The Pope's Anglican Division, 9 Nov 2009

by Graham Kings

Date added: 30/07/2020

The Pope's Anglican Division

Graham Kings                       The Guardian 9 Nov 2009


The Apostolic Constitution setting out the terms on which Anglicans may convert has been published. What will it mean?



In planning the momentous service in Canterbury Cathedral in 1982, a key question was who would sit on St Augustine's chair – Pope John Paul II or the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie? The Dean, Victor de Waal, solved the issue with great insight. The Canterbury Gospels, given by Pope Gregory the Great for the mission of St Augustine, who arrived in Kent in AD 597, would be placed on the chair. The pope and Archbishop of Canterbury would sit on either side – under God's Word.


During the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005, the wind kept ruffling another gospel book, placed on his coffin, turning its pages. This was in the full view of Cardinal Ratzinger, who presided at the service and succeeded him, as Pope Benedict XVI, and of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.


In 2009, relations between Rome and Canterbury lurched to a new level. Pope Benedict has authorised "personal ordinariates" for groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic church: the details have just been announced. The offer is an extension into England and elsewhere of a variant of a model already in place in the United States of America for many years.


But it comes after the General Synod of the Church of England decided to begin the process of legislation to consecrate women as bishops, and has new elements: Rome is changing its canon law to recognise a special status for some former Anglican bishops, even if they are married, and to allow group provision for disaffected Anglicans with the promise of some continuity of Anglican liturgy and spirituality. the other novelty is the astounding lack of consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The current context of Vatican departments is illuminating. It is right to question both the wisdom of bypassing the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and its President, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was not even present at the press conference in Rome, and the depth of knowledge of Anglican tradition in the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, led by Cardinal William Levada.

The debates in the Church of England in the 1940s concerning the validity of orders of the Church of South India were too often an externalization of an internal debate between Anglican traditions: the same may well be happening in the Vatican's varying responses to the Anglican Communion.

What are the implications for Anglicans who may be tempted to move over to Rome? Lay people will be required to be reconfirmed and clergy would have to be reconfirmed and reordained. From the Roman Catholic perspective, this would be confirmation and ordination for the first time. Although, in the past, some of these individual ordinations have included recognition of some sort of past sacramental ministry, from the Roman standpoint they had never fully been ordained nor effectively celebrated Mass before. This, it seems to me, will deter many.

The "personal ordinariates" will have to be "self-financing". From the Church of England, special financial provision for the clergy who may take up this offer will not be made available and there must be strong doubts whether church property or parsonages legally can be transferable.

There is an irony embedded in the promise of continuity of tradition. Anglican doctrine is characteristically expressed in liturgy, but among those who may take up this offer a large proportion, at least in England, currently use the Roman rite rather than authorised Anglican liturgies.

This annoucement has already produced division. It has put considerable strain on the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the UK and Ireland, which is led by conservative evangelicals and has sought to include traditionalist Anglican Catholics, and it will divide further the latter group between those who become Roman Catholics and those who remain as Anglicans. The Global South Anglican response to the offer is negative and positively prefers the model of the Anglican Covenant to safeguard Anglican tradition.


Catholic journalist has suggested that the name of the "personal ordinariate" in England and Wales may be linked to John Henry Newman, a famous former Anglican priest and theologian whose beatification is expected in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI visits England. Other reactions have been very mixed: from many Anglicans of anger and from some atheists of protection and protest. Perhaps the atheists in England deep down are Protestant atheists?


The long term consequences of this announcement are difficult to see at the moment, but the achievements of the dialogical approach of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) need to be safeguarded. The profoundly reconciling legacy in Liverpool and England of the friendship between Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock needs remembering and developing.


It may well be that the number of Anglican Catholic bishops and other clergy in England who take this up is likely to be low, and the number of congregations in England will be even lower.



Graham Kings

Graham Kings

A bronze

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