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Opportunity knocks

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 16, 2009

 For 500 years the Church MIlitant has worked, prayed, and suffered in the effort to draw Anglican clerics back into full communion with the Catholic Church. Now scores of Anglican priests, realizing that they can no longer recognize the Church of Christ in the contemporary Church of England, are banging on the door, hoping to be accepted into the Roman clergy. Opportunity is knocking.

There are difficulties, certainly. Alienation from the Anglican communion is not the same thing as adherence to the Catholic faith. Anglicans wishing to make the voyage to Rome (a voyage that many have already undertaken) must realize that they are traveling all the way; there is no stopping-place along the way where they remain indefinitely, free from the chaos of Lambeth but not yet under the authority of Rome. If they are coming to the Catholic Church reluctantly, they'd better not come at all. Our Church is not a haven for the disaffected. 

Nevertheless this is a historic opportunity: one for which we Catholics have been waiting since the time of Cromwell. It's a time for energetic action, for bold initiatives, for missionary zeal rather than bureaucratic caution. 

English Catholic bishops are worried that if we press the initiative, and make plans to welcome large numbers of Anglican priests (and bishops?) into the Catholic fold, their colleagues in the Church of England will be unhappy with us. Perhaps so. Then again, perhaps the Anglican leadership is wondering even now whether anyone will rid them of these troublesome priests; there is precedent for that attitude. And anyone who followed the angry debates surrounding the last Lambeth Conference should realize that Anglican bishops are generally unhappy with each other; it seems almost an ecumenical gesture to give them the chance to be unhappy with Catholics as well. 

More seriously, if you were designing an approach to Anglican priests with nascent Catholic sympathies, whose approval would you consider more important: Rowan Williams or Edmund Campion?

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