Pope been caught poachin’, parks tanks on Canterbury’s lawn

It’s been over 400 years in the making, but the Vatican finally got some modicum of revenge for the English Reformation this week. In a rather stunning piece of ecclesiastical politics, Pope Benedict XVI grabbed Archbishop Rowan Williams in the thigh and squeezed. Rowan was ashen faced as he announced what had only been told him a few days earlier, viz. that the Roman Catholic Church was to organise

within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.

In other words, Anglicans can become Catholics but retain their liturgical identity as Anglicans. Thinking Anglicans has all the links you need.

Some thoughts:

1. Mr. Ratzinger is quite the man. This is a bold, almost Darwinian move. Survival in the religious marketplace seems to require “sharp elbows” as one friend put it.

2. He may have done the Anglican communion a favour, or at the very least, forced the issue with regard to their conservative/liberal split. Conservatives can head to Rome, liberals can stay with Canterbury. (Not as easy as that, I know.) I would expect the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England to go ahead sooner now rather than later.

3. It is said that Pope Benedict wants to make “Christian unity” the hallmark of his papacy. Of course, it’s a Christian unity under Petrine authority Rome.

4. Can you imagine the LDS Church reaching out to others and saying, “Join us, but worship in your style”? Seems unlikely which is why it’s all the more interesting to see another conservative, exclusivist church do just that. Could the Utah church do the same for more traditionalist Midwestern Saints? Why or why not? On the flip side, would the Community of Christ ever make an approach to “liberal” Mormons?


  1. Ronan, you say the tanks are parked on Canterbury’s lawn. However, my (very limited) understanding after reading (only) the NY Times article was that Archbishop Williams seemed content with the new arrangement. (I found it odd, that any leader of any organization would welcome the thought of losing any of his fold.) The language in the piece I read indicated that Williams issued a “joint” statement with the Vatican’s archbishop of Westminster, that the new structure “brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church.” I hear him sighing. So, I ask, is there any chance Rowan Williams is pleased?

  2. I was puzzled by this sentence in the New York times article:

    But it seemed a rare opportunity, audaciously executed, to capitalize on deep divisions within the Anglican Church to attract new members at a time when the Catholic Church has been trying to reinvigorate itself in Europe.

    Given the spectacularly low participation rates by Anglicans in the life of their church, how much “reinvigorating” of Catholicism can be accomplished by adding the Anglicans to the fold?

  3. Hunter,
    Williams may be putting a brave face on in public, but there are some nasty quotes flying around here:


    The Anglicans likely to defect are typically very active ones.

  4. This is pretty fascinating, Ronan. Thanks for bringing it up here. It’ll be quite interesting to see how this plays out.

    It’s tough to imagine SLC enacting a similar policy, though I would have also said the same thing about Rome last week if asked.

  5. So do you think this will make all those buried in Westminster Abbey retroactive Catholics? I’m just thinking of Darwin here. I’m not sure he would approve.

  6. Theologically speaking, I think Catholic doctrine is that pretty much anyone who confesses a relatively orthodox belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is effectively a part of the Church and will be saved on the same conditions as any Catholic will be saved. In short any believing Christian is more or less a Catholic (i.e. part of the universal Church) already.

    Mormons are only excluded as of late because they don’t think our view of the Godhead is orthodox enough, given common views on exaltation and the like.

  7. hey Ronan,

    What do you think the Global South Anglicans will do with this?

  8. Under Soviet rule, there were a fair number of Orthodox in the Western districts that elected to worship with Catholics. Caused a stink centrally, but the believers involved seem to have found a way to make it work.
    Anglican/Episcopalian–>Catholic has always been a fascinating road to travel. The Oxford group in the latter 19th century are a similar example.
    What will they do about Ireland though? A bit of a pickle when religious nosology has been used to represent a huge cultural divide for so long.

  9. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just form two Anglican denominations, one for all the liberals, and one for the conservatives? Given the conservatives in the majority, one might well wonder why they don’t manage to replace Archbishop Williams in the first place?

  10. symphonyofdissent says:

    I find your idea about embracing Mormon offshoots to be quite fascinating. Of course, most of the offshoots such as RLDS have become much more like traditional christians. However, I don’t see any reason why we could not help to integrate individuals that still did believe in, for instance, the Book of Mormon but were not sold on the idea of the inspiration of church leadership. We could take a more ecumenical stance with these groups and might benefit from it.

