Benedict XVI’s Anglican provisions like the razing of ecumenical Berlin Wall

In your discussions of things ecumenical, remember to refer to Pope Benedict as "the Pope of Christian Unity".

A reader alerted me to the following piece In the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail by Ian Hunter,
Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the faculty of law at the University of Western Ontario. 

My emphases and comments.

The big news: The Pope welcomes disaffected Anglicans

Will Oct. 20 be remembered as the day when the Berlin Wall of religious separation began to crumble? [I like that image.]

Ian Hunter

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
Last updated on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009 2:04AM EST

With year’s end fast approaching, columnists and pundits will hold forth on what was the most significant news story of 2009. The story I nominate is unlikely to bulk large in their consideration, unlikely even to be mentioned, but I suggest that the most important story was Pope Benedict XVI’s overture to disaffected Anglicans. [Certainly the big story in religion.]

The story really begins a couple of years earlier, when a group of breakaway Anglicans (most had left the church after 1977 over Anglican ordination of female priests) who call themselves the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) petitioned Rome en masse through their primate, Archbishop John Hepworth.

The TAC, whose size is estimated at 300,000 to 500,000 souls worldwide, asked for full communion with Rome without preconditions or demands, while expressing the hope that it might be possible to retain traditional Anglican liturgy and hymnody. Their petition was cordially received at the Vatican, but for many months, there was only silence.

Then, [TA DA!] on Oct. 20, the response of Pope Benedict XVI was a decisive, magnanimous “Yes.” The subsequently published Apostolic Constitution (Anglicanorum Coetibus) confirmed that TAC members will be permitted to join collectively and will be allowed to retain the liturgies and traditions “that are precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith.” Small wonder that Archbishop Hepworth called the Pope’s offer “generous at every turn … very pastoral” and “a beautiful document.

TAC bishops and congregations will consider and vote on the Vatican’s offer in a series of national and regional synods to be held early next year.

This means, in practice, that a place will be made within Catholic liturgy for Thomas Cranmer’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer – considered by many to rival William Shakespeare’s plays as the apotheosis of the English language. [Meanwhile, we are still using the lame-duck ICEL versions… "O God, you are so big.  Help us to be big like you."]  Also to be welcomed is the rich treasure of Anglican hymnody. All of this is (to paraphrase Hamlet) “a consummation devoutly to be wished,” and it was greeted as such by many thoughtful Catholics and Anglicans of my acquaintance.  [As the incoming Anglicans raise the liturgical level, everyone’s standard will be shifted upwards.  As the tide rises, all boats rise.]

The immediate benefits are obvious: [1] First, the Catholic Church will be strengthened by an influx (no one can yet say exactly how many) of committed, orthodox Christians. The priests who arrive with them will be men following Christ’s instruction to leave everything behind – job security, income, pensions and, in some cases, families – to follow Him. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] These priests may help to alleviate, to some extent at least, what is in danger of becoming a chronic shortage of Catholic vocations.

Until 2006, I was an Anglican. By the time I left, I had grown sick of hearing colleagues whimper about the growing apostasy within Anglicanism but doing nothing about it. Well, now they can do something. Pope Benedict XVI has called their bluff. The destination was always there; now, there is a bridge to cross over. [And the Pope is the "great bridge builder".  He unites.  He is the Pope of Christian Unity.] No one need jump; no one need swim. It will be fascinating to see who crosses and who stays put; those who stay put should be heard from no more[Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

Yet I also have reservations.

First, I worry that the liberal element within Catholicism, particularly in North America, will do all it can (which could be considerable) to frustrate this welcome initiative. There are some Catholics who would rather move the church in the direction of Anglicanism, even Anglicanism in its death throes, than to see orthodoxy strengthened.  [And they are welcome to leave at any time.]

Second, it is unclear how Rome will reconcile its traditional teaching (e.g. on the invalidity of Anglican orders) with this new initiative. [I think that will be fairly easy to resolve.  Will there really be any Anglican clergy who object to being ordained by a Catholic bishop?]

Finally, it is unclear whether this rapprochement with Anglicanism is only the first step of an initiative to all orthodox Protestants; in other words, [watch this!] is Pope Benedict XVI signalling that the ecumenism of the 21st century is not more pointless dialogue with the decaying husks of old-line Protestantism, but rather a new beginning with any ecclesial community willing to engage with Rome on historic Christendom? [Well said.]

