Friday, November 5, 2010

Welcoming former Roman Catholics into the Episcopal Church

18. X. 2010
From the desk of the Rev. Prof. Harold R. Bronk, Jr.:

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 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.

Using the figures provided by Fr. McBrien, there are c. 800,000 disaffected Roman Catholics in eastern Massachusetts [i.e., within the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts] most of whom have not found a spiritual home.  

There is no need to create separate ‘ordinariates’ [as the Roman Church has done for former Anglicans] 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.