God is decreeing to begin some new and great period in His Church,
even to the reforming of Reformation itself. . . .
--John Milton, Aereopagitica
If it had happened a few centuries ago it would have been part of the Counter-Reformation. Occurring now, it was still pretty significant. It was the news that Pope Benedict XVI had invited members of the Anglican Communion to abandon their church and join his. His invitation was addressed to Anglicans who are uncomfortable with gays and women as clergy.
It was a generous invitation and it was extended just 10 days before Halloween which is of no particular significance since that is only one day before All Saints day, a day that, unlike the Pope's invitation, has nothing to do with spookiness. The invitation was a blanket invitation to Episcopalians, as they are known in the U.S., to abandon the Episcopal ship and set sail with one captained by the Pope.
In an October 20th press conference at the Vatican, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that something called an "Apostolic Constitution" had been created that would enable Anglican faithful and their clergy to enter "into full communion with the Church." He described it as a "single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application." He explained that the Pope hopes that the new enrollees can "preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith. Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church." (The gift to which he was referring includes neither women nor gays.)
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It is gratifying that those who have deep-rooted opposition to gays and women in the priesthood have been welcomed to the company of the faithful who believe as they do and do so in the name of the Lord. The invitation is proof to the recipients that what was perceived as bigotry by those from whom they parted, is not bigotry at all but good sound theology. Inviting the congregants to join is not, however, the most amazing thing about the Church's new openness.
For many centuries celibacy has been the watchword for those entering the Church's priesthood. The reasons for it are diverse and it has in many cases been more honored in the breach than in the observance as shown by the hundreds of millions of dollars paid out by the Church in settlement of claims involving priestly pedophilia. Notwithstanding those episodes and tales of priests who secretly father children, the Church remains adamant that priests should live a life of celibacy. It is also aware, however, of the economic hardship that will be imposed on a married Anglican priest whose congregation moves whole cloth over to what was formerly the opposition, if he cannot join in the exodus. Accordingly, the new plan permits Anglican priests who are married to be ordained as Roman Catholic priests. They will not, however be eligible for promotion to Bishop or higher ecclesiastical office such as Cardinal or Pope, a minor drawback since few priests attain those posts.
The possibility of a married Anglican priest becoming a member of the clerical opposition came as especially good news to the Church of the Good Shepherd, a parish in suburban Philadelphia. The Good Shepherd has been in a state of warfare with the Episcopal Church for many years. According to a report in the NYT, for the last 17 years the parish has refused to allow the local Episcopal bishop to come for a pastoral visit or confirmation. Because of the tolerance the Church has for Anglican priests (as distinguished from gays or women) even if married, the Church of the Good Shepherd will be able to take its priest, with it. Bishop David Moyer who has led the church is married and father of three children. Although a Bishop and, therefore, not authorized even under the new rules to be married, he hopes that he may be grandfathered in. (Taking the Bishop along will be easier for the congregation than taking along its real estate. In 2009, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania sued to take over the church building that has an estimated value of $7 million and only the Lord knows who will win that lawsuit.)
The newfound openness shown by accepting disaffected Episcopalians into the Roman fold may be just the first step. If the Pope wants to make a home for other people who don't much care for gays and believe that women should be treated differently from men, he may want to reach out to the Taliban. Their attitudes are not as dissimilar as one might hope.