Nasty ink about Anglo-Catholic move?

CanterburyLecternSo far, most of the mainstream media coverage of the Vatican’s move to open a door for Anglo-Catholics into the Church of Rome has focused on the Anglican side of the story. This has, in part, created a news template that says Pope Benedict XVI has played a winning card that will result in thousands, if not millions, of new members for his flock.

That’s understandable. However, as GetReligion has noted, there is a problem. Some Anglo-Catholics have been petitioning Rome to make this kind of move for years — since the mid-1990s, in fact. There was clear evidence that the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was paying close attention years before before he stopped up to the throne of St. Peter.

Some journalists may have been stunned. However, anyone who has been paying close attention to the rumors and reports about the negotiations was not terribly surprised.

Well, according to The National Catholic Register, this standard wisdom in the mainstream press about the pope “stunning” move has led to another problem — an outbreak of generic anti-Catholicism in the mainstream media. Yes, that’s a strong statement.

You need to read the report itself to chase all the news links, but here is a sample of what writer Tim Drake has to say:

Venues such as National Public Radio, the London Times, and the Kansas City Star describe the Church as “poaching.” USA Today says the Church is “rustling.” Other media outlets used the term “luring.” Some question whether the move was a “hostile takeover.” And London Times‘ columnist Libby Purves says that “converts may choke on the raw meat of Catholicism.”

Mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post have used the word “bid.” The Boston Globe uses both the words “lure” and “bid.”

No matter how you look at it, they’re all unsavory terms used by the secular media to describe the Church’s actions. Even some Catholic commentators have taken to calling the move “sheep-stealing,” saying that there’s an unwritten rule that the Church doesn’t proselytize other Christians.

Since when did the Catholic Church cease to be an evangelizing Church, bringing the Gospel to all peoples?

Meanwhile, a GetReligion reader dropped me a note to question this article’s use of the word “evangelizing” to describe the Vatican’s motives in this case. After all, doesn’t this suggest that the pope is claiming, in a not-so-subtle fashion, that Anglicans are not really Christians until they swim the Tiber?

Not really. It helps to know that the late Pope John Paul II used the phrase “The New Evangelization” to describe many forms of outreach by the church, including its own efforts to reach Catholics who had strayed from full Communion with the faith. Certainly, Rome views Anglicans as Christians who are part of a church body that is not in full Communion with the Church or Rome, which, like it our not, Catholics believe is uniquely the Body of Christ. Remember all of those headlines in 2007?

You do not have to agree with that doctrine to understand how traditional Catholics would use a term like “evangelization.”

Once again, journalists face a basic question: Do the facts of this story suggest that Pope Benedict XVI sought out this contact with Anglican traditionalists or was it the other way around? Was this an invasion or a rescue mission, at the request of a flock of Anglo-Catholics who had, for several years, been requesting help?

Photo: Inside Canterbury Cathedral, looking toward the high altar. From the Grouchy Traveller website.

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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.

  • Martha

    Comments by the disgruntled seem to boil down to that this is a reactionary, homophobic, misogynistic Pope reaching out to reactionary, homophobic misogynistics in a naked power-grab.

    James Carroll in the “Boston Globe” has a wonderfully over-the-top column about it all (link courtesy of the Midwest Conservative Journal):

    “The story of the Vatican raid on the Anglican communion was front page news because these issues go deeper than religion. Nothing less than the survival of the human species is at stake.”

    The survival of the entire human species? Pitching it a bit strong, I would have thought :-)

  • Fr. Jay Finelli

    What these people fail to remember. The Anglican communion was once part of the Catholic Church and through the failings of man became fractured. Whatever words they wish to use “rustling”, “luring”, “sheep stealing”, etc… Maybe media within and without have spiritual amnesia, they were once part of the fold and are being invited to come home!

