Catholic Church Announces New Path for Anglicans to Enter Full Communion

Written by Joel on October 21st, 2009

There has been a great deal in the news about the Vatican announcement concerning efforts to welcome groups of Anglicans into full communion. Read the official press release from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith here.

CNN is completely misleading with its headline Vatican Welcomes Anglicans into the Catholic Church. This reads like Anglicans and Catholics have now been unified – church unity has been achieved! This is not the case. The Catholic Church has announced that a document will soon be published which will create a structure which would allow Anglicans to [leave their communion and] enter the Catholic Church.

I will refrain from full comment until the document has been publish. I find a bit of discomfort with this move. I do not view it as ecumenical at all, but it is more so divisive. The Catholic Church is making it easier for Anglicans who are against certain beliefs to polarize the church and become Catholic. The ordination of women and the Anglican communion’s stance on homosexuality are the primary motivators here. In essence, this move is more defined by what a particular group is against rather than what they are for. Could this also be a move by the church to attempt to strengthen the conservative base among its ranks?

Does this run the risk of unity in name only? It sounds like an easy path for some Anglicans to enter into full communion without fully addressing the divisions between Canterbury and Rome those many centuries ago. Can the deeper wounds be healed in this way? Conversely, will this move cause deeper wounds between the Catholic Church and Anglicans who do not enter into communion? It circumvents one of the primary goals of the ecumenical movement – mutual recognition of ministry. The new structure will require re-ordinations of the former Anglican clergy, thus saying the first ordination was invalid and perpetuating the idea that all churches outside of Rome and invalid. I believe this element will be interpreted as triumphalist within the Catholic Church and hurt relations with other Protestant Communions.

But at the same time, there are a great number of Anglicans leaving the communion to enter the Catholic Church anyway. This move will simply be a stream-lining of the massive number of requests for full communion.

It will be interesting to see what the document will actually say, and more importantly to see its implementation in the real world.

For further reading, here are a few blogs I’ve found which have addressed this news:

What are your first thoughts on this news?


7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Derek says:

    I guess any future ‘church unity’ will always entail some group triumphing over the other, if your idea of unity includes visible communion with another church. Unity, after all, is not a feel-good touchy-feely notion, but hard stuff that people fight and die for and against. Unity doesn’t come without conflict.

    Indeed, not a true ecumenical move by the RC church, but it is certainly inline with its stated goals and beliefs about itself and The Church. While the Anglicans who ‘convert’ will be conceding, so will the Catholics. Married priests in the Western rite will be a concession won by the Protestants from the Vatican. That is not something to bury. (And think of the future implications within the Latin rite.)

    [Found your link via Twitter. Love your masthead!]

    • Joel says:

      I don’t know that visible communion must necessarily mean one tradition must assume another. You can point to the 23 Catholic Churches which are all in full communion with one another and Rome, and yet remain self-governing. In the United States their diocese overlap. For example I visited a Greek Melkite Catholic Church (Eastern-rite Catholic) while I lived in Los Angeles. The liturgy was completely different than Latin-rite Catholics, and the creed was even recited differently. However the priest mentioned pope Benedict in his Eucharistic prayers, and they two are in very much a real and visible communion; though there is great diversity in this unity. That is a better expression of my hope for Christian unity. (In fact a group of Latin-rite Catholic nuns was visiting the same Sunday I was, and they fulfilled their Sunday obligation at the Greek Melkite Church).

      I do have to agree with you there – it is certainly in line with the Catholic Church’s beliefs about itself.

      Also at the same time, I’m afraid this move might be a “feel-good-touchy-feely notion” on the part of disillusioned Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church. It makes unity a bit too easy. The 16th century wounds are not addressed. It is just saying “You don’t like x,y,z about your communion – come on over and be with us”….but the original Canterbury/Rome division is not addressed in this move. It is more a focus on leaving Canterbury rather than joining Rome in real reconcilliation.

      Thanks Derek for your comments. By masthead do you mean the image at the top of the blog? (my wife made that one – she’s the artist in the family)

  2. Derek says:

    Right, lovely image!

    One key difference about the other Catholic churches you mentioned is the time factor. The Church of England broke away from Rome directly and loudly, and relatively recently. Minor but useful point in why they should be treated differently.

    [An aside, you should read the commentary about how this might play with regard to the break-away SSPX, who even more recently 'broke' from Rome. Could be Rome wanted to set up something to catch all.]

    Re. visible unity of the first Anglican group and how easy it will be—besides TAC who have been in talks with Rome for years now and whose communion will be first in this arrangement—I suspect all unions will be long wrought. You’re absolutely right that one can’t simply equate a ‘conservative Anglican’ with a Catholic. Many shades there, many lethal shades.

  3. Agellius says:


    OK, you asked for it. : )

    You write, “I do not view it as ecumenical at all, but it is more so divisive.”

    First, I agree with you that it’s not an ecumenical move. I was surprised when the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury and the (Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster, in their joint press conference, characterized it as the fruit of ecumenical discussions; and the USCCB did the same thing. Clearly it’s not a matter of ecumenism, but rather of people leaving one communion to join another.

