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Anglicans Who Want to Come Home

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 12, 2008

Both before and during the decennial meeting of the Anglican bishops at Lambeth (July 16 – August 3), Vatican officials were muted, to say the least, in their public responses toward Anglicans exploring the possibility of reunion with Rome. The intensity of such explorations heightens every few years as the Anglican Communion gradually disintegrates over such questions as the ordination of women, the blessing of homosexual unions, and the ordination of homosexuals as bishops.

In response to what seems like a growing opportunity for Rome, the public lack of Catholic interest can be confusing. Thus Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, has been heard to discourage the idea of large numbers of Anglicans abandoning their Church for Rome, and even Benedict XVI has publicly confined himself to encouraging Anglican leaders to address their internal divisions in fidelity to the Gospel.

At the same time, however, various Anglican bishops have been in communication with Cardinal Kasper and other Vatican officials about the possibility of being brought into the Church all at once with their dioceses and parishes, under an expanded application of the Pastoral Provision. This Provision was made in 1980 by John Paul II to permit married U.S. Episcopalian priests and some parishes to return to Rome while maintaining a distinctive identity through an approved form of the liturgy called the Anglican Use. At least one Anglican bishop has called for a generous response on the part of Rome, on an even larger scale, to accommodate bishops and dioceses desiring union with Rome throughout the world. While public response has been muted, there is ample evidence of talks proceeding privately behind the scenes.

The difference between the public and the private, of course, is that the public is largely conditioned by diplomatic and ecumenical concerns. It would be both undiplomatic and unecumenical to make statements welcoming breakaway Anglicans at the expense of alienating a far larger number of their coreligionists who are not yet ready to seek reunion with Rome. And of course Benedict XVI would like the Anglicans to settle their internal divisions with fidelity to the Gospel; how could he not? Not only is this right in itself, but such fidelity is all it would take to bring the entire communion closer to Rome. In this light, it is interesting to note that even Cardinal Kasper, in his own address at the Lambeth Conference, stressed that the Anglicans had to decide whether they were going to be an apostolic Church or a Protestant one, a decision which has always haunted Anglicanism, which is the result of a compromise. That choice is critical to ecumenical success—or failure.

But what of the pastoral care of those who are beginning to understand that full truth and sacramental security can be found only in communion with Rome? Whatever the wisdom of public reticence (the result of a debatable prudential judgment), such pastoral care clearly demands a different sort of response, and that’s exactly what all the private talks are about. If the interest persists now that the politics of Lambeth is behind us, we can expect something very different to emerge. We can expect arrangements to be made for those Anglican bishops who really do wish—with their people—to come home.

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