  • Ray

    Pope John Paul II accepted the first Anglican’s into the Catholic Church in the 1970s when he issued his Pastoral Provision. Currently, there are nine U.S. personal parishes or congregations that utilized the Anglican Use Mass, an alternative form of the Mass that is in concert with the Anglicans’ patrimony and traditions. There are also numerous priests within the Catholic Church, who are former Episcopal (Anglican) priests, who are married. The use of the Pastorial Provision has been limited, the Pope’s action is only expanding and enhancing of an existing church policy. If anyone is interested in learning more about the Anglican Use should click on link below.
    “In the 1970s two significant groups of Episcopalians in the United States petitioned the Holy See to let them come into the Catholic Church. His Holiness Pope John Paul II responded with the Pastoral Provision for Anglicans and permitted Episcopalian priests, including quite a number of married men, to be ordained Catholic priests. The Holy Fathers Pastoral Provision, together with the Roman Catholic Bishops in the USA, also allowed Anglican Use Congregations to be formed, and personal parishes were erected in several dioceses of the United States.”(from the Anglican Use website.)

  • Claude

    Re Fr. Jay Finelli: As an Episcopalian, I am all in favor of those who want to return to Rome doing so. They always had that option. The only difference now are a few concessions from the Pope. However, I wonder how these people who failed to obey the rather loose authority of the Episcopal Church will like being under the much more stringent authority of Rome. …

  • Dan Crawford

    In addition to the usual offenders (major media outlets and former priests and nominal Catholics), NPR continues to reveal its anti-Catholic bias in both its news “reporting” and interview shows, Terri Gross’ chief among them. This, from the Perpetually Begging System, which loves to describe itself in so many ways as vastly superior intellectually and morally. Last week’s report by Sylvia Pugeoli on the Vatican action was particularly offensive for its lack of any historical perspective and its ignorance of the issues involved in the struggles of the Anglican Communion.

  • Ray

    As a former Episcopalian, I can only say that Pope Benedict is not stealing sheep, but is giving those of us who were lost sheep a home. I converted from the Episcopal Church to the Roman Catholic Church. I was received in to the Church via an Anglican Use Parish. I had to leave the; I was deeply disturbed by the moral relativism being advanced as gospel in the Episcopal Church. There a many other Anglicans that are currently looking for a way to leave the Anglican Communion. We are deeply disturbed by what is happening in the Anglican Communion, the Holy Father has graciously provided us a way to come home to the Roman Catholic Church.

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  • Ismael

    Indeed I agree with the statement:
    “Comments by the disgruntled seem to boil down to that this is a reactionary, homophobic, misogynistic Pope reaching out to reactionary, homophobic misogynistics in a naked power-grab.”

    Strangely enough as a catholic I never had any trouble with homosexuals or women in power. Nor does the Church say homosexuals should be mistreated (the cathechism state they DESERVE respect as human beings!) or that wome should not be in position of power. Just pristerhood is closed for them, but there are so many ways to be Christian and pristerhood is office of service, not of power.

    Dawkins, who seems more interested in religion than biology, quite strange for a person who says religion is just stupidity, also made such statements.

    Of couse all the ‘loving’ atheists on the net praised him for his… well ignorance.

    Naturally Dawkins stated “Ignorance is not a crime”. Well that’s good for him, otherwise he would be a serious criminal.
    For somone as educated and smart as he is (I do not doubt his intelligence at all) he can do and say very stupid and ignorant things…

    Many others made similar statements (I just mentione Dawkins because he likes to be high profile against religion… perhaps I am even doing him a favor here who knows).

    This just shows how ignorant people are of the Catholic Church, its policies and especially its history.

    Things that make your blood boil… but… then we remember what it is all about:

    “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

    “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

    “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27)

    So… God bless those hateful people! God bless them and may show them the Light, the Way and the Truth who IS Jesus Christ, our lord.



  • H. E. Baber

    Beleagured Anglo-Catholics appealing to the Pope for refuge and the Pope generously throwing out a lifeline? Sorry–I’m not buying it. The RC Church has always welcomed converts. You just take a few months of RCIA classes. No one, as far as I know, has ever flunked out.

    What these conservative Anglo-Catholics, in particular clergy, wanted was admission to the RC Church on their terms–with married priests and at least a sliced and diced version of the Prayer Book. And the Pope is now willing to cut a deal in order to build a conservative coalition against modernity and the monstrous regiment of women.

