News? Yes. Stunning? Not necessarily.

Gay Bishop Appointment Threatens Split In Anglican Communion

Oy. Check out this lede to CNN’s story about the Vatican overture to traditional Anglicans:

The Vatican said Tuesday it has worked out a way for groups of Anglicans who are dissatisfied with their faith to join the Catholic Church

Kind of makes you wonder if the reporter understands the Christian understanding of faith. For the Christian, faith always has an object. Luther wrote “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace . . .” The first dictionary I looked it up in (Random House) refers to it as “the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.”

So while traditional Anglicans may be dissatisfied about any number of things having to do with their church, by definition they are not dissatisfied with their faith in God.

Still, the story did a good job of identifying that particular niche of traditional Anglicans outside of the Anglican Communion that will likely be the earliest to take advantage of the offer. Too many stories have almost been making it seem like everyone with a beef with the Anglican Communion will immediately swim the Tiber. A quick visit to some of the congregations of Convocation of Anglicans in North America, for instance, would dispel that notion — they don’t lean toward Catholicism so much as evangelicalism. Or read the statement from Archbishop WIlliam Duncan or other bishops.

And at least the CNN lede is less dramatic than has been seen elsewhere. This AOL News story was headlined:

Catholic Church Makes ‘Stunning’ Move

Now maybe it’s just because I’ve been reading stories in the British press predicting this move roughly every three weeks for the last several years, but this news isn’t exactly stunning unless you haven’t been paying attention to the work that traditional Anglican bishops and then-Cardinal Ratzinger have put into this effort. Here’s an old tmatt column on the matter from 2005. But the “stunning” refers to the quote of a Notre Dame professor, for what it’s worth. Other stories said, simply, that the Anglican Communion itself was “stunned.”

The AOL story focuses on the angle that the new arrangement will permit married Anglican priests:

“It’s a stunning turn of events,” says Lawrence Cunningham, theology professor at Notre Dame University. “This decision will allow for many more married clergy in Western churches, and that’s going to raise anew the question, ‘If they can do it, why can’t the priests of Rome?’” says Cunningham. “I can already picture the electronic slugfest on the Internet in coming days and weeks.”

The Catholic church already allows clergymen who convert from Protestant denominations to remain married on a case by case basis, and married priests are common in the Eastern Rite, a group that uses Orthodox traditions but is loyal to Rome.

But the arrangement with the Anglican Communion goes much further. Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, announced in Rome that the church would set up a personal ordinariate — in essence a diocese defined not by geography, but by function, like the division that serves Catholics in the military — for converted Anglicans.

The one question that I’m not seeing asked much or answered at all is whether married priests will always be allowed in the Anglican personal ordinariates or whether you have to be grandfathered in, so to speak. Or will they always be allowed so long as they were married prior to their ordination? I think that many of the interesting repercussions to this “stunning” move depend on the answers to these questions.

Print Friendly

  • Pingback: News? Yes. Stunning? Not necessarily. | JewPI

  • Pingback: News? Yes. Stunning? Not necessarily. « JewPI

  • Dan Crawford

    In general the media coverage of the Pope’s move has been, to put it charitably, abysmal. What I learned yesterday from reading newspapers and listening to the radio:

    1. Liberal Catholics don’t like it because they see some sinister connection between the Pope’s action and his welcoming back to the fold a holocaust-denying bishop and they are terrified that people who truly believe in the Creeds will come streaming into their churches.
    2. Liberal Catholics are going to object that married Protestant ministers who convert and are permitted to be ordained will make celibate Roman Catholics priests feel like they have been deprived and become second-class citizens.
    3. Liberal Catholics and secularists don’t like it because it is part of the Vast Christian Conspiracy to turn back the clock to repressive, fascistic societies.
    4. Protestants don’t like it because the Pope is Catholic.
    5. Liberal Protestants don’t like it because it challenges the fundamental theological doctrine of ecumenism: Jesus is irrelevant, we just need to learn to get along together.

    The media, depending on their bias, have also included other conspiratorial grace notes. Sylvia Pugeoli’s report on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday afternoon was a classic piece combining ignorance and bias in breathless description of the cosmic plot of Benedict XVI and his Vatican henchman to march the Western world back to the glories of pre-Reformation Europe.

