There’s a lot of rejoicing today among friends of orthodoxy at the Vatican’s initiative to ease the path for traditionalist Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. The plan, to be spelled out in an Apostolic Constitution by Pope Benedict, will create diocesan-like structures (“personal ordinariates”) for their parishes, will authorize the preservation of Anglican liturgical traditions, and will authorize the ordination of married convert clergy as Catholic priests (though not as bishops).
This initiative is a response to a request from a group called the Traditional Anglican Communion, whose members broke with the mainstream Anglican Communion churches in the 1970s and 1980s over issues such as the question of women’s ordination. A couple of years ago, TAC leaders wrote to the Pope declaring that they fully accepted the Catholic Faith, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and that they were willing to take any steps necessary to achieve full unity with the Catholic Church. Now their leader, Archbishop John Hepworth, an Australian, has written to express his gratitude at the Pope’s decision.
TAC is not a huge organization: its member church in England has just 19 congregations; its US member, the Anglican Church in America is more substantial, with several dioceses: about 100 parishes and 5200 members. TAC member churches have about 40 congregations in Canada and another 40 in Australia (including a few in Papua New Guinea).
It’s going to take several years to set up these new jurisdictions, receive all these people into full communion, and have their clergy ordained after some suitable theological preparation, so there will be some interesting ecclesial events to look forward to, and the joy of welcoming our brothers and sisters to full sacramental and ecclesial communion.
For some of us Catholics, bringing Anglican traditions into Catholic life may strengthen our efforts to enhance the beauty and dignity of Catholic liturgy in conventional Roman-rite parishes. The new Anglican-use congregations may even end up offering some refuge and solace to conservative Catholics in places where conventional parishes have undignified liturgy and insipid preaching.