did.

Uncle Pat | 18 November 2010  

Very simply, if an Anglican wants to go over to Rome, as the expression is, then they do it. This has been the case for centuries and will continue in the same way. Roman Catholics join the Anglican Church also, and are welcome. The reasons vary, but we know some of the main ones, they are as perennial as the grass. The ordinariate has attracted fifty or so people in England, which sits rather conspicuously beside some of the carry-on about schisms and the like. Rowan Williams’ good wishes to those joining the Catholic Church would be informed by a belief that Christians should be where they feel at home and where they belong. His graciousness towards those leaving is in marked contrast to the ungracious way they have treated him. I refer in particular to the extraordinary way in which the ordinariate was originally planned, where the hierarchies of both English churches (Anglican and Roman) were not informed of what was happening until Rome made the announcement.

One of the reasons for this general indifference to the call of the ordinariate is wrapped up in Uncle Pat’s uninformed but predictable belief that Anglicans are Protestants. Why leave a church which states and understands that it is catholic? Why leave a church that recognises the rightful status of ordained women? Why leave a church that does not shy away from issues of sexuality, let alone pretend that these issues don’t exist?

PHILIP HARVEY | 18 November 2010  

In commenting on Rowan Williams’ gracious wishes to those wishing to affiliate with the Roman Catholic Church, based on his belief that people should go where they feel at home, Philip Harvey touches on something worthy of deep soul-searching for all of us. Rowan Williams’ outlook has no taint of sectarian divisiveness but only genuine generosity. I believe religion is for humankind, not God, and we should be wherever it makes us generous and joy-full in mind and action, because if we're not, then we're in the wrong place.

I think most people’s religious affiliation is the one they are first formed in as children and it takes a deeply adult and personal and momentous decision to change it, even if they no longer feel altogether happy with it. People who do make deliberate changes, whether to another religious home or to none, ought to be respected for it.

Rather than persist with the notion that any religion was founded by God, which leads inevitably, it seems, to regarding conversions as, as Andrew puts it, “trophies” or ‘aliens”, wouldn’t we make progress if we accepted that the assembly of the people of God was as wide and as varied as the people of good will? I think Rowan Williams has a lot to teach us and inspire us with his own approach.

Stephen Kellett | 18 November 2010  

Thank you Andrew for a great explanation, could it be sent to the secular press and for them to realise that defection from one group to another is NOT just a matter of liking or not liking but believing and a matter of FAITH.

Rosemary Keenan Gwelup WA | 18 November 2010  

What's wrong with believing that, since there are a lot of churches with different beliefs, either one of them is right and the others are all wrong (even if only in minor ways), or they are all wrong?

Gavan Breen | 18 November 2010  

Anglicans are Catholic already - so sounds like some will take on the Roman rite!

hilary | 18 November 2010  

But Gavan, what if all the churches are all right? Up to a point? There aren’t many that don’t reject Jesus. Who is Jesus? You tell me. I’ve got my own ideas and they are consistent with what was said at Nicea before it was turned into a tile factory. I also have a lot of ideas about Jesus that the patriarchs and their mothers would have found interesting, but probably not heretical.

Then again, what if all the churches have little bits and bobs that are wrong? What’s wrong? Your idea of wrong or someone else’s? I mean, if Jesus is the Truth and everyone can see that this is not easily refutable, or is even in fact true, then everyone is onto something, but how do we interpret Truth? You tell me. In what way is Jesus the Truth? Especially if he is the Truth for everyone, even those who don’t believe in him or have never heard of him.

There is something peculiarly calm about a Truth that is speaking to you as you, and not in some absolute terms. Almost certainly in our experience, this is the way that Jesus talks to us, not in terms of right and wrong, who’s in and who’s out, who defects and who stays put. The problems begin when that Truth is turned into an absolute by individuals as a way of controlling, threatening, and crucifying poor blighters for no good reason.

Desiderius Erasmus | 18 November 2010  

To Desiderius Erasmus

Yes the churches are mostly right, up to a point. Beyond that point is what I'm thinking about.
Is "There aren't many that don't reject Jesus" a mistake?