    I await with breathless anticipation what the deluge of commentaries will bring.

  • Chris Jones

    We won’t know the precise terms of the deal until the Apostolic Constitution itself is issued (what was released yesterday was merely a “Note” indicating that the Apostolic Constitution is forthcoming). But the “Note” seems to indicate that married clergy must be “grandfathered in.”

    The actual wording is “It provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy.” That would suggest that married men who are not former Anglican clergy will not be ordained, now or ever.

    In any case the marriage discipline that applies to these priests is that which the Roman Church observed before celibacy was imposed at the beginning of the 2d millennium (and still obtains today in the Eastern Churches, Orthodox, Catholic, and non-Chalcedonian): men who wish to be married priests must marry before their ordination to the diaconate, and priests who are divorced or widowed may not re-marry. Or, in short, married men may be ordained but priests, once ordained, may not marry.

  • George Frink

    About those married priests, we could ask Maronite Church priests for a prediction. Or perhaps I will find the documentation of this unstunning development more enlightening when I reread them.

  • Jerry N

    From the text of the original document posted on The New Liturgical Movement website, married men may be ordained through these ordinariates, so you don’t have to be grandfathered.

  • Pingback: Oy. Check out this lede to CNN’s story about the Vatican overture to traditional Anglicans: The Vatican said Tuesday it has worked out a way for groups of Anglicans who are dissatisfied with their faith to join the Catholic Church | eChurchWebsites Christ

  • Chris

    The first sentence in the second paragraph of the quoted AOL report could use a little editorial work, I think.

    “The Catholic church already allows clergymen who convert from Protestant denominations to remain married on a case by case basis…”
    Although I think the author meant that married clergy are accepted as clergy on a case by case basis, it is written to suggest that the church makes a decision regarding the dissolution of their marriages!

  • michael


    I’m not sure your first paragraph clarifies things much. It might help to have recourse to a distinction going back to the Church Fathers between fides quae creditur, the faith which is believed, that is its objective content, and fides qua creditur, the faith by or with which one believes, the theological virtue operative in the act of believing.

    Presumably, disaffected Anglicans are ‘dissatisfied’ with the faith of their church in the first sense because of their faith in the second sense. So technically, it is possible to save the lede, though I agree with you that it equivocates and is therefore not very helpful.

    I find this overture ‘stunning’ though, not because I was blindsided by it. I too have read various rumors that some such move would be forthcoming, though I hadn’t paid much attention to them. I find this move stunning because it is the boldest gesture of reconciliation toward a Protestant body since the Reformation, one that potentially puts in place a real and new structure for recovering Christian unity that may serve as a template for future overtures toward other bodies. I suspect that some of the predictions of a mass exodus of Anglicans to Rome in the near-term are exaggerated. I also suspect that the long-term significance of this gesture is largely underestimated.

    It is of course too early tell, but we may be seeing a new reformation of the Church, taking place in the crucible of an increasingly hostile world culture, that is not altogether dissimilar to the transformations which occured at the collapse of the Roman Empire. Check back in another 500 years to see.

  • MarkAA

    I think this sounds major if not stunning because it indicates the Vatican is willing to modify its own hierarchy and structure to accommodate its “wayward” children to come back home. When it required all protestants of all stripes to strip away all ties and come back one by one and join the existing fold in the existing parishes, the hurdles are higher. This, to me, shows a willingness to accommodate history and change the playing field. I see the parable of the prodigal son, with the Father willing to let bygones be bygones, run out to meet his (repentant) son. I’m Lutheran (LCMS) so this action bears no direct weight on me at all, but I see it as putting some money where the mouth is on the Vatican’s part to not let structures stand in the way of reunification of the Church, specifically the Western church, which it views as still part of itself. It seems Benedict and the Cardinals are willing to accept that without some accommodation, even faith-filled protestants aren’t “coming home” and they need to lower whatever hurdles they possibly can to encourage the process. That’s my 3 cents.

    ps. I do wonder whether there is possibility this has ramifications for accepting large numbers of perhaps faithful ELCA Lutherans at this point in history into similar structures. I’ve seen exactly zero on that subject, and yet there are Traditionalist ELCA Lutherans creating the mechanisms to form their own small denomination (and not join WELS or LCMS. Such a denomination, since it already accepts the Joint Declaration, might be prime for a Lutheran Rite within Catholicism. Maybe? Mollie?

