Angles on Anglicans

Catholic-WhatOtherChoicePoster-737596.jpegWe’ve looked a bit at some of the hyperbolic coverage of the major Vatican news this week. Previously, for instance, the Times (U.K.) ran headlines about Catholic tanks parked on Anglican lawns, then Vatican gambits and Papal poaching.

But this story shows that there was quite a bit of movement on the Anglican side that led to the Catholic Church’s new provision. And the headline is still pretty dramatic:

400,000 former Anglicans worldwide seek immediate unity with Rome

You wouldn’t know from the story, however, that the Vatican had been working on how to receive the Traditional Anglican Communion, which has (not coincidentally) an estimated 400,000 people, for years and that what was announced this week were the early details for how that will happen.

Compare that coverage to religion reporter Peter Smith’s analysis in the Louisville Courier-Journal headlined “Limits to Rome’s Anglican plan.” Smith argues that the new overture to Anglicans may have significant consequences on Roman Catholics but he doubts it will draw many Anglicans who weren’t going to convert already. He thinks the liturgical distinctions between the two church bodies aren’t that major. Here’s the gist:

As for the Anglicans, there’s no push for the majority of Anglicans in Africa and Asia to bolt for a more conservative church. They already have conservative national churches. Why should any conservative break away from a church where the moral conservatives represent the overwhelming mass of opinion, such as in Nigeria? Philip Jenkins, a scholar on Global South religion, told the Times.

For Anglicans in the United States and other liberal Western countries, well:

1. There aren’t that many of them, of any ideology, except in England, and even there many of them are members in name only. As I noted earlier this week, Episcopal membership is down nationwide and in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Catholics outnumber Episcopalians and Anglicans in the United States by something like 20 to 1.

2. A minority of conservative Episcopalians has already broken off to form a rival denomination that claims to be the true Anglican representative in America. But as the network itself says, it believes most members won’t accept Rome’s overtures.

So, one would have to be: a) conservative enough to want to leave the Episcopal Church, b) unwilling to convert to standard Roman Catholicism, c) then willing to change one’s mind because the pope would permit worship under Anglican-style liturgies and married priests.

He goes on to quote — I know, I know — the omnipresent Father Thomas Reese saying the move is much more significant for Catholic clergy. There’s a discussion of whether Roman Catholic men will try to join the Anglican ordinariate, just so they can marry.

Anyway, the move is significant, it is bold, it is major. But journalists need to be asking some of the questions Smith looks at in his coverage.

It’s true that there’s very little push in the Global South. And even the major news about parishes and dioceses breaking away here in the States isn’t about groups looking to go to Rome. So the move should be kept in perspective. Who exactly, other than those in the Traditional Anglican Communion, will be joining the Catholics? It’s a question that deserves ongoing coverage.

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  • michael

    I agree with Smith’s net conclusions. I don’t expect to see a massive influx of Anglicans in the near term, whether from the U.S., U.K., or Africa. But I don’t think he and Jenkins provide a particularly insightful explanation as to why this is probably correct. It’s not as if the determinative theological criterion for ecclesial bodies responding in one way or another to this overture is ‘degree of conservatism’–a banal and ultimately meaningless notion–but rather how they regard their own ‘catholicity’ and what they ultimately take that to consist in. Surely that is partly what was at stake in the failed effort to save Anglicanism as a communion in the first place. Any body that did contemplate this invitation in the banal terms proposed by Smith and Jenkins would have laready given a tacit answer to these more basic questions.

    The movement is likely to be small because a)as has it has been pointed out, a great deal of the opposition to the further ‘liberalization’ of ECUSA and the C of E, especially in Africa comes not from Anglo-Catholics, but from Evangelicals, who have a more congregational, or at any rate, less sacramental ecclesiology, and b) because even the Anglo-Catholics tend to understand the locus of their catholicity in quintessentially Anglican fashion, through common worship, though some still hang their hats on the disputed question of apostolic succession. There is more room for maneuver here, but it is not a slam dunk.

    The question of ‘ecclesial migration’ in the present moment is interesting and important. But I continue to maintain that it is not what is most signficant about this in either theological, or ultimately, historical terms. This event, like many others discussed on this blog, raises the interesting question of whether journalism qua journalism is either capable of or interested in what this overture means. The apparent inability to see beyond the immediate effects on church allegiance or the obsession with priestly celibacy, poorly understood in its own right, suggests not.

