He’s Henry the 8th, he is …

The Wives of Henry VIII_titleTruth be told, I always enjoy getting to praise a story in the New York Times.

Your GetReligionistas, you see, get so much email bashing the Times and, of course, we have been known to do our share of criticizing the great Gray Lady, too. But anyone who doesn’t care about what goes on in that newsroom simply doesn’t care about journalism and the role it plays in this culture and, frankly, the world. But I digress.

I have not read all of the coverage of the Vatican’s announcement concerning the future of Anglo-Catholicism — a story that’s been in the works for more than a decade. However, I feel comfortable saying that the Times final version of the first-day story is solid and raises many topics missed in some other reports. Replace “extraordinary” in the lede with “long-anticipated” and things get off to a fine start.

I alo thought this passage dug a bit deeper, into issues that will deserve a lot of attention in the near future. Oh, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI is planning to visit Britain next year. Do you think he will ask the Anglicans to give back many of the Catholic churches that they seized so long ago (including one in the village of Mattingly, to cite an example)? Anyway, Cardinal William J. Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, mentioned many fascinating details.

The decision creates a formal universal structure to streamline conversions that had previously been evaluated case by case. The Vatican said that it would release details in the coming weeks, but that generally, former Anglican prelates chosen by the Catholic Church would oversee Anglicans, including entire parishes or even dioceses, seeking to convert.

Under the new arrangement, the Catholic practice that has allowed married Anglican priests to convert and become Catholic priests would continue. (There have been very few such priests.) But only unmarried Anglican bishops or priests could become Catholic bishops. Cardinal Levada acknowledged that accepting large numbers of married Anglican priests while forbidding Catholic priests to marry could pose problems for some Catholics. But he argued that the circumstances differed.

Under the new structure, former Anglicans who become Catholic could preserve some elements of Anglican worship, including hymns and other “intangible” elements. …

Follow-up question! What about the future? Will married men, in the future, be able to seek the priesthood in this new structure? It is my understanding that they will. That could create a very interesting dynamic between these Anglican-heritage parishes and the Latin Rite churches, with celibate priests. Also, how many people (including Catholics who are not fond of post-Vatican II liturgies) will choose to hop over to parishes featuring tweaked versions of the glorious rites and music of the classic Book of Common Prayer? Just asking.

I was also glad to note that the Times explored the fact that most conservative Anglicans, in this day and age, are quite Protestant in their approach to faith and church life. They will not be tempted to switch to doctrine and structures acceptable to Rome. It should be noted that both low-church Anglicanism and the Catholic Church are growing rapidly in Africa, for example. Why would there be conflict or tension there?

However, let me note one historical passage in this Times report that interested — I would not say “troubled” — me.

The Vatican’s announcement signals a significant moment in relations between two churches that first parted in the Reformation of the 16th century over theological issues and the primacy of the pope.

At this point, please click here for inspirational music to accompany the reading of the rest of this post.

Here’s my question: Where is King Henry VIII and his unique approach to marriage, theology and governance? I know that Anglicans don’t like it when people say that the English Reformation was rooted in the king’s sex life and their complaints are completely justified. For example, the Wall Street Journal noted:

The move comes nearly five centuries after King Henry VIII broke with Rome and proclaimed himself head of the new Church of England after being refused permission to divorce.

That’s the “Henry alone” approach, stripped of a couple of wives.

Over at the Washington Post, the history section of the story (terrible headline, by the way) said pretty much the same thing.

The worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the 2.3 million-member U.S. Episcopal Church, has been racked by years of conflict over the interpretation of Scripture that has led to clashes over female clergy and, more recently, gay clergy. …

The Communion broke from the Catholic church in 1534, when England’s King Henry VIII was denied a marriage annulment. In more recent times, Anglicans and Catholics have made attempts to reconcile, but Tuesday’s move could jeopardize those efforts, according to theologians.

Isn’t there some way to say both, to say that the split with Rome took place for political and theological reasons, in addition to the king’s own personal and complex motives? I mean, there was more to the Protestant Reformation as a whole than tensions between states, trade routes and the printing press. We need Henry VIII in there and the Reformers who had, well, other motives.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brian Walden

    Terry, the note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said, “[The Apostolic Constitution] provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy.” It seems to me that only former Anglican clergy will be eligible to be ordained if they are married, which would pretty much make it the same as the current policy just on a larger scale.