  • E.E. Evans

    After having slept on this one, I tend to agree in part with Michael. It’s more significant from the Catholic side in some ways — consistent with Benedict’s clear desire to promote reconciliation and mend schisms — whether they are mendable or not is another question.

    In my very cynical view, Anglicans who participated in ecumenical dialogue hoping for doctrinal concessions from the Catholic side that might enable them to be seen as a younger brother, if not a co-equal, were always a bit delusional.

    Thus I don’t know that this will be a big deal to Anglicans outside of England, already in turmoil. American dissafected Anglicans now report to 2/3 world bishops. African Anglican bishops often wield authority that an American Episcopal bishop only dreams of, and I doubt there are a lot of 2/3 world Anglicans looking to jump ship — yet.

    And, so, Michael, I have a question for you — what if the Protestants don’t want to be reformed? Not because they are in doctrinal disagreement with the Catholic Church, but because they don’t want to abide by Catholic hierarchy? ;-)

  • steve

    The same dictionary also defines faith as: “a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith,” and this is evidently the sense in which the reporter used the term. This usage is well established, even by Christians.

  • michael


    I am neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I will hazard a slightly apocalyptic guess as to what I think will happen (is happening), though I am serious when I say that this ‘new reformation’ may have to be measured in terms of centuries.

    The preface of your question is interesting and points to something that a number of historians and theologically minded commentators have pointed out in the last few years (e.g., in the wake of the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue on justification): that the schism of the Reformation is no longer really theological. That is not to say that there aren’t still deep theological differences, but that that the situation ‘on the ground’ is no longer sustained by these differences so much as by bureacratic inertia, cultural habit, property, and residual resistance to authority. And I have no doubt there will be many Protestants who do not want to be ‘reformed’ for these very reasons and probably others.

    So I am not triumphantly foretelling the ‘death of Protestantism’ in the sense that there won’t still be both nominally Christian communities who are virtually indistinguishable from the culture and communities of devout Protestants who remain outside the Catholic Church, perhaps even permanently (Evangelicals and Pentecostals perhaps being a case in point). And I don’t think the ‘new-reformation’ necessarily results in great growth; the ‘re-formed’ Church which emerges will almost certainly be the leaner ‘creative minority’ Benedict has referred to. I would imagine that many of the sort of Catholics now wringing their hands over this will eventually decide either to jump ship or passively remain on the shore while it sails off without them.

    But I do think these factors are ultimately insufficient to sustain the Reformation in its classic form–I take the well-documented hardships of ‘mainline’ Protestantism as evidence of this. And I think this ‘new reformation’ is being hastened by a technocratic culture which is not secular in the way that liberal piety imagines it, as religiously neutral, but is religiously post-Christian and ultimately post-human. (I take the the usual moral flashpoints in the so-called ‘culture wars’ as symptomatic of this deeper cultural logic.) I wouldn’t dare speak for the Pope, but I believe a close study of Ratzinger/Benedict’s writings over the years would reveal a similar cultural diagnosis.

    As the true nature of the situation becomes clearer and the prospects for easy cultural accomodation become more difficult, it will act as something of a crucible. With so much at stake, many Christians who have resisted ‘reformation’ on the grounds you’ve suggested but who now find themselves ‘stranded’, will discover, like Peter himself, that there is nowhere else to go. (Jn. 6:68)

    I don’t expect, however, that journalists will recognize this reformation for what I think it is. So the reformation will not be televised.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Nice to see the pope “stunning” a few people in the media who thought this pope would keep the creative energies of the Holy Spirit in a tiny locked bird cage.
    I wonder what inspirations he has received with regard to East-West, Orthodox-Catholic issues. From what I have read he is not rigid on many of the issues that have split the undivided Mother Church into two geographic oriented entities.