    Also, I wrote on my blog about how this policy actually could relate to a good solution for Gay Married couples that might want to become LDS.

  11. Hmmm. Nothing intelligent to say, but Great Title!

  12. Latter-day Guy says:

    Big Ben XVI is a very shrewd character, there’s no denying that. Reaching out to the SSPX to try to end the (putative) schism there. And now, this move with the Anglicans. The faiths have been in dialogue for years, similar in some ways to the Catholic –– Orthodox dialogue. However, given the Anglican church’s position on homosexuality and consecration of female bishops, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. (It would be very, very unlikely for the same kind of arrangement to happen vis-à-vis the Orthodox precisely because their positions on moral theology are much closer to the Roman positions.) I suspect those two issues over the past few decades have made the Catholic church less apt to hope for any kind of institutional rapprochement: if you can’t combine the houses into a duplex, then open your doors as wide as you can and redecorate so the neighbors will feel comfortable enough and the house will seem familiar enough to encourage them to move in.

    Of course, whole parishes have jumped ship before, and there are currently Catholic priests who are married with children because they used to be Anglican/Episcopal; that door was opened in the 1980s by JPII. They already have their own liturgy, compiled mostly from the (traditional) Book of Common Prayer with a few adjustments for the sake of doctrine (e.g.: the inclusion of the Roman Canon). However this establishment of a Personal Ordinariate is a very significant further step.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    About nine years ago, back around when the RLDS renamed their church and the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints separated from it, a relative who was presiding an LDS stake visited the RLDS branch in his stake and invited those who were troubled by changes in their church to consider joining the LDS.

  14. I’m enjoying God’s Rottweiler quite a lot. This is cool. I will grant that he would like to see all Christendom under his control, but I suspect he understands quite well how flimsy that control would ever be. Papal declarations are seen a bit like pirates’ rules in quite a few Catholic corners — not so much rules as suggestions, and guidelines.

    I think the outcome has as much to do with building some unity in the Christian Church as it is in trying to take mythical control of it. And I think that would be a good thing.

  15. I also heard that next month Ratzinger is going to grant clemency to the Arianists and the Iconoclasts. Apparently, he’s all about healing schisms that meant something several hundreds of years ago, but don’t really mean much today.

  16. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 14
    It’s hard to imagine the Pope Formerly Known As Cardinal Ratzinger doing much toward “building some unity in the Christian church.” He’ll be great at increasing its polarization between liberal and conservative, though. He’s been remarkably divisive for decades, albeit only within Catholic circles until now.

  17. Latter-day Guy says:

    Apparently, he’s all about healing schisms that meant something several hundreds of years ago, but don’t really mean much today.

    Just like the difference between the LDS Church and the RLDS Church and/or FLDS church doesn’t really mean much? “Meaning” cannot be determined without considering to whom it applies.

    And no, Arianists are not likely to be welcomed back to the Roman fold; B XVI doesn’t count Mormon baptisms over Godhead definition issues. Some Mormons (BRM, say) could even be considered basically neo-Arianist based on their comments/writings.

  18. ” On the flip side, would the Community of Christ ever make an approach to “liberal” Mormons?”

    If by “approach” you mean a full-court press, than yes, I think they would. That was my impression of them at Sunstone anyway. If all of the literature they handed out didn’t reel you in (Ever wonder if there is another way?/ Don’t feel at home in your ward? and the like) then the open “cocktail” hour with free crabcakes and perfectly grilled eggplant and squash certainly would have. See? They got me. I am a sucker for eggplant.

    Re: the Pope. My best friend was an Anglican priest here in Wyoming, (who, incidentally is a priest no longer as the result of all the schisms,) but he claimed that they were much closer to eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism. I believe he saw Catholicism as maybe a grandparent, but Orthodoxy as cousins. If that makes sense.

  19. LDG,

    I meant to include a smiley face with my comment, since I meant for it to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The problem, of course, is that I abhor smiley faces. I think it’s because I’m dead inside. Or at least that’s what my wife tells me.

    As to the issue you describe, I’d still disagree. I’m not saying the Catholic/Anglican split isn’t important to serious Catholics and Anglicans. But the truth is, in the Western world, both entities–and religion in general–are dealing less with the (often obscure) doctrinal issues separating them and much more with whether believing in *any* religion makes sense. I think most churches have necessarily been focusing first and foremost on the latter question vis-a-vis converts, and have largely been losing the fight in spite of their efforts. So while I personally find this move by Ratzinger very interesting and important from both a historical and religious point of view, my experience tells me most of the Western world won’t give it much more than a shrug. You know, the way most Americans feel when they hear ManU is getting close to winning a EUFA title: they know it’s very important to some people, but they just can’t bring themselves to care, since they don’t see soccer/futbol as important generally.