The truth is what is real. Some believe in the Real Presence (without pretending to understand it) and some don't. Either it is real or it is not. If it is real, those who don't believe in it are wrong (in that matter). They can't be blamed for honestly not believing.

Jesus is not the truth. Jesus has the truth.
your idea or my idea of what is wrong has nothing to do with whether something is wrong or not.

Gavan Breen | 18 November 2010  

Thanks Gavan. Yes, you are right, the third sentence makes more sense without ‘don’t’. When I say that there aren’t many churches that reject Jesus, I am using mordant irony. Can you name a church that rejects Jesus? That I am aware of, only the Mandaeans come close, they pay huge obeisance to John the Baptist. But even in the New Testament we are being warned about any one person having the final word on Jesus. We have four gospels that contradict one another, for example, and that’s not an accident.

The truth is what is real, but it also has to contend with what is unreal. Pre-Iznik Nicea talks about the visible and the invisible. That is a reality I find hard to refute. It certainly isn’t wrong, even a scientist would agree with it. As for the marvellous Reformation thrash over Real Presence, I am more interested in the saying, if you ask for bread will you be given a stone? I have always found the eucharist real, and the reality is first about doing it. Arguments are interesting, later, though I don’t like bloodshed.

When I say Jesus is the Truth I am being Johannine: the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is one way of talking about truth. It is a starting point for understanding existence and one of the main things you learn when following this truth is that contradiction is inherent in the world and in us. When I am confronted by contradiction, I know to the depth of my being that I live in a universe that cannot simply be reduced to arguments about things being either right or wrong.

Desiderius Erasmus | 19 November 2010  

Andrew has completely misunderstood the reasons why Sydney Anglicans are for lay celebrants of the Eucharist. The fact is that because of their Biblical emphasis their Synod was thinking about the priesthood of all believers and what this meant for the exclusiveness of priests in leading Holy Communion well before women's ordination became a reality. You can follow it in the Sydney Diocesan Yearbooks. So Andrew, please get your facts and history correct.

Philip | 19 November 2010  

Seems to me that our world would be a whole lot better off if we got on with the job of looking after 'the widow and fatherless' i.e. those with no social clout, and let go of ego-charged theological nit-picking designed to 'win'

hilary | 19 November 2010  

It's probably a bit late to reply to Philip Harvey's attributing to me "the uninformed but predictable belief that Anglicans are Protestsants."

What I was trying to convey in my first sentence was that I have very good Christian friends; some of whom are Protestant; some of them are Anglican.

It was a bit like saying I have some very good South American friends: some of them are Peruvian; some are Bolivian.

In my quest for brevity, to fit under 200 word limit, I sacrificed clarity.
I concede Philip's labelling his interpretation of my two terse clauses as an "uninformed" belief, but it was not what I meant.
However to call his interpretation of my words as a "predictable" belief, I am not aware of other statements I have made conflating Protestantism with Anglicanism - unless he is conflating me with another Uncle Pat.

Uncle Pat | 19 November 2010  

Take your pick:

Fr Hamilton: "In more recent theology, the Catholic Church has seen itself as embodying in flawed ways the full reality of Church. Other churches share in that reality to greater and lesser degrees."

Dominus Iesus:

"The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church … With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth” that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him … over the entire Church.

On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense …

HH | 19 November 2010  

Pope Leo XIII declared the Anglican orders null and void.don't any of you remember the English Martyrs, the 72,000 Catholics "Good" Queen Bess had put to death in the most awful ways, and the terrible persecution of Catholics by the Anglican church and Government.

This article and all the comments I have read don't seem to realise that there is only One, True, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Anglican church is a false religion and they have NO priests or bishops, just plain old laymen.