  • Peggy

    Mollie’s Q at the end is mine as well. [I asked it on Fr Z's blog the other day.] We really don’t know yet whether the married priest permission will be ongoing or simply for the existing Anglican priests who convert. They would still have to undergo some “provisional” ordination, I think. [There are plenty of examples of parishes and priests that converted.] Some journalists are presuming that the Anglican Use parishes will continue to have their own married priests as some other rites including the Eastern rites in communion with, but not under the bishop of Rome.

    Both the American Catholic bishops and the breakaway Episcopal bishops in the US sound very lukewarm to the idea. But it is big for Britain. Isn’t some national pride and longstanding history at stake? Damien Thompson’s blog is good coverage.

    He notes that Rowan Williams is unhappy particularly with the lack of lead time on this announcement. This is defeat for Williams. How can it be otherwise?

    Ruth Gledhill is using provocative language on her blog: “Rome parks tanks on Rowan’s lawn.”

    Gledhill uses the word “poached” in this headline.

    Gledhill sees the upside for CofE, in that now the way is cleared for female bishops. Oh, joy.

  • michael


    A couple of thoughts:

    First, Thompson and others have reported that Williams is ‘upset’ and this has subsequently become a ‘meme’ (a word I destest). What is the evidence of this, apart from one line in his memorandum which says that he was only notified a couple of weeks ago? Just because reporters think in exclusively political terms does not make it so. I’m not convinced, and it’s not because I think Rowan takes Gledhill’s cynical position that this gets those pesky conservatives off his hand. Williams is nothing if not a complicated man, and he is a good deal more nuanced and serious than that. I suspect he, too, thinks in centuries. I doubt, even, that he thinks of the preservation of the Anglican Communion as an end in itself, but rather that he thinks it important for the sake of Christian unity more generally. So, I think he believes–and I agree with him–that this is partially the fruit of past ecumenical dialogue and not simply a repudiation of it. No doubt it complicates his situation immensely, and I’m sure his feelings are mixed, but he is himself too ‘catholic’ to regard it simply as a defeat.

    Second, this snark is utterly characteristic of Gledhill. It continues to amaze me that the Times continues to trust a religion correspondent who holds her subject matter in such obvious contempt.

  • Peggy


    I know of Gledhill and did not attribute her snark to Williams. I’m talking about press coverage of these events in Britain. Thompson may or may not be exaggerating his veiws. Calling Williams “nuanced” is an understatement.

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    What the ordinariate seems to imply is that the Anglicans will also get to maintain much of their doctrine (I’ve read in places that the Book of Common Prayer would remain the norm). So is Rome willing to allow for some flexibility on doctrine, in return for an allegiance to the Bishop of Rome? Just curious.

  • Julia

    I’m with the commenters who think something may have started that could take centuries to come to complete fruition. Long before he was Pope, Benedict did some musing in public that can be found in books about the structure at the top of the Catholic Church.

    For instance, he indicated that if the West and East healed their rift Benedict didn’t see why the East would have to accept a Bishop of Rome with more authority than he had when the split occurred. That’s significant.

    There’s also been some musing that the Latin Rite (Western Church) is maybe too huge. Today it includes not only Europe, but also North America, South America, Africa, Australia and the East. There may be a move to have large geographic areas with their own Patriarch-like leaders instead of that huge part of the world answering directly to the Bishop of Rome.

    The press (other than insider baseball blogs and Vaticanists) has paid no attention to the fact that Benedict has quietly dropped his title of Patriarch of the West. Could he be preparing the way for a system where the Pope is Chairman of the Board over a large number of Patriarchs, the Bishop of Rome not having any geographic area at all – other than the Holy See?

    Stranger things have happened. The Pope started out (in the Catholic view) as first among equals, the breaker of tie votes, the person who ratified things. The West was not all that big an area at first.

    Among other possibilities, I could see this Anglican thing turning into a Anglophone subdivision. There is already ICEL which is the international group that officially translates the liturgy into English for the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the folks in Africa who speak English and countries that do their translations from English.

    Inculturation is another thing that is difficult if most of the world is included in the Church of Rome’s domain.

    In the past 50 years or so the Pope no longer is crowned, he isn’t carried around on servants’ shoulders, there is no noble guard, the huge capes are gone, etc. etc. etc. And it was only in the 1920s that the Holy See officially signed papers ceding a huge piece of real estate to the newish state of Italy. Lots of changes have already been taking place without much comment. And most of it was not dictated by Vatican II.

