fly to Rome for talks
by Viviane Hewitt in Rome and Cristina Odone
BISHOP Graham Leonard is to visit the Vatican with a small group of fellow traditionalists, to discuss the procedure whereby whole Anglican congregations might join the Catholic Church, Rome sources revealed this week.
Bishop Leonard, the retired Anglican Bishop of London and until last year the third highestranking figure in the Church of England, is to meet with the head of the Vatican's Congregation of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to debate the position of the breakaway Anglicans.
His request that Anglican congregations should be allowed to retain aspects of their Anglican identity, such as married priests and parts of the liturgy, is likely to be granted, according to Vatican insiders. They point out that Cardinal Edward Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, has shown support for the idea.
The most likely procedure by which breakaway Anglicans will be accepted in the Catholic Church is one used by an American Episcopalian parish in Austin, Texas. The parish moved en masse to the Catholic communion under special provisions approved by the Vatican in 1980.
The key question of "conditional re-ordination", whereby Anglican clergy become Catholic priests, is also to be raised during the meeting between Bishop Leonard and Cardinal Ratzinger. The issue of the validity of Anglican priestly ordinations remains the principal stumbling block for the aspiring Catholics: Rome declared Anglican orders "null and void" with its 1896 bull, Apostolicae Curae.
An official statement from the Vatican in response to Bishop Leonard's appeal for Anglican traditionalists to be admitted to the
Catholic Church, issued in the Catholic Herald last week, is not likely to he published before next month.
Although at least 12 Anglican bishops are said to be examining the possibility of defecting to Rome. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls stressed this week that no official request has yet been made by Anglican clergy seeking ordination in the Catholic Church.
Following Bishop Leonard's appeal, the bishops' conference of England and Wales issued a statement calling for "time for reflection and prayer", Bishop Cormac MurphyO'Connor, chairman of the bishops' Committee for Christian Unity, stated: "We would see it as OUT duty to help those (disaffected Anglicans) in any way that is right and proper." He emphsised that "any request would have to be considered in the light of the way it is presented."
But the bishops made clear that ultimate responsibility for the procedure would rest with the Holy See.
Dissenting Anglicans would first have to lodge their requests for admission to the Catholic Church through the bishops' conference of England and Wales. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would then embark on the major task of evaluating theological differences.
Just a day after his appeal for unity at a time of "ecstasy and despair", the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, revealed this week that he would personally ordain the first woman priest in Canterbury Cathedral. The ordination, which will not take place until 1994, is likely to be of two women deacons from Dr Carey's diocese.
Meanwhile a delegation of clergymen called on the Anglican Bishop of London, Dr David Hope, to plead with him to exercise his right to ban women priests from his diocese.