  • Julia

    The times of London has a graph showing which Anglicans or former Anglicans are likely to join the Catholic church.

  • Julia

    And here’s an analysis from the Times of London entitled, I kid you not, “Converts May Choke on the Raw Meat of Catholicism”.

    Here’s the info on the writer, Libby Purvis, who is not associate with any tabloids, but mainly the revered BBC Times:

    Libby Purves worked for some years for BBC Radio 4, as a reporter and a presenter on the Today programme and, since 1983, has presented Midweek. She joined The Times as a columnist in 1990. She received an OBE in 1999 for her services to journalism and was Columnist of the Year in the same year. In her spare time she writes bestselling novels. Her opinion column appears in the The Times on Mondays

  • Julia

    Make that:

    Libby Purvis, who is not associated with, but mainly the revered BBC and Times.

  • Julia

    One last try:

    Libby Purvis who is not associated with tabloids but mainly the revered BBC and Times.

  • whimsy

    I would like to see an informed article on the relationship between the Papacy and the local Bishops.

    It would seem that the Moto Proprio regarding the Tridentine Rite and the upcoming provisions for the Angican Rite both have measures allowing various subsets of worshipers to circumvent the Bishop’s approval within His geographical juristiction.

  • Julia

    The writer Peter Smith does raise some interesting questions, but he needs to qualify his observations – they relate mostly to the US where there is already an Anglican Use. To my knowledge, there is no Anglican Use outside the US where most of the action will be.

    Some Catholic writers/blogs are noting that there is a trend away from geographical jurisdiction. There is already the Opus Dei who don’t answer to the Bishop and religious orders have always tended to ignore Bishops, anyway. There are many new “movements” in the Catholic Church, which include clergy and lay people, such as Communion and Liberation, Community of St Egidio, Neocathecumal Way, Catholic Action, Renewal in the Spirit, etc. None of these are primarily geographical. There have been many insider baseball articles in the past few years foreseeing the parish system as the base with an over-laying of these others, perhaps outside the diocesan system.

    Check out well-respected Sandro Magister’s Chiesa where there are links to many articles about these groups, which seem to be unknown to US journalists. [Some of them have been very problematical and have received some coverage] (The article is in English translation.)

    I don’t see any mainstream publications addressing where this new world-wide Anglican-Catholic thing might fit in with the other non-territorial groups. Benedict is known to be particularly fond of Communion and Liberation ; he often addressed that group before becoming Pope.

  • harold

    As far as who will convert in the US, the first folks to check on will be the TAC folks, then the FiF(Forward in Faith) and finally the folks in the Ft. Worth and San Joaquin dioceses that left the Episcopal Church. Finally, there are the other rare Catholic-oriented clergy and laity in the Episcopal Church. I believe that all of the above, except the last group (really, individuals) are going to wait until February to make any move. Of course we–I number myself in the last category– must wait and see what the Constitution really says.

    There will already be inherent tension between the TAC folks and the others over who the hierarchy will be and tension between the “old school” incense and lace folks and that last category who are just as likely to be Vatican II enthusiasts.

    Remember, too, the cultural differences between Anglo-Catholics and the Catholic Church. The first are part and parcel of a cultural tradition that abhors Catholicism and to be “Catholic” yet not Catholic on some level is acting out. It costs little to nothing to have Catholic aesthetics. (well, lace isn’t inexpensive) However, to actually “swim the Tiber” means to be immersed in an ocean where one’s Catholic trappings are no more exceptional or special than another church’s Marty Haugen guitar and drum combo. And, most importantly, there is no fudging or going back once you go to Rome. One more thing– a priest going over will have to spend a period not saying Mass and possibly not ever being accepted for ordination by the Vatican.

    Lastly, I remember well the counsel of a married priest that it won’t do to be fleeing from the errors of the Episcopal Church; one must be drawn to the fullness of the Catholic Church. Don’t count on there being too many conversions, but I pray I’m wrong.

  • Julia

    The solution Benedict has adopted was originally suggested by Cardinal John Newman in 1876. Something similar to the Newman/Benedict plan was proposed in the early 1990s and blocked mostly by the English Catholic bishops.

    Also SEE a website about Newman for more particulars about his plan.

    Benedict is known to have read deeply in Newman’s work and to admire him greatly. Certainly he was aware of these plans that were twice not adoptd in the past 150 years.

    So – journalists should be careful about claiming this is all due to developments in the Anglican Communion in the past 50 years. The Roman Option has been around for a very long time.