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  • Connie

    Not about NY Times, but on tonight’s CBS Evening News the number of “Episcopalians, Anglicans in the United States” was quoted as the greatly inflated number of 3.5 million.

  • Michele Hagerman

    I was hoping the Times story would mention the Pastoral Provision that has been in effect in the US since the early 1980s. Not only have married Anglican priests been ordained Catholic priests, but there are also between five and ten “Anglican-use” Catholic parishes.

  • michael


    You (and the Times, I begrudgingly concede) are right that a lot of the ‘conservative’ opposition in the U.S., Africa, and the U.K. comes more from the evangelical and not the ‘catholic’ wing of the Anglican communion. So, the giddy expectations of a massive Anglican exodus to Rome, usually from the Catholic side, are unlikely to come to fruition any time soon.

    But I would suggest that neither the modest result this is likely to produce in the short-term nor the fact that something like this is ‘long-anticipated’ makes this event any less ‘stunning’ or ‘extraordinary’. Even in the most mundane sense, the creation of this ‘Ordinariate’ is extra-ordinary by definition. Is there a parallel for it in the history of the Western church since the Reformation? The Pastoral Provision in 1980 which allowed for the Anglican Use with the permisison of a local bishop may have anticipated this in some ways, but I don’t think this is really close to what we seem to have here.

    It seems to me that the move is stunning and extraordinary not least because it potentially creates a form and opens a pathway whereby not only Anglicans, but perhaps eventually other ecclesial communities separated from Rome can enter into full visible communion with Rome without simply abandoning the last 500 years of tradition. Granted, the devil is in the details, and there is much to be worked out, but surely you’ll concede that the very existence of this new bridge is ‘extraordinary’ irrespective of whether Robert Duncan, Jack Iker, or other disaffected Anglicans elect to lead their congregations across it in the next few years.

    In other words, it’s significant because this Pope is serious about repairing the schism of the Reformation, and he appears willing to take bold and creative steps to help bring it about.

  • Julia Duin

    Some of us did mention the pastoral provision (1982 to be exact). Any mention of religion coverage by U.S. journalists should be up-front about the fact that the Brits beat us by hours on this thing; that anyone sitting down Tuesday morning to start compiling quotes and facts had a tremendous resource from publications like the London Times and the Guardian that had all the details – plus some wildly entertaining blogs – already up on their sites – which eased our workload considerably.

  • michael


    1982–I should know that. Thanks for the correction.

    Do you agree that there appears to be a great deal of difference between that provision and what is being offered here?

  • Peggy

    Brian Walden beat me to it. The Vatican document states only that converted married clergy would be accepted as Catholic priests. There is no indication that the married clergy state would extend beyond existing married Anglican clergy who convert. [Males only of course.] Many journalists seemed to jump the gun on that. I think even Damien Thompson suggested that the married clergy provision would be ongoing. I won’t believe the extension of married clergy until I see it on a Vatican document.

  • Brian Walden

    Also, one other thing that not everyone may realize, married Anglican clergy are not the only ones who can become married Latin Rite priests. I once met a married priest who was originally a member of the Plymouth Brethren and then eventually became a bishop in some other Christian community (sorry I don’t remember the denomination) and then eventually converted to Catholicism and was ordained.

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  • Marshall

    Pastoral Provision est 1980, actually.

  • michael

    Ok, 1980 then. I give up.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    The 1982 date on the pastoral provision came from the Vatican announcement itself. Either they made a mistake or they were using some date on which it actually began to function (there can be quite a lag).
    While there are relatively few of these married convert priests relative to celibate priests in the Latin Church, I quoted a Byzantine bishop who pointed out that there were enough for married priests in the Latin church in the U.S. to outnumber married priests in the Eastern Catholic churches in the U.S. (He thinks this will give a boost to the Eastern effort to re-regularize the ordinations of married men in the western hemisphere.)

  • Jay

    Tmatt, You often complain about oversimplified coverage of the Anglican wars. Two articles in the WSJ today demonstrate this.

    Dave Kansas gets it right:

    Internecine battles over same-sex marriage, the consecration of women bishops and the authority of Scripture threaten to splinter the world’s third-largest Christian group.

    while Stacy Meichtry and Amy Merrick get it wrong

    The Anglican Communion has been strained by fights over its relations with other Christian denominations and the church’s growing acceptance of gay and women clergy and same-sex marriage.