I hope this is so. If it is, then the Pope’s Oct. 20 announcement will be remembered as the day when the Berlin Wall of religious separation began to crumble; the wall erected five centuries ago – on Oct. 31, 1517 – when Martin Luther affixed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. If we have lived to see that breach healed, to witness the Christian church finally taking seriously Jesus’s prayer that “they may be one, as I and the Father am one,” then this is the most important story of 2009.

Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the faculty of law at the University of Western Ontario.

Great piece.


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Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. GregH says:

    The true sadness of this all is that the folks at a church like The Falls Church (John Yates III, rector) which is an evangelical Anglican church will not heed this call and will unfortunately still look for ways to “reform the Anglican Communion” or create other sub-groups within Anglicanism like CANA

  2. Well said, Fr. Z.

    However, about those other orthodox Protestants, I’m not really sure if they’re just going to jump on board all of a sudden. They may be doctrinally conservative, but in some cases (depending on the denomination), the liturgy can be radically different from even High Church/Anglo-Catholicism, if you think about it (more preachy, more choir-y, etc.).

    And because of that, I don’t know how the Vatican’s going to accomodate them if people from Lutheran, Methodist, etc. congregations do the same thing. Plus, how does one breach that “sola fidei” gap?

    But there’s always hope, right? :-D

  3. Paul M says:

    Would love to see this gain momentum. We have a lovely little Anglican Church 3 blocks away that uses the 1662 BCP. Unfortunately, they are not TAC, but part of another breakaway group.

    Thank you again, Pope Benedict, for being the Pope of Christian Unity.

  4. Desertfalcon says:

    Great article! I am truly interested in the part about raising the bar, liturgically. It has always mystified me how the TEC could be so heretical on so many issues, and yet, in my observations with my Anglican friends at their parishes, they do not seem to engage in some of the utterly shocking abuses that I witness in too many Catholic parishes. Maybe it’s because it has been all that has held Episcopalians together. They might just set the bar high enough to began alleviating the divide between the OF and EF “camps”.

  5. TNCath says:

    Ian Hunter wrote: “First, I worry that the liberal element within Catholicism, particularly in North America, will do all it can (which could be considerable) to frustrate this welcome initiative. There are some Catholics who would rather move the church in the direction of Anglicanism, even Anglicanism in its death throes, than to see orthodoxy strengthened.”

    Perhaps we could organize a trade? We’ll take their Anglicans who wish to come to Rome for our “liberal element.” Our initial offer could be composed of the following: the LCWR and their member congregations of Sisters, the National Federation of Priests Councils, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Archbishop John Quinn, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Father Richard McBrien, and the National Catholic Reporter.

    Seriously, though, if you look at who these “liberal elements” really are, by the time the Anglican provision is complete, the aforementioned groups and individuals will be long gone from the scene. So, while I understand Mr. Hunter’s initial concerns, in the long run I really don’t think we have all that much to worry about.

  6. FranzJosf says:

    I wonder if they’ll be allowed to use the King James Version for the lessons at Mass. I hope so. Being a convert, that is the one thing I miss. Talk about the apotheosis of English! The three parts are Shakespeare, BCP, and the Authorized Version. I have so much of it memorized and love it. In my regular reading, I still use the KJV.

    Speaking of other protestant groups and the Holy Father’s new direction with ecumenism, who knows where the path may lead. Almost every major main-line denomination has pockets of christian orthodoxy (on the basic moral and doctrinal points) combined with some form of liturgical worship.

    For example, I don’t know if it is still true, but there use to be a famous St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Texas, with basically orthodox Christian belief, and their worship included kneelers and incense!

  7. Ralph says:

    Pervocative essay. Quite a bit to think about.

    I guess the first thing that comes to mind is the bishops of the TAC. I assume that they will not be eligable for the office in the Catholic Church. What a combination of joy and sadness it must be to have to turn over the flock you have loved and nutured in order to “cross over the bridge”. Talk about leaving everything behind! What humility and love!

  8. Margaret says:

    TNCath– great minds think alike! Only my first round pick for the 1:1 exchange would be all the pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians… :)

  9. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I really could see some Lutherans coming over, but they’re going to have to knock before the Pope extends an invitation to enter.

  10. idatom says:

    Fr. Z.;

    I look forward to many in the Anglican Church coming home, this I think, will have a very positive effect on our Church. As far as other Protestants are concerned I don’t expect much, after all their main purpose is to protest us and what we believe. Heaven forbid you should call any man father. I pray for the day when the Orthodox return. Remember JPII’s desire that the Church could breathe with both lungs. Please God, let this happen.

    Tom Lanter

  11. albizzi says:

    “while expressing the hope that it might be possible to retain traditional Anglican liturgy and hymnody”
    Possibly are they afraid of the extravagancies we have to withstand from a number of modernist priests?