  • Aimee M. Cooper

    This is initiated by Anglicans, not the Pope, so he is not poaching. He is responding to the request of the bishops of a major group, the Traditional Anglican Communion, to reunite with Rome, a request initiated in April 2007. Australia’s Catholic news site The Record reported on it in January of this year: “Archbishop Hepworth personally wrote to Pope Benedict in April 2007 indicating that the TAC planned a meeting of its world bishops, where it was anticipated they would unanimously agree to sign the Catechism of the Catholic Church and to seek full union with the Catholic Church.” (

    Yes, individual Anglicans have always made their way into Rome. But with this large request, the Pope has simply decided to streamline the process, and make it possible for entire congregations to come into communion with Rome while still retaining many of their Anglican distinctives.

    It is historic – but largely on the Anglican side, that even bishops now want to bring their entire congregations into communion with Rome. It is the Protestant Reformation going in reverse. The Pope is simply responding to their desire. But, you know, if you report it that way you might make the Catholic Church look good, and that doesn’t sell as much, does it?

  • Steve Perkins

    One such article appeared in the NYT (), but unfortunately began with a serious slip in argumentative analogy. The author writes, “If a secular institution, Wal-Mart or Microsoft, for example, made a similar offer — Tired of leadership positions being open to women and gay employees? Join us! — it would be slammed for appealing to bigotry.” While this is accurate, I do not see what it has to do with the issue at hand. The analogy is based on the assumption that a secular institution and a divine institution are sufficiently alike to allow such a comparison. Regarding the Church, this is simply not the case. Christians believe that the Church is the body of Christ on earth. From such language and understanding alone it can be seen that we are talking about an inherently different sort of institution from Wal-Mart. To miss this is to make the same mistake that certain followers of Jesus did when they misunderstood his talk about a kingdom. Some incorrectly assumed he was talking about a temporal kingdom that would follow the overthrow of the Romans, but he was talking about something else entirely.

    You may want to challenge the root understanding of what “church” means, and this is indeed an area of theological pursuit. What you cannot do is assume an understanding of a term that is different from those who have defined it, and then use that term as the foundation for an argument against those very people.

  • Kevin

    Do people who complain about terms like “rustling” and “poaching” in the media coverage of this issue ever read media coverage of any other topics … at all? This is really quite tame language, even downright respectful. Quite the persecution complex exhibited by the NCRegister, I’d say. Let’s not cry wolf until there’s something to cry about.

    Like the revolting anit-Catholicism in the Boston Globe article linked to by Martha above. Unbelievable.

    And on the other hand, the NC Register article complains about the wicked media, and then says this about the Anglicans:

    The Anglican Church, by comparison, has gone the way of the world. In many ways, they’ve ceased to be counter-cultural or a “sign of contradiction.” In that sense, they have a good friend in the media. They’ve jumped into the same water and are floating downstream together.

    One of the few things standing against that cultural current is the Catholic Church.

    “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it,” the great British journalist and convert G.K. Chesterton used to say.

    Contrary to the media reports, the Catholic Church isn’t poaching, luring, bidding, stealing, or rustling. The Catholic Church is preaching the Gospel Truth, much as it has done for the past 2,000 years.

    The Truth, you see, isn’t a steel trap, with unrelenting teeth. No, the Truth is a freedom the likes of which the world has never known. And the Truth always attracts.

    In the context it’s offered, this is at least as bad as anything put out by the Great Unwashed Media. Only a step away from saying it’s all a great conspiracy by the Satan-worhipping Anglicans. I’d say the NCRegister’s coverage of this coverage is hypocritical at best. And that they’re grip on the issues involved is not any better than the mainstream media’s. And that we should probably hold them to the same criticism as sources who at least want to claim objectivity.

  • C. Wingate

    I don’t think that having an official policy of (to repeat the phrase I have used elsewhere) reaping where others have sown bridges over the conflict between the general sense of “evangelism” and its apparently variant sense in RC circles. As a middle-aged cynic my first observation would be that anything announced as “the new X” stands a very strong chance of not actually being “X“, but having just skimmed through Evangelii Nuntiandi, the origin of this newness, I see emphasis on engaging the world (“evangelizing the culture”), on appeal to atheists and other nonbelievers, and especially on preaching– there are even a few passages where Paul VI almost completely identifies evangelism with preaching– and the testimony of a holy life. The only passage I could find which admitted of some thought for this kind of act as evangelism was a somewhat incomplete thought in paragraph 17, which could be read as saying that there’s more to evangelism than preaching. But Paul VI doesn’t catalog this, and there is no direct reference in what I see to evangelism being directed towards those in other churches.