    Finally, I think BRM may have put his Arian ways behind him with the infamous Seven Deadly Heresies talk. But I’m not sure it matters, since I keep hearing from my born-again friends that their pastors classify our religion generally as Arianistic.

  20. Its offtopic, and frankly I have no idea what you are all talking about, but I just saw a cool picture of the pope doing his best Darth Sidius impression here:


  21. Out of curiosity, might someone quote a passage by BRM or some other Mormon authority that seems particularly Arianistic? Not that this has much to do with the Anglicans.

    Although I understand that Anglicanism was heavily influenced by many of the same currents as Protestantism in general in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and Calvinism in particular.

  22. @9 – ‘Given the conservatives in the majority, one might well wonder why they don’t manage to replace Archbishop Williams in the first place?’

    The Archbishop of Canterbury is appointed by the Prime Minister (after a period of consultation and discussion at the end of which the PM is given a shortlist of two to choose from).
    The PM who appointed Rowan Williams was Tony Blair (left wing PM).
    It’s not easy to get rid of an Archbishop of Canterbury; like trying to get rid of a pope. Unless he does something criminal, he can’t be sacked.

  23. I will not cross-post here, but I have written a few choice words on the subject:


  24. #22: As a leftist, the assertion that Tony Blair is left wing is laughable. He is also now a Catholic. I doubt the majority of England is religiously conservative and even the Conservative Party is quite secular.

  25. 16 — Folks said some of the same kinds of things about Pres. Benson, and he wasn’t the leader they thought he’d be. You could well be right, mind.

  26. Speaking to the very last line of the OP, as to whether the CC would approach “liberal” LDS, I think it would be unlikely in an official sense, but I know that there have been overtures made by CC members toward “liberal” LDS. At JWHA last month, there was a presentation by Steve Shields called, “Crossing the Bridge: Reflections on the journey of an ethnic Mormon into the Community of Christ.” I was unable to attend, but it was described to me before hand as a “pitch” to “liberal” LDS that were uncomfortable with elements of traditional LDSism to come to the CC. I’ve heard of similar types of discussions before also.

  27. Re: thought #4:
    The Catholic church did already have multiple liturgies before this, including Eastern rite.

  28. From the perspective of the Rome, this is a perfectly natural step: with the interest of whole congregations and, perhaps in some cases even dioceses in moving to Rome, rather than individuals, it became time to move to the next step in integration, moving from the individual level to that of the community level. But it’s hardly as if Rome was preparing to absorb the Anglican church. If they were, they would have created the equivalent of an Eastern Catholic Church (like the Maronites or the Syro-Malankara (‘St Thomas Christians’), and its senior clerical leadership would have joined the congregation for oriental churches. It’s important to note that the differences between the Catholic churches are in terms of liturgical style, culture, and practice. They are not differences of theology or authority. The outward difference everyone talks about (married priests in the eastern churches) is actually a pretty complicated topic in catholic theology involving formerly semi-autonomous sees, historic lines of authority, validity of holy orders/consecration, and questions of authorization.

    Accordingly, it’s pretty hard to imagine anything analogous in the LDS church. It would require people acknowledging the prophet as such and all of the current doctrine, but differing only in small areas of practice, like how they conduct sacrament meeting (not the sacrament itself, but, say, when they sing the hymns, and the way the building is decorated). As applied to our heretics, I see absolutely no chance (on either side), and am happy with that. An FLDS leader made a “special general authority for the currently polygamous?” A female former COC apostle as a special leader for the effectively agnostic? In both cases, no thank you!

  29. they were much closer to eastern Orthodoxy than Catholicism — in governance, though not doctrine. The issue of whether the Holy Ghost proceeds out from the Father or from the Father and the Son is a clear dividing line.

  30. It makes sense since in the UK there are more Catholics than Anglicans, given the massive influx of Polish immigrants. Catholicism is quite a force now and it seems natural. Given the present discussions within the Anglican … ahem.. Communion, it was just a matter of time for a break away. I believe that John Paul II did a lot of ‘reconciliation’ with the Church of England and Benedict XVI is harvesting amongst the turbulent waters.

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