  12. Allan S. says:

    “I really could see some Lutherans coming over, but they’re going to have to knock before the Pope extends an invitation to enter.”

    Personally I think they should pay to fix the Castle Church door too ;)

  13. Grabski says:

    how Rome will reconcile its traditional teaching (e.g. on the invalidity of Anglican orders) with this new initiative.


    Hasn’t this already been worked out? A nearby parish had a married, former anglican priest….

  14. ljc says:

    The Pope’s mission intention for January certainly hints that he may be striving for unity between all Christians:
    “That every believer in Christ may be conscious that unity among all Christians is a condition for more effective proclamation of the Gospel”

  15. Martial Artist says:

    Father Z,

    Even though you asked only twice whether you heard an Amen, you are entitled to at least three Amens, and that is just from yours truly (a former Episcopalian in the process of swimming the Tiber—I am currently a candidate). And, while I share your concern with regard to liberal Catholics, I believe a part of the answer to that threat is unceasing prayer—for His Holiness and the initiative he took in Anglicanorum Coetibus, for our Bishops in implementing it, for those still within Anglicanism who are now considering the invitation, and, last but not least for the frustration by God of the efforts of all those who want to stand against what the invitation offers.

    As to the question of the invalidity of Anglican orders, I have heard it stated that our Church is simply honoring that which Henry Tudor decreed for those clerics in England who wished to remain and come under that king’s governorship of the CofE. One of my friends is the son of a deceased (strongly Anglo-catholic) Episcopal priest. He has shared with me the difficulty he will have in swimming the Tiber, which he sees as his likely future. That difficulty very much centers on his coming to terms with the teaching that none of the sacraments his father performed were valid, and although I do not share his experience in that regard, I can empathize with him. I believe that is where the difficulty will lie, at least with current Anglican clergy, and it will have nothing to do with being ordained by a Catholic Bishop, but with accepting the Church’s teaching that the sacraments over which they believe they presided were ineffectual.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  16. An American Mother says:

    Amen, amen!

    I agree that we should offer in trade for any remaining “high church” Anglicans the entire body of Sinsinawa Dominicans, all “praise bands” and amateur liturgists, and a heretic to be named later.

    With regard to speculation as to who is going to take His Holiness up on his magnanimous invitation, the Anglican/Episcopal polity is so strange that an explanation would take pages and pages. The short explanation is that the denomination was originally devised as a political solution to religious strife, and thus contained numerous mutually exclusive groups – high versus low versus broad in liturgy, high versus low in theology, evangelical versus formal, liberal versus conservative politically – all of which coexisted in separate parishes for many years under a ‘live and let live’ philosophy. That tenuous coexistence was destroyed by the politically ambitious who forced progressively more radical practices on the entire denomination.

    My speculation is that the “low” and the evangelical will not convert because their practices are essentially Protestant in liturgy, theology, and outlook. The “broad” will not convert because they have thrown their lot in with the politically ambitious. The “high” liturgically AND theologically will come over (unfortunately there is a contingent which strongly supports homosexual marriage, priests, and bishops, but they like fancy vestments and elaborate ceremony and are easily mistaken for ultra-high. We can certainly do without them).

    muckemdanno, the High Anglicans have ignored the XXXIX to my knowledge for at least 50 years (that was about the time I was old enough to notice such things). A truly High parish is practically indistinguishable from a pre-VCII Catholic parish. My then-Methodist newly-wedded husband nearly had a fit when I persuaded him into the old Atlanta GA ultramontane parish, Our Saviour Virginia-Highlands, when the inimitable Fr. Roy Pettway (may God rest his soul!) was the rector. Not only was he exposed for the first time to holy water, incense, the recitation of the Rosary, bells, chant, and gold vestments, Fr. Pettway preached on Purgatory. On Easter Sunday.

    Judging from his reaction at that time, I would never have guessed that my better half would cheerfully paddle ‘cross the Tiber. But 35 years of progressively weirder stuff changed his mind.

    While it is terribly difficult to concede that all the Sacraments (yes, seven! count ’em!) for all those years were something of an exercise in futility, that is the price we have to pay. It was highly embarassing, but we got over it.

  17. An American Mother says:

    And, just fyi, without meaning to be too fussy or pedantic — Cranmer, who was executed in 1556, wrote the 1549 book, which was later revised into the 1662 book that was used in Britain for so many years and formed the foundation of the American 1928 BCP.

