For ten years in England I worked with the St Barnabas Society. This is a charity a bit like Marcus Grodi’s Coming Home Network. We existed to help convert clergy (mostly Anglicans) in their transition to the Catholic Church. I haven’t kept count, but over the years I’ve helped probably hundreds of Protestant clergymen to a greater or lesser degree who have had questions about converting to the Catholic faith.
October 20, 2009 by 4 Comments
I am excited as the next guy about the Holy Father’s generous provision for Anglicans who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic faith, but we also have to stop and look at some things pretty soberly. The potential converts themselves have called for caution and a time for discernment. The traditionalists in the Church of England are waiting until the feast of the Chair of Peter on February 22 to announce what their response to the Vatican’s provision.
In the meantime here are some other things Catholics have to watch out for. First question on the list: “Why are you converting to the Catholic faith?” Anglicans and Episcopalians have to be asked if they really want to be Catholics or are they simply disgruntled with their own religion? The latter is not enough.
Second: potential converts still need thorough catechesis. Anglicans may be keen to convert and they may think themselves ‘already Catholic.’ In my experience it ain’t so. There are a lot of Anglicans who are poorly catechized (I know there are plenty of Catholics like that too) in the Catholic faith they profess to hold. There are lots of misunderstandings of Roman Catholicism and lots of wrong priorities and incorrect emphases.
Third: Marriages. Even the conservative Anglicans are soft on remarriage after divorce. Each potential convert is going to have to have their marriages examined for validity. This will take time and there will be lots of misunderstandings and hard feelings. Special and sensitive teaching will have to be undertaken to help them understand Catholic marriage discipline.
Fourth: The fluidity of Protestantism. Increasingly Protestants drift from one denomination that pleases them to another. For lay people this may not be so much of a problem. The transition from Methodist to Anglican to Catholic may be fairly easy. When it comes to the clergy the bishops need to be very careful. Just because a man is ordained in a ‘continuing’ Anglican Church doesn’t mean he has a decent theological education, a Catholic formation or a Catholic understanding of canon law, spirituality, liturgy etc. etc. We can’t assume that every Anglican priest should automatically become a Catholic priest.
Because of the fluidity of Protestantism a man may have finished high school and two years of community college, got ‘saved’ and gone off to a three year Bible college which is unaccredited, discover the charismatics, finish his degree at Oral Roberts University, become ordained as a Pentecostal minister, move across to the Methodists, then jump ship to the Charismatic Episcopal Church and finally come home to Rome. What sort of training will a man with such a checkered background really need?
Fifth: I’m sure someone has though this through, but will there be a carte blanche for married clergy. OK. People like me who married as Anglican priests can be ordained as Catholics with a proper dispensation. What about a boy who grows up in an Anglican Use parish. Will he be able to marry and be ordained? What about men in the Anglican Use parish who are married and wish to be ordained priest for the Anglican Use? Is that going to be allowed?
Sixth: What happens with converts and transfers? Will Latin Catholics be able to go to the Anglican Use parish because they like the liturgy better? That would be ok, but what if they settle down there and what if their sons are brought up in the Anglican Use and feel the call to priesthood. Will they be able to marry and be ordained?
I’m sure better minds than mine are working on these problems, but if this is going to work, these are all questions which will need to be answered either through practical solutions or theoretical solutions or both.