he Vatican’s official line towards the Anglican Communion has almost always been warm, friendly, and unfailingly optimistic.
Even when the Church of England voted to ordain women as priests, then consecrate them as bishops, Vatican pronouncements could be strongly critical yet stubbornly hope for relations to continue to improve, although it remained unclear how.
Last month, the Anglican Communion edged closer towards schism. The Episcopal Church gave its support to the consecration of openly homosexual bishops and same-sex blessings, contravening moratoriums on these issues agreed at last year’s Lambeth Conference. But the Vatican again put out an upbeat statement supporting Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his desire to keep the Anglican Communion together by possibly creating an accommodating “two-tier” system.
“It is our prayer that the Anglican Communion, even in this difficult situation, may find a way to maintain its unity and its witness to Christ as a worldwide communion,” said the statement, issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The Council’s reasoning is that it’s not possible to engage in dialogue with a divided body, so it is intent on helping the Anglican Communion to stay together. But while that may be the line of the Council, and also of the bishops of England and Wales, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith takes a more realistic view.
For some years, its officials have been trying to find a way for large groups of Anglicans leaning in a Rome-ward direction to be received en masse into the Catholic Church. Working very discreetly, the CDF is not aiming to capitalise on Anglicans’ woes, but is trying to answer this need among a growing number of Anglican traditionalists. Yet it doesn’t take a genius to realise that these two approaches are mutually exclusive: the Pontifical Council is hoping the Anglican Communion remains as one while the CDF is trying to find a way of accommodating an unprecedented number of Anglicans wishing to cross the Tiber. One approach seeks to foster internal Anglican unity and to continue a rather meaningless dialogue; the other offers a corporate alternative to those who feel the Anglican Communion has deserted them – one which will help Anglican unity yet return traditionalist Anglicans to their true spiritual home.
Given the choice as to which approach is the most Catholic, in the sense of being the most honest, charitable and truly ecumenical, many would argue it is that of the CDF. For this reason, expect details to emerge of a structure to accommodate these Anglicans into the Church, probably resembling something between a personal prelature and a distinct Anglican Rite. But as is often the case with the Vatican, it’s not possible to say exactly when that will take place.
L’Osservatore Romano was compared this week in an Italian newspaper to movie magazines because of its film reviews and focus on celebrities. But one can’t help feeling that while these new gimmicks might win readers, overall they are losing the paper respect. L’Osservatore is at its best when it is otherworldly.