    Benedict has been thinking abaout the structure of the Catholic world for a very long time. He’s lots more flexible than has been thought.

  • Julia


    There will be no compromising on doctrine, but on liturgy, sure. Below is a link to Wikipedia’s piece on what is known as the Anglican Use. It has been in existence since about 1982 and involves special accomodations for US Episcopalians who have become Catholics. It’s probably going to be the model for the new Ordinariates. The liturgy is not exactly the BCP, but it does incorporate much of it.

    And here is the link to the piece on the Book of Divine Worship, which is the Anglican Use source for liturgy.

    And here is a link to Our Lady of Atonement, an Anglican Use Parish that has many links, including one where you can actually download in pdf the Book of Divine Worship.

  • Julia

    At that link for the Our Lady of Atonement parish, check out the “Order of the Mass” to see what great English language is used. It isn’t 5th grade level like the regular New Mass.

  • michael


    I know you didn’t attribute Gledhill’s snark to Williams; I wouldn’t attribute her cynicism to him either. He thinks theologically before he thinks politically. If it turns out he thinks this is good for the church in some way, it won’t be because it takes a conservative problem off his hands.

    Damian Thompson seems to have originated the idea that Rowan is ‘upset’, which he infers, so far as I can tell, from one line in the memorandum sent from the Archbishop of Canterbury to his brother bishops. I don’t think that line warrants all the weight that he, and subsequently other reporters, have placed on it. Not to say that Williams is unequivocally happy about this, but I suspect his thoughts and feelings are more complex.

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    Julie-Thanks for your clarifications. Asking if Anglicans are prepared to swallow Rome’s dogmas in toto would make for a good story.-Wrigley

  • Julia


    There are things that are dogmas and others that are not dogmas. Lots fewer dogmas than most people think.

    Example: a convert (or cradle Catholic) doesn’t have to believe in any sightings of Mary, not even Fatima.

  • E.E. Evans

    Michael, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I would hate to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. who seems to be skewered by liberals and conservatives as indecisive, too irenic, a bad manager (as if he has the “troops” to manage much of anything)and generally a wimp.

    Williams certainly can be criticized, and he has been.

    But Archbishops of Canterbury,from Thomas A Becket on (for rather different reasons having to do with kings), haven’t had authority to enforce right doctrine (assuming we can all agree on what that is). It is perhaps our contemporary perception of the prelate as CEO that makes us think that they should be able to say “done” and either have it done or let the heads fall where they may.

  • wrigley peterborough

    Julie-Sure, but there are dogmas that a convert must accept, viz., the Assumption of Mary. Even Cardinal Newman had a hard time with that one, but he ultimately assented. It would interesting if aside from the small (but influential) Anglo-Catholic wing, there is much if any relish in the Anglican communion for Roman theology, doctrine, dogma etc. I guess we shall see. Perhaps one side-effect of the ordinariate will be that it drives Anglicans to dust off their theology to try to determine what they exactly believe.-Wrig

  • michael


    I have a great deal of respect for Rowan Williams and have for a long time. I rejoiced when he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. I don’t think he has always been right about everything theologically, and there is no doubt a great deal that he can be criticized for in all this, but he inherited an impossible situation. I don’t know what he’s thinking now, but I’m sure it’s not the petty and small-minded stuff projected onto him by the British papers. As I said above, the man thinks in centuries, and if the ‘new Reformation’ ever comes to pass, history may show that his attempts to shepherd Anglicanism through this crisis had a hand to play in it. If so, I don’t think he would be bitter about that because some of his flock had been ‘poached’.

  • Wrigley Peterborough

    I want to correct what I wrote about Cardinal Newman in my previous post. It was the dogma of Infallibility, not the Assumption (which was promulgated well after Newman’s departure from this vale of tears), with which Newman had initial difficulties. See Newman’s letter to Bishop Ullathorne on the subject.

  • Jay

    Mollie, As a former PECUSA Anglican I think the news was stunning. The rumors had a much narrower invitation closer to what the Traditional Anglican Communion was asking for.