THE former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who will address the National Assembly of Forward in Faith in London tomorrow afternoon, was among those to respond to the Vatican announcement.
Dr Nazir-Ali, who was a Roman Catholic in his youth, welcomed its “generosity of spirit”. But he questioned the preservation of Anglicanism under the new arrangement.
“If Anglican patrimony is to flourish, in the context of unity, what arrangements will be made for the study of its theological tradition, method, spirituality, and approach to moral issues?”
In the mean time, he said, “there is a need to build confidence in the evangelical basis of the Anglican tradition and to make sure that it survives and flourishes in the face of the many challenges it faces.” He said he was waiting for further clarification from the Vatican.
In May, Dr Nazir-Ali was asked whether he would become a Roman Catholic. He said that the Pope had “a right” to be a focus of unity for Anglicans. “To some extent it depends on how the Bishop of Rome and other Vatican officers behave,” he said (News, 15 May).
The Vatican announcement had come as no surprise, said Prebendary David Houlding, a member of the General Synod’s Catholic Group, on Wednesday.
It did not mean that all Anglo-Catholics had to jump on the bandwagon and suddenly disappear. “But they’re very excited about it, and we know there won’t be another offer as generous as this on the table,” he said. He said that the offer placed “an even greater obligation on the revision committee on women bishops to get the provision right. Far from not having to bother about it, we have to bother about it even more.”
Forward in Faith issued a statement on behalf of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Andrew Burnham, and the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Revd Keith Newton, in which they “warmly welcomed” the news. They said that they had chosen 22 February, the feast of the Chair of Peter, as a day when priests and people could decide if they wanted to explore the Pope’s initiative futher.
“Some Anglicans in the Catholic tradition understandably will want to stay within the Anglican Communion. Others will wish to make individual arrangements as their conscience directs. A further group of Anglicans, we think, will begin to form a caravan, rather like the People of Israel crossing the desert in search of the Promised Land.”
The chairman of Forward in Faith, the Rt Revd John Broadhurst, and its secretary, the Revd Geoffrey Kirk, spoke of “a decisive moment in the history of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England”.
Anglicans concerned about protecting the basic faith need not go to Rome, said the conservative Evangelical group Reform, the Revd Rod Thomas. They could remain Anglican through the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), “which holds together those who want to stop the orthodox faith being eroded”. FCA Primates were willing to provide episcopal oversight in the absence of a hoped-for local solution, Mr Thomas said.
“If priests really are out of sympathy with the C of E’s doctrine (as opposed to the battles we are having over women’s ministry and sexuality), then perhaps it is better that they make a clean break and go to Rome. However, when they do, they will have to accommodate themselves to Rome’s top-down approach to church life.”
BEYOND the UK, unreserved endorsement of the Vatican’s move has so far come only from the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), whose 400,000 members are scattered throughout the United States, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the UK.
It has actively been seeking such a structure since 2007. The TAC’s Australia-based leader, Bishop John Hepworth, described it as “an act of great goodness on the part of the Holy Father”, one that “more than matched” the TAC’s dreams and prayers. The process of taking up the challenge to go for these specific structures would “begin at once”.
Bishop Jack Iker, a leading Anglo-Catholic, whose Fort Worth diocese realigned with the Southern Cone last year, gave a guarded response and a warning against “hasty decisions or quick resolutions” made at a time of litigation against the diocese brought by the Episcopal Church in the United States.
“Many Anglo-Catholics will welcome this development as a very generous and welcoming offer,” he said. “But, of course, not all Anglo-Catholics can accept certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; nor do they believe that they must first convert to Rome in order to be truly Catholic Christians.”
Four priests from Bishop Iker’s diocese, who approached the local RC bishop last year with proposals for full communion with Rome, have had publicly to recant their claim that they had his “unequivocal support” for their action, and that more than 50 of the clergy in the diocese were willing to pursue “an active plan” for communion with the Holy See (News, 29 August 2008).
Archbishop Robert Duncan, leader of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), called it a “momentous offer”; but he but did not believe that it would be taken up by the great majority of ACNA’s members. The decision represented “a recognition of the integrity of the Anglican tradition within the broader Christian Church”.
Archbishop Duncan described “historic differences of church governance, dogmas regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary and the nature of Holy Orders” as “continuing to be points of prayerful dialogue”.
The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), closely allied to the Church of Nigeria, used the announcement to urge recognition of groupings such as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), which drew a letter of support from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) Primates Council on Tuesday as “the authentic voice of a very broad coalition of orthodox perspectives”.
CANA’s missionary bishop, the Rt Revd Martyn Minns, said: “The Vatican is opening a door for Anglicans who sense a call to be part of the Church of Rome to join that body and still maintain Anglican traditions.
“While we welcome the positive response from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the Vatican’s proviso, we urge Lambeth Palace to move swiftly to fully endorse the efforts of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and the Anglican Church in North America to keep the Anglican family together.”
Bishop Christopher Epting, Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations for the Episcopal Church in the United States, said that the Church was talking to the Archbishops of both Canterbury and Westminster, and “would be continuing to explore the full implications of this in our ecumenical relations”, he said.
“We in the Episcopal Church continue to look to the Holy Spirit, who guides us in understanding of what it means to be the Church in the Anglican tradition.”
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Dr Phillip Aspinall, said that he did not believe that the proposed new structure would have much impact in the Anglican Church in his country. He told the Associated Press: “Some groups that left the Anglican Church of Australia some time ago might find this helpful in finding a home in the Roman Catholic Church.
“If that provides a means for Christian groups to come together, then that is a good thing, and a contribution to the ecumenical goals we share.”
The director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, the Very Revd David Richardson, said that he found the Vatican’s decision “surprising”.
In the past, the Roman Catholic Church had welcomed individual Anglicans without creating what he called “parallel structures” for entire groups of converts, he told AP.