On Wednesday (Oct. 28), I went to New York to be present at a meeting with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.† He was on an apostolic visit throughout the United States... The patriarch, in his visit, chose to give out a commemorative stamp marking the visit of Pope Benedict to him at the See of Constantinople in December 2006 which I thought, was a significant example of his desire for unity.
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(This week,) I want to briefly comment on the news that the Holy Father is going to issue an Apostolic Constitution in order to accommodate Anglicans who wish to join the Church, and at the same time, preserve some of their Anglican traditions.
In the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council there was a great optimism about the possibility of the Anglican Church being reunited with the Roman Catholic Church. I had many Anglican friends who were very positive and very hopeful about this. After all, the Anglican Church, unlike other Protestant groups, was not founded so much on theological differences but rather because of certain political expediencies of King Henry VIII who was anxious to have a legitimate heir to prevent dynastic wars. Although Henry was very Catholic in his outlook (having authored ďThe Defense of the Seven SacramentsĒ) more Protestant elements were introduced into the Anglican Church after separation from the Church of Rome. However there was always a strong Anglo-Catholic tradition, which of course flowered with the Oxford Movement, as well as the conversion of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Graymoor Friars and Sisters, and so many others who came into the Church.
Much of our optimism about the corporate reunification of our churches, however, was dashed by decisions since the council that were made within the Anglican Communion by which they have distanced themselves from Catholic teaching and practice. Those decisions seem to be without reference to the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, particularly with regard to orders.† In light of that, many Anglo-Catholics have felt alienated and have sought to be received into the Catholic Church.
In our immediate history, we have been accepting Anglican priests into the Catholic Church, and in some cases even entire congregations that sought to become Catholic as a group. There are nine of those Anglican-use parishes in the United States and one of them is here in Boston. Those parishes have permission to use a modified version of the Book of Common Prayer as their liturgical book.
Given this, the Holy Fatherís move is simply building on a practice that has been going for nearly 20 years now.
His gesture is in response to a pastoral need to reach out to those others who are anxious to become part of the Catholic Church, yet, at the same time, allow them to maintain some of their own traditions and culture.
I know people are saying that this threatens the practice of celibacy in the Catholic Church. But, I look at it as being actually a better solution than the one that we have had -- particularly in England -- where scores of Anglican priests have been ordained as Catholic priests. This resulted in presbyterates wherein you have both married and celibate clergy. I think that was a much greater challenge than the current decision that will establish a separate jurisdiction for the Anglican priests who would become Catholic priests.
The Holy Fatherís decision was a courageous one. Some are criticizing it as un-ecumenical but I think that the decisions that the Anglican Church has made in the past have been un-ecumenical, as they have moved away from their Catholic roots. For this reason, the Holy Fatherís decision is a wise one. The hopes for corporate union with the Anglican Church have been greatly diminished. However, there are many within the Anglican Communion who are very close to us and this allows them to find a spiritual home in the Catholic Church.