Trent | 20 November 2010  

My first comment is that after more than 20 years as a Jesuit and Roman Catholic priest in Australia and America, and then some 30 years as an Anglican in America and Australia, I have been part of a transition in which Catholics become Anglicans. Other priests in my Anglican Diocese of Perth were ordained by Catholic Bishops. When lay people want to be elected to Anglican Synod or to be Parish Wardens, or to vote in these elections, they sign forms about ways they became officially Anglicans. I have belonged to parishes where 30% of such Anglicans were once Roman Catholics.

So my first comment is that a two way street links Catholic and Anglican.

My second comment is that the most significant part of discussion about people who move from one Church Communion to another is largely an English one.

Vocation statistics are significant here.

In 1999, in which year 121 Catholic priests died, 43 priests were ordained.In 2003 44 priests were ordained. In 2004-- 18, in 2009 -- 39 and in 2010 -- 16.

The Anglican Church of England ordained 552 new clergy in 2007 -- 262 women and 290 men. 52% were ordained to non-stipendary ministry, 162 of those ordained to stipendary ministry were men and 102 were women.

Anglicans in England also live with increased giving by parish members.

In 2005, 727 Anglicans attended 52 selection conferences wanting to train for ordination. 564 were recommended for training.

And the Anglican communion will pay significant money to and will provide housing for some of the clergy who become "Roman" because they do not want women priests.

Gerry Costigan | 20 November 2010  

There is something immovably Tridentine about Trent. His caustic attacks on people he calls Anglican are enough to make atheists snort with amusement and fundamentalists shiver with recognition. The religious persecutions and martyrdoms of the 16th and 17th centuries are a scandal involving all sides. Selective memory of atrocities is detrimental to Trent’s argument, who needs to learn that no one takes pride in what happened under Henry, Edward, Mary, Elizabeth, James. Let alone under successive bishops of Rome who have turned a blind eye to all kinds of murder and warfare, if it suits their purposes. To say otherwise is to ignore the plain facts of church history. None of those monarchs would have even known what Trent meant by Anglican Church.

We should look to the example of John Paul II, who went to some trouble to apologise to the Greeks for 1204. If Trent wants to find out why Byzantium (the originator of the amazing terms with big capital letters One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church) held a grievance against the Latin Church which has lasted 800 years, he should read about what the Venetians did at Constantinople at the start of the 13th century. Jesus said something about, if you have a grievance against anyone go and tell them immediately and gain forgiveness. John Paul II was greeted with public abuse when he arrived at Athens Airport, but he said something that no other bishop of Rome has had the courage to try. He did this in the hope of averting further conflict and to seek understanding and reconciliation.

Desiderius Erasmus | 20 November 2010  

Pope Leo XIII declared the Anglican orders null and void.don't any of you remember the English Martyrs, the 72,000 Catholics "Good" Queen Bess had put to death in the most awful ways, and the terrible persecution of Catholics by the Anglican church and Government.

This article and all the comments I have read don't seem to realise that there is only One, True, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Anglican church is a false religion and they have NO priests or bishops, just plain old laymen.

Trent | 21 November 2010  

Thank you, HH, for your quotation from Dominus Jesus. The tone of this document is certainly different from what I wrote, but its intention was also different. The document was designed to rebut the view that all churches were equivalent. For that reason it used a very tight definition of church when saying that churches other than the Catholic church could not be described as churches in the proper sense.

But it also reiterated the view expressed at Vatican II, which does seem to depend on the patristic image of participation. The passage quoted by HH continues:
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.

“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach. In fact, the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities.

These paragraphs do seem to attribute a value to churches other than the Catholic Church, although not equivalence. The Orthodox churches, of course, would see their own relationship to the Catholic Church in the same way as Dominus Jesus sees other churches.

If baptism and life in churches other than the Catholic Church lead their members to full communion, it would seem also to follow that people find and respond to Christ within those churches through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. That again does not imply equivalence.

In response to Trent I would ask one question. If in the Catholic Church we enjoy the fullness of Christ's presence, why would we want to speak brutally and insultingly of other Christians, rather than allow the splendour of Christ's truth shine through the Christlike courtesy of our conversation?

Andy Hamilton | 21 November 2010  

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