    I think I’ve said before that Cranmer’s Prayer Book and Coverdale’s Psalter are the greatest example of beautiful yet powerful English turned to God’s service.

    I miss them horribly, but since the Episcopalians abandoned the 1928 Book years ago, I would be missing them in any case. And as I also said before, since THEY are not using them . . . maybe we could?

  18. Emilio III says:

    American Mother, you

  19. Emilio III says:

    (Sorry, fumbled last attempt) American Mother, you might want to look at for what Anglican Use parishes use at Mass. They seem to have two versions of the liturgy, the traditional “Rite One” and a contemporary “Rite Two”. St Mary the Virgin in Arlington (TX) uses both, Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio (TX) uses the traditional Rite One in the morning and a Novus Ordo Mass *in Latin* in the evenings, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston (TX) and St Anselm of Canterbury in Corpus Christi (TX) seem to stick to the older form.

    So the odds seem to favor the older usage being at least available for these parishes.

  20. An American Mother says:


    I have a friend who’s a parishioner at Atonement. She sent me a DVD of their Mass to show to the then rector at Our Saviour, whose congregation was considering an en masse Tiber crossing at that time. They didn’t go, but that rector wound up crossing the Tiber by a weird series of coincidences that would take too long to recount (but it’s a great story).

    The AU Rite II is a sop to any modernists who might have come over willy-nilly with the parish. It’s very similar to the ICLE (mis)translation and I suspect the ECUSA Rite II was created in consultation with ICLE. I can’t imagine people who took the trouble to save Cranmer’s wonderful BCP using Rite II . . . but I guess somebody in Arlington likes it. Can’t imagine why, de gustibus and all that though I suppose.

    AU never got off the ground here in Atlanta, ECUSA Diocese of Atlanta is traditionally “low” and “broad” (but not Evangelical), and there were only three “high” parishes here. One has simply ceased to exist, the bishop has taken over one and it will be reduced to mission status soon, and the third (our former parish) went the ritually-high but politically-heterodox route when a new rector was called. There was an AU society in somebody’s garage in Dunwoody, but that’s as far as it went. Most of the “high” Piskies did not wait and converted singly and in family groups (as we did) when the “high” parishes went under.

    Thank you, Lord, that we escaped from that train wreck and can now (at least somewhat) dispassionately observe the telescoped cars and flaming wreckage from the safety of the hillside.

  21. An American Mother says:

    That’s ICEL. ICLE is Institute for Continuing Legal Education, which is on my mind towards the end of the year.

  22. Supertradmom says:

    As to Lutherans, all those I know in the Midwest do not believe in the Real Presence, and except for a few Wisconsin and Missouri synod members, support abortion and contraception completely. In addition, these good people do not want a hierarchical priesthood. If some of the commentators have met Lutherans, or know of Lutheran congregations less liberal, I would be interested in the comment. There seems to be huge differences in beliefs between trad Anglicans and Lutherans.

  23. JP says:

    At first, our pontiff (pontus=bridge) was the connection between heaven and earth. Now it’s between us and ecclesial communities.

    We are blessed

  24. budgeri says:

    Sorry to be posting on such an old thread. I’m confused about this whole thing. Why do we need to “reach out” to Anglicans? If they wanted to be Catholic, nothing has ever prevented them. There are wonderful Catholic churches in England. My husband, who immigrated to the U.S. from England, was born and raised Anglican. I decided to marry him after it became clear that he would attend mass with me and would participate in raising our future children Catholic. About a year after we were married he decided, of his own will, to convert. He participated in classes along with people who had little or no religious background, and he felt that he learned quite a bit that he hadn’t known before. Meanwhile I have had to contend with an Anglican mother-in-law who actually believes that her Anglican church is “more Catholic” than any Catholic church, mainly because of the use of incense and fancy language. Even among the most traditional Anglicans, there are important discrepancies, such as disregard for Holy Days of Obligation, acceptance of birth control, lack of devotion to Mary, etc. With no disrespect to the Pope intended (and admitting I have limited wisdom and knowledge on this topic), I am worried that too much emphasis is being placed on ceremony and tradition rather than on substance. It is sad to think that a simple difference in wording has prevented people from seeking the fullness of the faith. It seems to me that people should be encouraged to get their priorities in order.

  25. An American Mother says:


    Speaking as somebody formerly on the inside over there (sixth generation Anglican), it’s not always that simple.

