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ANGLICAN-UNION Nov-14-2005 (1,180 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

When Anglicans, Catholics switch churches, what happens to dialogue?

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the official Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue continues, questions have arisen regarding the potential impact on the dialogue of Roman Catholics or Anglicans who switch communities.

While Anglicans -- especially Anglican bishops or priests -- becoming Roman Catholic after disagreeing with their community's stands on ordaining women or openly gay men has made news, the movement of Catholic priests and laity to Anglicanism seldom makes headlines.

Bishop John Flack, head of the Anglican Center in Rome, said he meets people moving in both directions, yet the ecumenical dialogue has not explored the implications of their movement.

"We are not talking about huge numbers in either direction, but it is perhaps a constant trickle," he told Catholic News Service Nov. 9.

Among those changing denominations, the Roman Catholics generally say they long to breathe the "free air" of the Anglican Communion, with Catholic priests usually saying they plan to marry, the bishop said. The Anglicans usually say they have had enough of the "woolly thinking" of their leadership, he added.

"Anglicans who become Roman Catholic generally become very conservative Roman Catholics, while Roman Catholics who become Anglican tend to become very liberal Anglicans," he said.

Bishop Flack, who is the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Vatican, said he usually counsels people to stay within their community as a valuable voice in continuing debates.

"Changing your spots makes the Anglican Church more liberal and the Roman Catholic Church more conservative," Bishop Flack said.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have made clear over the past 40 years that they want to re-establish full unity and that any problem arising in one community causes pain for the other.

A general principle of the ecumenical movement is that dialogue partners do not seek the "conversion" of each other's members, but that as both seek deeper conversion to Christ they naturally will draw closer to each other.

At the same time, respect for an individual's conscience and for his or her concrete situation means the dialogue partners must provide pastoral care and a welcome to individuals who approach them.

The situation becomes more complicated when it involves a group of people wanting to change denomination and when the change, although reflected in a long-standing desire for full unity, is triggered by one issue, such as women's ordination or homosexuality.

After the Episcopal Church in the United States decided in 1976 to ordain women to the priesthood, some former Episcopalian priests and laity sought full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican established a special "pastoral provision" to oversee the movement in the United States of former Episcopalian clergy wanting to minister as priests in the Roman Catholic Church. The provision also set up guidelines for "Anglican use" Catholic parishes, allowing former Episcopalian parishes to retain some of their Anglican liturgical and spiritual traditions.

The Episcopal Church's decision to ordain women bishops in the late 1980s and its consecration of an openly gay man as a bishop in 2003 led to further movement.

Currently close to 80 former Anglican ministers are serving as Catholic priests in the United States and there are seven "Anglican use" parishes.

Similar movements of Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church have occurred in Australia, Canada and Great Britain, and the movement is expected to continue if the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, decides to ordain women bishops.

While the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is the Vatican's lead office for official unity talks with the Anglican Communion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith deals with the situation of individuals wanting to become Roman Catholics.

Generally, however, the movement is handled through local Roman Catholic bishops approached by former Anglicans. The doctrinal congregation reviews the paperwork submitted by the Catholic bishop who has agreed to accept the former Anglican priest or parish.

But at least one former member of the Anglican Communion is trying to change the practice and enter into direct discussions with the doctrinal congregation.

Archbishop John Hepworth of Australia is primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a group that describes itself as "a worldwide association of orthodox Anglican churches, working to maintain the catholic faith and resist the secularization of the church. Our member churches comprise more than 400,000 members on six continents."

The archbishop, who has met privately with officials of the doctrinal congregation, has said the Traditional Anglican Communion synod will meet in Rome early in 2006 to begin formulating a plan for seeking full union with the Roman Catholic Church.

Many Traditional Anglican Communion members hope they will be welcomed with a provision for the establishment of an "Anglican rite" within the Roman Catholic Church, allowing them to maintain some of their traditional disciplines -- including married priests -- and their liturgical heritage.

Such a provision, which Vatican officials insist they have not begun considering, would mean that the "Anglican use" envisioned as a temporary situation in the United States could become permanent and more widespread.

"If there is a major rupture in the Anglican Communion, the Catholic Church will face a situation which is largely new," one official said. "It is possible that close relations with the Anglican Communion could mean that a large group of Anglicans being welcomed into the Catholic Church would not necessarily be detrimental to ongoing dialogue -- but that all remains to be seen.

"For the moment, the Anglican Communion is struggling to find a way forward, and the Catholic Church is encouraging the communion to strengthen its bonds of unity," the official said.

Another official also said that while the Roman Catholic Church must respect the consciences of those who desire full union with Rome, the Vatican does not want possible union to be used as "a threat" in any group's discussions with its mother church.

Bishop Flack said establishing an Anglican rite within the Roman Catholic Church before the church and the entire Anglican Communion established full unity "would have a worsening effect on relations. It would be seen as interference in the internal affairs of the Anglican Communion."

"I hope the Roman church would be very careful, consulting us, keeping us informed and being open with us," Bishop Flack said.

On an official level, Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops began meeting outside Rome Nov. 11 to continue refining a statement of the beliefs their faith communities hold in common.

The work of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission had taken a break in 2003 after the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church and after the decision of a diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada to bless homosexual unions.

But in May the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity published a statement saying the reaffirmation of traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality by the primates of the Anglican Communion as well as efforts to find ways to ensure individual dioceses do not violate the bonds of communion provide "a foundation for continued dialogue and ecumenical cooperation."


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