There’s been a lot of virtual ink spilled over the last week or so about the Vatican’s announcement that it will make it easier for Anglicans to convert, establishing, it appears, a more widespread use of the so-called Anglican Rite liturgy and allowing for some degree of self-governance for former Anglican communities. (Including continuing the practice of allowing married Anglican clergy to convert, be re-ordained, and lead these parishes.)
People have interpreted the announcement as everything from crass sheep-stealing, to creating a haven for Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination and/or gay clergy, to attempting to establish a united Christian front against Islam. But I think before we jump to conclusions about the significance of this move, it’s important to get at least some sense of who’s likely to actually make such a move.
A lot of the media reports have been focusing on “traditionalist Anglicans,” a vague and not terribly helpful term that could include everyone from a Nigerian charismatic-evangelical to the spikiest of high-church Anglo-Catholics. The former is, for obvious reasons, far less likely to swim the Tiber than the latter.
But even among Anglo-Catholics–a notoriously fissiparous lot–there are significant differences of opinion and practice. There are Anglo-Catholics who worship with the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (or its equivalent in other countries) and those who insist on using the 1928 BCP. There are Anglo-Catholic parishes that use the Catholic Tridentine Rite; there are others that use the reformed Roman rite (the so-called Novus Ordo). There are “Affirming” Anglo-Catholics who support the ordination of women and equality for LGBT Christians; there are others who take traditionalist positions on these matters (or, in some cases, a traditionalist position on one and a revisionist position on the other). There are Anglo-Papalists who identify very strongly with the Catholic Church and long for reunion with Rome, and there are even a few “Byzantine” Anglicans who identify with the spirituality and theology of the Eastern church. (Obviously not all these groupings are mutually exclusive.)
Needless to say, not all of these folks–even within the minority persuasion of Anglo-Catholicism–will be enticed to convert. It’s true that in addition to Anglo-Papalist types, there may be some people in the traditionalist wing of Anglo-Catholicism who will be tempted to convert not because they unhesitatingly accept all the claims of the Catholic Church but because they feel–rightly or wrongly–that Christian orthodoxy is a losing proposition within Anglicanism. Even still, it’s hard to imagine more than a small minority of Anglicans making the decision to go over to Rome. Whether the Pope showed ecumenical bad manners is debatable, but if Benedict’s goal was to absorb the Anglican Communion, Borg-like, into the Catholic Church, this is a peculiar way to go about it.