    I don’t know much about the Catholic churches in England, but around here unfortunately for many years there were far too many Catholic parishes that were trying to be “more accessible” – whatever that means (I think they were afraid of anti-Catholicism in the South) – and wound up being unrecognizable as Catholic. Priest as emcee/entertainer, kids in jeans milling around the altar, ad libbing all through the Mass, and watered-down theology. Homemade bread and jug port for Communion. Hiding the Tabernacle and the statues, turning the church into a bus station. And did I mention the awful music?

    As a high-church Episcopalian, for years I looked at that sort of thing and then looked at a beautiful little jewel of a Gothic church with its Tabernacle and Lady-Altar, the majestic language of Cranmer and Coverdale, the solemn celebration, the reverent congregation, kneeling for the Consecration and to receive, chant both Gregorian and Anglican, the music of Byrd and Tallis and Farrant sung beautifully by a well trained choir, and I thought . . . why?

    Really, in a sense your mother-in-law was right, we WERE more Catholic in every visible way, and with the parishes around here afraid to be Catholic in doctrine, you would never know that they HAD any devotion to Mary, or any objection to birth control, or any obligations of any kind.

    Of course, it didn’t last. The Episcopalians got rid of the Prayer Book, then they got priestesses, then they got do-it-yourself theology, then they got homosexual bishops . . . . and the cat was amongst the pigeons. The lack of authority (and the lack of an apostolic succession and a Magisterium) caught up with them eventually.

    I was in fear and trembling of what we might find. But God is good, and we found a parish that is not afraid to be Catholic, with Irish priests who stand no nonsense and believe strongly in the Church Militant. Reverent celebration, the beauty of holiness, sound theology, excellent preaching. And the music has undergone a delightful change for the better, with a brilliant music director who loves early music and the English Renaissance composers.

    But there are still some who have been unable to take the plunge, and I am extremely grateful to Benedict XVI for encouraging them. And I am also extremely grateful for his encouragement of good liturgy and music!

  26. budgeri says:

    Thank you American Mother for your insight. I can certainly understand your point of view and admit that my own is somewhat limited. I have been fortunate in that I have belonged to very traditional parishes for most of my life, with the notable exception of college. I know that my Mother-in-Law has not had the same experiences with ultra-modern parishes that you have (in fact one of her past vicars left to become Catholic), but for others who have, I can certainly understand their hesitation. I believe her issues are slightly different, but perhaps she will come around someday.

    I guess the point I am stuck on is that the language, the music, the style of the building, etc. is not and should not be considered the essence of our faith. All required things being equal, it should not be what makes one “more” or “less” Catholic. So much of it didn’t even exist when Jesus founded the Church. Yes, there are definite abuses that have taken place and have harmed the Church. That absolutely needs to be corrected. But after a certain point, it all comes down to personal preference. I know Catholics, myself included, choose which parish to attend based on their various preferences. I would not dream of choosing my religion (and potential salvation) in the same manner! In the end, being Catholic and fulfilling my obligations thereto are more important than the difference between “O Holy Ghost” or “On Eagle’s Wings”. I can handle listening to a guitar if the mass is otherwise conducted in a reverent manner according to Church doctrine. It is not my preference, but if it is the only way I will fulfill my obligation and ultimately save my soul, then I can easily make that sacrifice. Having never been anything but Catholic I suppose I lack the insight needed to really understand where Anglicans are coming from. I suppose if they don’t understand that they’re lacking anything spiritually, then it is much more difficult to see past the less significant differences between the churches.

    If this outreach will encourage more Anglicans to become Catholic, then of course that is a good thing. I HOPE that they will realize once they are here that they were missing out on things far more important than their preferred music, architectural styles and wording.

  27. An American Mother says:

    I absolutely agree with you on the basic point. Architecture, music, and words are not the point – the Truth is the point.

    Any soldier who has participated in a battlefield Mass knows that.

    However, the externals of worship DO affect what we believe – lex orandi, lex credendi, right? Being human creatures in a physical body, if we are surrounded by banal architecture, discordant music, dull language, and irreverent behavior, it’s bound to rub off on us eventually.

    And my experience has been that such a combination eventually affects the beliefs of the participants. Otherwise, why is it that there seems to be a correlation between abandoning Catholic traditions in worship and actual abandonment of the faith itself? I’ve seen it over and over again.

    Of course, there are exceptions — poor parishes without two dimes to rub together that still ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’. But I’ve also observed that, as soon as they get two dimes to rub together, those poor parishes do everything they can to beautify their surroundings. A good example is our local FSSP parish, which began in an abandoned little red brick Southern Baptist church. You can’t imagine a less congenial site for the EF . . . .

    but by the sweat of their brows they have transformed it!

    Isn’t that just beautiful?

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