Is the Vatican/Anglican story that big a deal?

I would imagine that a lot of people are confused today by the Big News that the Vatican is taking steps to make it easier for conservative Anglicans to become Catholics while retaining Anglican traditions.

The fact that the NYTimes made it the Lead Story today will by itself tell many people that this is a major step for Rome.

I’m not so sure, although the whole thing is certainly quite interesting.

As you know, many traditional Anglicans — including Episcopalians in the U.S. — are unhappy with the liberal drift in parts of the Anglican Communion (meaning Europe and the U.S). They do not want to see gay bishops or female bishops. Some still do not want to see female priests. They don’t like the idea of some Anglican priests blessing same-sex couples.

Just last year, conservative Episcopalians in the U.S. left the church to form their own Anglican community, the Anglican Church in North America.

Now, some Anglicans have petitioned the Vatican to let them become Roman Catholics, while holding on to their Anglican liturgy.

But not that many.

Vatican AnglicansThe Times itself reports today that Cardinal William Levada (that’s him), the American boss of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “said that 20 to 30 bishops and hundreds of other people had petitioned the Vatican on the matter in recent years.”

We’re talking HUNDREDS of people out of 80 million Anglicans. Maybe a couple of thousand will think about making the change.

Most Anglicans live in parts of the world where their church communities are already quite traditional. So they’re good, more or less.

And disaffected Americans already have their own community that allows them to remain Anglicans.

So what’s the big deal?

Father Thomas Reese, the Jesuit scholar, writes that the most significant aspects of the whole story may be that the Catholic Church will recognize the Anglican liturgy — possibly opening the doors to other liturgical adventures — and that an uptick in married Anglican priests who become Catholic will raise new questions about the need for the celibate priesthood.

He writes:

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Despite all the Vatican attempts to downplay the acceptance of married Anglican priests, many people will ask why not married priests for other Catholics? Cardinal Levada said that not only married Anglican priests will be ordained but also married Anglican seminarians who join the Catholic Church. The Vatican has made clear that married Catholic priests will not be welcomed back to the priesthood, but could a married Catholic man join the Anglicans, enter an Anglican seminary and then return to the Catholic Church? If so, this could become a rich source of priests for the Catholic Church.

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This is interesting stuff. But I haven’t heard or read anything to make me think that we’re going to be see any major changes here in the Catholic or Anglican worlds.

Britain Vatican AnglicansMaybe that’s why two Anglican archbishops, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (that’s him), endorsed the whole thing, saying that it’s all good for conservative Anglicans who want out.

If they expected to lose significant numbers of Anglicans, I doubt they would have that reaction.

The funny thing to me is that I’ve long joked that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. could triple in size by actively seeking out lapsed Catholics. Come up with a fancy name for a “Try us, you’ll like us” program. Promote several easy steps toward becoming an Episcopalian. Explain how familiar the Episcopal liturgy would be for ex-Catholics.

Sort of like what the Vatican is doing, but in reverse.

But the Episcopal Church will never do it. It would be un-P.C.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.