    However I disagree with you in calling it “divisive”, since it doesn’t result in any more division than already exists. We already have the CofE separated from the Catholic Church; and within the CofE very serious disputes and divisions over the issues you mentioned: female priests, gay marriage, etc. All this new plan does is allow people to leave a communion which to their minds no longer adheres to Catholic practice and morality (in large part), and join one which (at least officially) still does. It’s not ecumenical, but it is neutral with respect to divisions which already exist: it neither creates new ones nor heals existing ones.

    You object that this plan achieves “easy unity” without addressing the “16th century wounds”, etc. In response I would like to point out that the original division was not a popular movement, but was imposed from the top down. We may disagree as to what proportion of the English population was in favor of breaking with Rome, but certainly a large number of them would have been content to remain united. The vast majority eventually were brought into line over time, simply because it was illegal to do otherwise, and although they might have been content to remain united had they not been pressured to do otherwise, they were not courageous enough to risk prosecution over it, not to mention trouble and suffering for their loved ones.

    But I submit that there was always a certain proportion, the size of which probably waxed and waned, that harbored pro-Catholic sentiments and preferences — i.e. thought of themselves more as Catholics than as Protestants — right up to the present day. This segment of the CofE was content to remain in the CofE so long as they believed that it was a legitimate arm of the ancient catholic and apostolic Church. But eventually the CofE went so far over the line in abandoning Catholic principles and traditions — so far out of sync with the rest of the ancient, apostolic churches, Catholic as well as Eastern Orthodox — as to seem to them no longer Catholic in any essential respect.

    Since the CofE has apparently (to them) abandoned the ancient Catholic and Apostolic faith, the only way they can remain in union with that faith is to join one of the churches that remains Catholic and Apostolic.

    Therefore I submit that it is not primarily about what they are against, but rather what they are for. They are for the Catholic faith. From their point of view it is the CofE, and not themselves, that has abandoned the Catholic faith, and put them in a position where in order to remain Catholic, they must leave the CofE.

    You write, “It circumvents one of the primary goals of the ecumenical movement – mutual recognition of ministry.”

    If it were as simple as merely “recognizing” each other’s ministry, that could have been done long ago by issuing a statement saying, “we recognize each other’s ministry”. There are specific reasons why that hasn’t happened after 40-odd years of “ecumenical dialogue”.

    In the Catholic Church, the ordained ministry is inextricably tied to the idea of *priesthood*, and priesthood inextricably tied to *sacrifice*, specifically the sacrifice of the Mass. And the legitimate priesthood, with the powers it entails, may only be passed on via *apostolic succession*. For the Catholic Church to “recognize” the “ordained ministry” of the various Protestant communions, as being equally valid with Catholic ordination, would be to abandon the doctrines of apostolic succession, priesthood and the Eucharist — which are absolutely *essential* to the Catholic and Apostolic faith. If you thought the Catholic Church ever had the intention of doing any such thing, you were misled.

    Indeed, it is on this basis that the Church, in Vatican II and other places, has decreed that Protestant communions may not properly be called “churches”: a church in the proper sense must possess apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist.

    The Catholic Church long ago ruled that Anglican orders were no longer valid, due to changes the Anglicans had made in the rites of ordination. This is not anything new.

  4. Agellius says:

    Regarding your comment above about the “23 Catholic Churches which are all in full communion with one another and Rome, and yet remain self-governing”:

    These are not considered separate and distinct “churches”, but rather diverse “rites” within the one Catholic Church.

    You say there is “visible communion; though there is great diversity in this unity”.

    Absolutely true. This has always been the case.

    However you must understand that their diversity is primarily in their cultural and liturgical traditions. There is absolute uniformity among them in terms of doctrine. They could not be considered to be in full communion with the Pope without giving full assent to all of the teachings of the Catholic Church. And they all, of course, possess valid apostolic succession and priesthood and offer the sacrifice of the Mass, as well as the other six sacraments of the Catholic Church.

    • Joel says:

      You are right that the Catholic Church wouldn’t use the terms “separate and distinct” in regards to the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches. However they are called “particular churches” and sui urius meaning self governing.

      As a point of clarification, I have seen minor theological differences. For example in my visit to the Greek Melkite Catholic Church they omitted the filioque (“and with the son”) from the creed. You will also notice in the Catechism that whenever there is a difference between East and West they will say “except in the East, such and such is acceptable theology.” As an example when and in which order the sacraments of initiation are performed: In the West they are baptism -> reconciliation -> Eucharist -> confirmation all spread over time; whereas in the East they are baptism/confirmation/Eucharist (all at the same time, as infants). The reasoning behind each is an [acceptable] theological difference.

      For another post and another day – I believe Protestants do have valid priestly orders and apostolicity – given, we are outside communion with Rome, but I will argue (not here) that it is no less valid. Recall a few weeks back the readings from the 26th Sunday in Ordinary time Numbers 11:25-29 and Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48.

      I really appreciate your first comment, it did help to bring some greater detail to the situation. You provide a unique perspective I can not offer.

  5. Agellius says:

    You are right, instead of “absolute uniformity” among them, I should have said “essential agreement”.

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