Author: By Simon Caldwell
The pair will hold a private meeting at the Vatican at a delicate time for
relations between the churches. Last month, Pope Benedict unveiled a special
structure to allow traditionalist Anglican ministers, including married
ones, and lay people to join the Catholic Church. The decree, for the first
time in history, allows the creation of “personal ordinariates” in
which Anglo-Catholics can preserve their traditions but in communion with
the Pope. Anglo-Catholic leaders have generally welcomed the move as an act
of generosity. But it has caused unease within parts of the Church of
England because some clergy fear it could further undermine the worldwide
What Dr Williams understands more clearly than many in the Church of England
is that, although he is being held accountable for many of the difficulties
in his church, the creation of personal ordinariates are not a reflection on
him. He is not like an Anglican pope, a focus of unity who can hold together
80 million members by clarifying and enforcing doctrine. The ordinariates do
not even reflect on the state of the Church of England, troubled as it is.
The Vatican has more fertile pastures in mind.
Principally, these can be found in Australia and the United States, both
countries in which one in four of the population is Catholic (compared to
one in 10 in England) and where the majority of requests for group
receptions from Anglicanism and into the Catholic Church have originated.
“This is not about the Church of England,” one Vatican insider said. “The
UK is just caught in a slipstream. The Vatican respects Rowan but it does no
much care what the Church of England bishops ? or indeed the Catholic
bishops in England and Wales ? think. The focus is all on America which Rome
thinks is the most important national church, more important than Italy now.”
The US Church has “healthy congregations of young people”, for
instance. It is robust, rich and increasingly influential. And the leaders
of this church of some 60 million Catholics have been pushing for changes in
the way Anglican converts are received.
This was highlighted by the embarrassment caused to the US Catholic bishops
when the Episcopal bishop in New Mexico, Jeffrey Steenson, resigned over the
election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop, as well as the
blessing of same-sex unions.
Bishop Steenson wanted to become a Catholic priest but was made to go back to
university in Rome and be re-ordained. Instead of being welcomed as a hero,
he was humiliated. This led for an appraisal of the way things were done. As
for Rowan Williams, the affection for him within the Vatican is genuine. He
will be welcomed as a friend. He can relax. One source said: “Rome has
decided to lay out a red carpet that is long and deep for Rowan because they
like and respect him personally.
“They know he needs symbolic support. They can see now that he’s been
badly damaged by all this among Anglicans. He’s playing a long game, with an
eye to Anglican/RC relations, perhaps even after he and Benedict have gone,
but he’s being seen as too deferential … but in the end Rome doesn’t much
care about England ? Anglican or Catholic ? they have a much wider
This insight is certainly shared by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the
emeritus Archbishop of Westminster. In a speech last month, he revealed that
group reception was first discussed with Cardinal Ratzinger in 1993 and 1994
by the English Catholic leadership, after a request from the Anglo-Catholic
group, Forward in Faith. “It was finally decided that it would not be
appropriate to take this initiative,” the cardinal said.
“The personal ordinariates offered by the Holy Father can be seen not in
any way unecumenical but rather as a generous response to people who have
been knocking at the door for a long time.”
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