Damian Thompson reports today that one of the traditionalist Anglican bishops, Andrew Burnham, is preparing to lead Anglo Catholics to Rome en masse. He is already in discussions with the Vatican about the ways forward. They seem to want to come in with their Anglican churches and congregations. Whether or not this means an expansion of the Anglican Use liturgy to England is uncertain. Most of these Anglo Catholics already use the Roman Rite, and for them to revert to the old Anglican prayer book is not something they are asking for.
It all sounds wonderful, but I fear there are far too many problems for it to work. First of all, it seems very unlikely that the Anglican Church would give up their buildings without a fight of some sort, and it also seems unlikely that the English Catholic hierarchy would c-rountenance some sort of Anglo-Catholic church within a church. Furthermore, the Anglo-Catholics are not spread neatly and evenly around England. There are some in every diocese, but there are large concentrations of them in the Dioceses of Blackburn, Chichester and London. The Catholic Dioceses in those areas could not suddenly take on a huge number of churches and clergy without radical re-ordering. In my experience of the English Catholic Church, they don’t really have the imagination and drive to make the changes necessary.
There are other problems. Not all English Catholics want a large influx of Anglo Catholics. This antipathy is from both the conservatives and liberals. Conservatives aren’t keen on a load of people they perceive as intrinsically Protestant suddenly coming into the Catholic Church. Liberal Catholics don’t want them because they think they are all ‘dangerous misogynistic conservatives.’
Added to that is the fact that the Anglican clergy cannot be ordained as Catholic priests suddenly. They will need to do some re-training. The married ones will have to apply for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy. The English Catholic church already has more married former Anglican priests than anywhere else in the world. The Catholic priesthood in England would be overbalanced with too many married men. Then there is the practical problem of finding suitable jobs for the married men to be able to support their families. Many Catholic bishops will simply say ‘no thanks’.
Finally, there is the problem of marriage discipline. Many Anglican clergy and laity alike are in marriages that are irregular. Unless Rome grants some sort of amnesty or allows local clergy to grant decrees of annulment, each irregular marriage will have to be dealt with before the person can come into full communion with the Catholic Church.
It’s far more likely that Bishop Burnham’s move is another political gambit–trying to force the Anglicans to grant their wishes anyway. In the end, I fear the good bishop will have to convince all his followers–clergy and laity alike– to simply bite the bullet and take the difficult step of being reconciled to the Catholic church on an individual basis.
But we are living in exciting times. It is possible that the rumors are true, and following the overtures from the Traditional Anglican Communion that Rome has already devised a plan to reconcile as many Anglicans as possibless as easily as possible. The rumor was that this plan is in place, and the Vatican is waiting until after the Lambeth Conference to announce it.
I doubt it, but it may be so.
Here’s Damian’s latest.