    Looking at JP II’s and (then cardinal) Ratzinger’s addresses on the same subject, I see a continuity of sentiment and emphasis. the NCR goal of evangelism is to make people Catholics; but that is not what I see written by the popes. Their writings are entirely consonant with the sense used in Christendom as a whole.

    And that, I think, is part of what is driving the negative language. Secular reporting is not going to see collecting some of the most committed believers in Anglicanism as evangelism, and neither does the language of the popes endorse this interpretation.

  • Martha

    Oh, the Dawkins one was a hoot, Ismael. All religion is bad, because it subverts science, fosters fanaticism, encourages bigotry and influences society in other negative ways.

    So by that yardstick, the Archbishop of Canterbury is every inch as evil as the Pope, because he too is a figurehead of religion. Yet by comaparison with the supreme evilness of the Pope, “there is a saintly quality in the Archbishop of Canterbury, a benignity of countenance, a well-meaning sincerity.” Moreover, he is an example of one of those “decent church leaders”.

    But best of all I liked his take on the priesthood: “The Anglican church does not cleave to the dotty idea that a priest, by blessing bread and wine, can transform it literally into a cannibal feast; nor to the nastier idea that possession of testicles is an essential qualification to perform the rite.”

    I see… so the functions of a priest are “dotty”, yet how dare the Vatican deny the equal rights of various parties to perform “dotty” actions. Yeah, that makes sense to me: this is crazy stuff that no normal person would want to be involved with, but I am highly offended that you won’t let these normal people be involved with it!

    However, I am busting my buttons with pride over belonging to one of the, if not *the*, supremely evil global organisations:

    “What major institution most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world? In a field of stiff competition, the Roman Catholic Church is surely up there among the leaders.”

    Huzzah for us! We’re (almost certainly) No. 1! :-)

  • Martha

    I also liked his gradation of nastiness: ritual cannabalism is bad, but masculinity is even worse!

    That is, saying that the Grand Poo-Bah High Panjandrum has to be a man is even worse than eating human flesh and drinking human blood. Makes one wonder what Richard serves up for Sunday dinner round his place…

  • JD

    A strategically aggressive move by one corporate body against a competitor. That’s just a functionally accurate description of the Vatican’s recent announcement. Speaking of “poaching”, “bid”, “sheep-stealing” only adds a little colour, but doesn’t make it “Anti-Catholic”.

    The functional description does not imply a negative value judgement. Do Churches have a right to compete, even aggressively ? Of course they do. Do they have a right to dress up their aggressive moves to grab market share in nice sounding, high-falutin’ pastoral language ? Of course they do. Are outside observers obliged to remain silent about the – objectively, functionally existing – aggressiveness of the move ? Of course they are not.

  • BJohnD

    The Economist, which ISTM has a very hard time separating religion from politics, has this headline on this week’s cover: “The Pope’s Power Grab.”

  • Sarah

    I think it’s super neat that the Pope has done all this! I am very thrilled to see what happens as far as the fine print goes! Some of my really good friends are Anglican and I hope they come into the Church soon! I do sort of wonder what will happen if there are any women priests who want to come into the church. They obviously can’t be ordained, but I hope they don’t not come back into the Church because of it.

  • JD

    P.S. A plurality of commentators seem to believe that to get religion is never to look behind the mask of humility – to accept at face value the claim by religious actors that they are motivated only by selfless devotion to the Truth. Or to accept at face value the notion that religion takes place in a magically pure realm removed from considerations of power, competition, or corporate self-interest. That’s not getting religion. That’s losing one’s objectivity. To get religion is to report that some people will make and believe such claims, while other think that such claims are bullsh*t.

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    I’ve been seeing the expression “swimming the Tiber” an awful lot lately, and I am not sure it is entirely apposite. Both banks of the Tiber river border Catholic lands–one side is the Vatican City, the other is Rome (or Italy). I can see how swimming the channel (from England to France) might work as a good cultural metaphor, e.g., “Young Bullingdon’s swum the channel, having forsaken the world of finance, and now lives with a Russian demimonde”. Or “swimming the Rhine” would be even more symbolic. But “swimming the Tiber” leaves you in Rome either way.

