Local Anglican-use Catholics hail Vatican move

WEST ROXBURY -- Members of a local congregation of former Anglicans who joined the Roman Catholic Church years ago, support the recent move by the Vatican that will establish a worldwide structure for Anglicans who want to be in full communion with the Church, while preserving distinct aspects of their liturgy and culture.

Father Richard Bradford, chaplain of the Congregation of St. Athanasius, the lone Anglican-use congregation within the Archdiocese of Boston, praised the action by the Vatican.

“It wasn’t the Catholic Church looking to steal from other Christian communities. It was a response to Episcopalians who wanted to be reunited with the Holy See,” Father Bradford said. “It shows the Church at her best. In her zeal for souls, she’s leaving no stone unturned.”

Cardinal William J. Levada, the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said in an Oct. 20 Vatican press conference that an upcoming new apostolic constitution would create “personal ordinariates,” a structure similar to a diocese, for pastoral oversight for those who wish to bring Anglican liturgical elements into the Catholic Church with them.

“This apostolic constitution is an effort to make it easier and encouraging for non-Catholic Christians to become Catholic,” Father Bradford added. “At the same time, it is not giving up anything the Church preaches, teaches, or believes. The Catholic Church is not giving up the centrality of the Holy See, the Magisterium, or the discipline of celibacy.”

For Father Bradford, a married priest who entered into full communion with the Catholic Church, the move is a “gracious exception” to the Church’s tradition of celibacy, required of all Latin Rite priests.

Steve Cavanaugh, a member of St. Athanasius who edits the congregation’s newspaper as well as the journal of the Anglican-use Society, lauded the Vatican’s move for its international reach.

“It takes what we’ve had in the United States and it makes it available outside the U.S.,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s clear it’s going to be worldwide, which hasn’t been the case.”

Pope John Paul II issued a decree in 1980 that allowed Episcopalians in the United States to become Catholic while retaining some of their liturgical traditions, as well as the custom of married priests.

Currently, there are nine Anglican-use parishes and one order of sisters nationwide.

Locally, the Congregation of St. Athanasius was established in 1997 by Cardinal Law and enjoys parish status. It worships at St. Theresa of Avila Church, a Roman Catholic church in West Roxbury.

Father Bradford was ordained a Catholic priest in 1998. He also serves as a parochial vicar at St. Theresa’s.

There is speculation as to how the Vatican’s call for ordinariates will be applied.

Father Bradford says a non-geographic diocese could be established.

“Even though the congregations can work together, there’s no coordinated oversight of them together,” Father Bradford said.

Cavanaugh said that the pope would decide who would lead the diocese, and this ordinary could be represented at the bishops’ conference.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the apostolic constitution says and what its provisions are,” Father Bradford said.

Father Bradford and Cavanugh responded favorably to the Vatican’s insistence that married clergy who are received into communion with Rome under this provision will not be eligible to become bishops in the future.

Both pointed out that this move would not harm ecumenical relations with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, because such Churches also do not allow married priests to become bishops.

“The Holy Father is looking at Anglicans with this, but he’s got one eye toward the East,” Cavanaugh said. “This would be a point of concern for relations with the Eastern Orthodox.”

“This is an ecumenical move, not just towards the (Anglicans), but towards the East,” Cavanaugh added.

According to Father Bradford, Oct. 20 may have been chosen as the day to make this announcement due to historical significance. He said Oct. 20 is the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross, who founded the Passionists in 1775. The Passionists received Cardinal John Henry Newman into the Church. Throughout his life, St. Paul prayed for the conversion of England, Father Bradford said.

For Father Bradford, this move by the pope was done to preserve Anglican culture within the Roman Catholic Church.

“This is an opportunity to protect the good things in the Anglican heritage by bringing them under the protection and guidance of the Holy See,” Father Bradford said.

Catholic News Service materials contributed to this report.