I believe that it is time for the Anglican Communion and, most especially, the Episcopal Church in the US, to welcome into this branch of ‘Christ’s holy catholic church’ those disaffected former Roman Catholics who are no longer able in good conscience to remain in the Roman Communion.
Pope Benedict XVI, by offering disaffected ex-Anglicans a place in the Roman Catholic Communion, has raised the issue—indirectly—of what we Anglicans can do about disaffected former Roman Catholics without being seen as proselytizing.
In an article in the National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2010, Fr. Richard McBrien, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University, wrote: “In late February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a major survey that found that nearly a third of U.S. Catholics have left the Catholic church. Some have joined other churches, but most have simply slipped from active membership in the Catholic church to become part of a group once described as "lapsed Catholics." This means that about 10 percent of all Americans today are former Catholics. “ It also means that most of the some 20,000,000 former Roman Catholics have not yet found a spiritual home.
In the Episcopal Church they will find a reformed Catholic church (the third largest Christian church in the world) that already exemplifies many of the characteristics that they had hoped to see in the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council:
· A democratic church in which every office holder—lay or clergy—is elected by the people. From the parish priest to the diocesan bishop to the national presiding bishop, all are elected by the chosen representatives of the clergy and laity.
· The Eucharistic liturgy with the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the principal act of worship on Sundays and major saints’ days. All baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available on an ‘all may; some should; no one must’ basis.
· The freedom of clergy to marry.
· Admission to Holy Communion of divorced and remarried people without annulment of the previous marriage.
· Full equality of women including their admission to all of the ordained ministries of the Church: diaconate; priesthood; and episcopate.
· Full equality of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
· Artificial contraception is not considered to be sinful; the freedom of women to follow their own informed consciences in regard to the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is approved by a majority of Episcopalians and is not censured by the church. Children and adults are taught the Christian faith in order to apply it to their own lives; priests and trained spiritual directors are available to assist them in their decision-making.
The suggestion that I make above is also based on my own personal experience of both Communions. I was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1954. I left the ministry of the Episcopal Church in 1959, became a Roman Catholic, and—after four and a half years of postgraduate study at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Tuebingen, Germany—was ordained as a married Roman Catholic priest in Germany. I subsequently returned to the Episcopal Church and was restored to the Episcopal priesthood in 1992. In Tuebingen, I studied with a number of prominent Roman Catholic theologians, including Prof. Hans Kueng and then Prof. Josef Ratzinger; I attended a session of the Second Vatican Council and followed its deliberations closely; and I have continued to have many Roman Catholic priest friends and acquaintances, theologians among them. I share with many of my Roman Catholic friends—both practicing and no longer practicing—a concern for the spiritual welfare of those who have left the Roman Communion but who have not found a church within which to continue their Catholic faith and practice. I believe that ignorance of the reformed Catholic nature of our church prevents many former Roman Catholics from finding a new spiritual home among us. I believe that we have an obligation to address their plight and that the Pope’s offer to former Anglicans allows us to reciprocate in the same spirit of concern—on our part—for the welfare of former Roman Catholics.
I propose that the Episcopal Church engage in a campaign at the national, diocesan, and parish level to inform former Roman Catholics that “we recognize [them] as [members] of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive [them] into the fellowship of this Communion”. Former Roman Catholics already in our church, including clergy, could be enlisted to help others understand the needs of former Roman Catholics as they seek further information about our church. I—and, I am sure, others—have conducted workshops and seminars to explain the similarities and differences between our church and the Roman Catholic Church. Most of us, I am sure, would be willing to do that at the diocesan and parochial level as we welcome former Roman Catholics to become part of our church.
[There is no need to create a separate ‘ordinariate’ for our former Roman Catholic sisters and brothers—they will feel at home with the liturgy of the Episcopal Church: it is practically identical to the liturgy that they have become accustomed to in the last three generations since Vatican II.]
[The news that the ex-Anglicans known as the Traditional Anglican Church in the US, along with similar groups in the UK and Australia, have made a request to be received into the Roman Catholic Church under the provision for “personal ordinariates” is not surprising. Having left the Anglican Communion, they were in an ecclesiastical ‘limbo’, not being in communion with any of the world-wide Catholic Communions, i.e., the Roman Communion; the Orthodox Communion; the Anglican Communion; and the Old Catholic Communion. The decision on the part of Pope Benedict to establish ‘personal ordinariates’ for ex-Anglicans should be seen as generous rather than opportunistic. After all, having left the Anglican Communion for reasons of conscience, they needed a spiritual home and the Roman Catholic Communion of churches seems the most appropriate arrangement. It is, however, not without problems. The Vatican is willing to appoint bishops or other clerics as ecclesiastical authorities to govern these ordinariates, and they may be former Anglican priests or bishops. They must, however, be re-ordained in the Roman Communion; the Vatican, despite the recommendations of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, has not yet recognized the validity of Anglican orders. And, although Anglican priests who are married will be allowed to be reordained as married priests, bishops will not be allowed to be reordained as bishops if they are married. There is no indication whether married men will be eligible candidates for ordination to the priesthood in the newly established Anglican ordinariates. Women, of course will not be eligible for ordination in any of the three orders of deacon, priest, and bishop. So, despite the indication that Anglicanism has catholic elements that will be recognized and conserved, deacons, priests, and bishops will not be received in their orders but must be reordained if they wish to continue in the ordained ministry. Especially in the United States, these ex-Anglicans may find that many of their new Roman Catholic neighbors hold the same opinions on many subjects as their former Anglican neighbors held and with which they disagreed.]