  • Dennis Kozak

    Here’s an interesting question. What happens if a female Episcopal priest wishes to join the Catholic Church? Will she be given the same “welcome” and be allowed to continue to serve in that capacity? So far as I’ve seen no on has addressed that particular issue.

  • J.Cox

    I found similar language — and assumptions — in Ross Douthat’s very disappointing NY Times column on this. It was headlined “Benedict’s gambit” a term meaning “any maneuver by which one seeks to gain an advantage.” Though in fairness, Douthat may not have written the headline.

    Even more dispiriting was the comments section.

    The whole thing is reduced to, and therefore one-dimensionalized, by the reading of religion as nothing more than politics, or ideology, in vestments.

  • C. Wingate

    This seems to be turning out to be a talking point of Catholic news agencies and sites. For instance, here we have Taylor Marshall (who has something of a problematic history WRT the subject) giving Five Myths about the Pope’s Anglican Ordinariates. And the first myth is “The Pope is sheep-stealing.”

  • SteveP

    #22’s conclusion is rather the same as my assessment: advocacy rather than journalism.

    I really have the urge to ask some of these folks: “How does an Anglican parish becoming a Catholic parish affect your faith?”

    It would probably be better to hold my tongue.

  • John M.

    Much of this strain of anti-Roman Catholicism that we’re seeing in these stories comes from straight-up postmodernism. These types of actions lay on the line the RCC’s belief that they are the One True Church. The very notion of a One True Church the MSM, along with huge swathes of our culture finds abhorrent. Evangelicals who make claims about the uniqueness of Christ as the One True Path to God get similar treatment, likewise Mormons who go door-to-door. In fifty years, I expect Muslims who insist that Islam is the One True Religion will get similar treatment, but we shall seeas a lot can change in fifty years.


  • Luce


    I appreciate the objectivity and rationality you bring to this news story. Thank you for the work your website does to spotlight the often lamentable job (and sometimes hatchet job) the mainstream media does when reporting on the church.

  • Tim Drake

    Martha rightly notes the Boston Globe article that described the Vatican’s move as a “raid” and the offer as a “tainted olive branch.” It seems now that the coverage is morphing from the Church “stealing” Anglicans, to an all-out “attack.”

    The New York Times ( and The Times Online says that the Vatican parked its “tanks” on the Archbishop’s lawn ( Brad MacDonald, writing for The Trumpet, uses similar language, comparing the Vatican’s move to the Gunpowder Plot’s assassins, and saying that the Vatican has “lit the fuse.”

  • Mary

    It strikes me so very odd how suspicious and defensive we are as a people. First and foremost, the Pope “invited” the Anglican Church into the fold of the Catholic Church. A move extremely in touch w/our Lord’s intentions according to His Gospels. It further befuddles my mind that although we recognize in our statements of faith(through “Creeds”), the “authority” of Christ in His Church we continue in thought, word, and deed to question it to the point of evoking kaos, gossip, etc. We either believe the Pope is ordained by Christ to lead His Church or we don’t. But to continually negotiate our limited understanding of God’s intentions as though He is dependant upon it to act, is just ridiculous to me. Instead of wagging our tongues and contributing to kaos over this “invitation” we should be praying for God’s will to be done while welcoming the true Church….our brothers and sisters who love and obey His commands, lovingly into the fold. Denominations are manmade and divide us…it is our Love of God through Jesus Christ His Son which unites us along with the keeping of His commands. Remember? “To love one another as I have loved you”. Pray for Peace,His Love, Will and salvation to be upon us all and Pray for His leaders upon the earth, to hearken unto Him!

  • Ray

    Thank you Mary. God Bless you.

  • Bern

    It’s a fascinating story, whether one approaches it as a “power grab” or “olive branch,” sheep stealing or sheep rescue, opportunistic expansionism or purest act of brotherly love. Maybe it’s a bit of all those things–and no wonder, if, as St Paul puts it, one church is to combine the traits of both serpent and dove. Although I don’t usually subscribe to his views, A.N. Wilson’s op-ed in the Sunday NYTs included some interesting speculations