    SEE the book The Roman Option by William Oddie, former editor of the UK’s Catholic Herald, about the battles in the 1990s.

    There is no official review of the book, but there is a very astute 2007 reviewer who says:

    “The Roman Option” is quite specifically grounded in debates and discussions that took place, for the most part, from 1993 to 1996, I’d still recommend the book highly, not only to those interested in the church politics of the period, but also to anyone anticipating a possible “realignment of English-speaking Christianity”, whether or not in the specific form that William Oddie both projects and promotes


    It helps, of course, that his real story moves quickly away from the specific issue of women’s ordination to embrace such central issues as authority within the church and such questions as the meaning of Catholicism itself.

  • Chip

    Mollie & Matt,

    What is missing in all of this ink, and you have failed to raise, is the question of who is an Anglican or former Anglican.

    Both of you have a history of pouncing on those journalists who write about catholic women priests.

    Are not journalists (following the Vatican’s own ambiguous use of the terms) doing the same thing in this case? Many articles assume that Anglican refers to members of the Anglican Communion, but many who call themselves Anglican are not and never have been members of that Communion. (Has anyone seen a pedigree, let alone an analysis, of the Traditional Anglican Communion whose supposed membership is the source of the expected half million converts?)

  • Julia

    Here’s a juicy tidbit for reporters:

    The negotiations taking place in the 1990s about something similar to what has now happened was led by then-Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume. His assistant? None other than one of his younger bishops, the current Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who took over in May, 2009. Nichols’ predecessor Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was adamantly against the just-anounced solution and was also a foe of the old 1962 Mass. He once cancelled a celebration of the 1962 Mass by Archbishop Burke, then of St Louis and now head of the Church’s equivalent of the Supreme Court and just announced member of the Vatican committee that recommends new bishops.

    Will come back with some links when I re-locate them.

    So – somebody wondering about timing might want to also include the naming of Vincent Nichols as Murphy-O’Connor’s replacement 5 months ago, the up-coming canonization of Cardinal Newman and Benedict’s visit to the UK next fall.

  • Mollie


    It’s an excellent point you raise.

  • michael


    This is all very interesting, particularly the Benedict/Newman angle and the question regarding the geographical parish and geographical jurisdiction. That these are forms of alignment reflecting the fact that people’s relationship to locality has changed is an aspect of all this that deserves a lot of thought.

    Thank you.

  • Julia

    Thanks, Michael. I’m retired so I have time to read a lot of blogs and newspapers on-line to follow my interests. Recent studies indicate that I can be staving off alzheimer’s by doing so. So my kids have quit giving me grief over it.

    Here’s a link to the YouTube posted by Ruth Gledhill (of the Times) of Archbishop Nichols at the presser in London the other day. He’s explaining a bit how things will work.

    I couldn’t help but notice that he sure sounds like Paul McCarney.

  • Julia

    One last bit of info that I’ve seen nowhere in the general press. The Anglican liturgy is derived from the pre-Reformation Catholic Mass and, in particular, the Book of Comomon Prayers is the descendant of the formerly ubiquitous editions of the Catholic Book of the Hours.

    There is a wonderful, beautiful book by Eamon Duffy about these books with lots of photos. I’m sure you’ve all seen the wonderful illuminations in the famous hand-made Books of Hours in museums. Mr. Duffy was more interested in the texts, the hand-written notations by the owners, the cheaper printed ones and the defacings after Henry VIII split from Rome.

    These books contained not only the usual Psalms, but also common prayers of the time, and could even have the parts of the Mass that stay constant with English translations. The owners would take them along to Mass as well as use them at home.

    After printing became common, cheaper version of these books were in the hands of the common folks as well as the gentry and nobles. After the split with Rome, Duffy shows where the name of the Pope and other newly-objectional prayers and other things are scratched out, and other things are added – either by hand or pasting over offending parts. The books wcontinued to be used many years after the split.

    The Book of Common Prayer retained most of what was in these books. It wasn’t a totally new invention.

    So – bringing back Anglican liturgy and prayers that don’t conflict with Catholic teaching is almost better than the 1962 Mass. I recognized many of the prayers in the book as the substrate for Catholic prayers and hymns still in use today.

    Here’s a link to the book: Marking the Hours; English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570.

  • michael


    You probably know this, but speaking of Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars is a Masterpiece and his personal reflection, ‘Faith of our Fathers, I think, is also beautiful as well.

  • wandrew

    That’s a great poster. :D