Pope’s Spiritual Generosity Misunderstood

For me at least, the most dismaying thing about criticism of Pope Benedict’s plan for easing the way for Anglicans who seek to enter the Roman Catholic Church is the critics’ apparent indifference to the spiritual welfare of these Anglicans. As a consequence, a compassionate gesture by Rome is smeared as something sinister.

Clueless as usual where Catholicism is concerned, the secular media have tended to treat Benedict XVI’s action in political terms, as a power grab. This interpretation ignores the fact that the Anglican traditionalists most likely to take advantage of the new provision for “personal ordinariates” have been pleading for something like this for years. The Pope has simply responded to those pleas.

But secular journalists aren’t the only ones to get it wrong. Catholic voices also have been raised in this chorus of callousness. Consider the final paragraph of an article in the London Tablet, a reliable platform for progressive Catholic views: “It is hard to see how this new development will do anything but further sow division in the Anglican Communion and confusion among Catholics who have long been committed to the work of ecumenism.”

As to Anglican “division”: the departure of Anglicans who’ve anguished for a long time over the direction of their fractured communion is much more likely to restore a semblance of unity to that deeply troubled body than it is to create more division.

As to Catholic “confusion”: the confusion admittedly felt by many Catholics about the nature and intent of ecumenism is largely a product of a post-Vatican II interpretation that reduces the ecumenical enterprise to endless dialogue leading—God knows how—to some sort of corporate merger in an unimaginable future. Confusion is a mild word for it.

Most of all, though, such critical comments miss the fundamental point—the relief potentially afforded to those Anglican groups most directly affected by Benedict’s generous gesture. That is best understood in human terms.

A year ago in Rome I had a substantial chat with an Anglican woman who is a member of one of these groups. Moved by her faith and her ardent desire for communion with the Holy See, I told her at the end of our conversation: “I can only hope and pray that you get what you want—and get it soon.”

It’s often said that conservative Anglicans are upset about things like women bishops and openly homosexual bishops. No doubt they are. But much else is involved.

Several years ago an American woman—a contented member of the Episcopal Church—told me an anecdote concerning an Episcopal clergyman which she insisted was true. It seems that this gentleman, in a fit of whimsy, was seen one day to give communion to a dog. The lady seemed to think that was just fine. I was appalled—at what had happened, at her approval of it, and at what it disclosed concerning the state of Episcopalian belief in the Eucharist.

A man who’d been an Episcopalian for years but finally came over to Rome once shared a useful insight with me. “The trouble with those people,” he said of his former co-religionists, “is that they’re sentimental.”

A number of present Anglicans seem to agree. I am glad that Pope Benedict has offered these troubled believers a congenial way out of the dilemma in which their sentimental Anglican brethren placed them. As for those who don’t like what the Pope has done, I suggest they remove their blinders and congratulate him on an act of Christian charity.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at RShaw10290@aol.com.

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  • noelfitz

    Anglicans always had the option to become Catholics, as Cardinal Newman and many others have done.

    It seems what the Pope has done is allow married men become priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

    Thus if a Catholic male wanted to marry and be a priest should be become an Anglican get married and ordained as an Anglican and then come back to Catholicism as a priest?

  • Cooky642

    Noelfitz, your comment sounds a bit peevish–just the sort of mind-set Mr. Shaw was hoping to correct. Or, perhaps, you were joking and I missed it; if so, I apologize. Personally, I’m delighted that some Anglicans who hold to the truth of their faith (not to mention, the Truth from which their truth derived) are willing and even anxious to return “Home to Rome”. God has blessed them with the grace to see what He desires for them: communion with Him! I’m so very glad that B XVI was so generous and charitable! It gives us an example to follow. And, I’m glad Mr. Shaw wrote this article: I’ve had a few problems explaining his generosity to my non-Catholic family.

    (Oh, and Noelfitz, the Church has ALWAYS welcomed married clergy from other faiths to join us. I recently left a parish where we had a previously-Anglican priest who not only had a wife, but 2 sons in high school. He was a good man, and the parish was blessed to have him.)

  • nathan.faucher

    All I can say is that I’m so excited for those Anglicans who wish to join with Rome. I wish them the best in their coming into communion with the church. I also hope that this union encourages the Vatican and the Orthodox faiths to earnestly continue their various dialogs in bringing all of Christendom into communion.

  • It seems obvious to me noelfitz does not know much about the Catholic Church history which has had married clergy in the Eastern Rites for a long, long time. Allowing married Anglican Priest is no different then what is allowed in the Eastern Rites of the Church. It in no way changes changes the gift of
    celibacy that Latin Rite priest freely accept as part of their vocations.

  • noelfitz

    Cooky642 and Deacon Don,

    Thank you for your posts. I essentially agree with both of you. Perhaps I sound a bit peevish and do not know much about Church history.

  • dusek04

    Fifteen years ago, I converted to Catholicism from the Episcopal faith. I was a young adult and never thought I’d leave; however, at an Advent Bible study, the Episcopal bishop of my diocese said, in all seriousness, “of course, we don’t really believe in the virgin birth.” The minister and my fellow parishioners nodded their heads, “No, no, of course we don’t really believe that.” I was astonished and knew I didn’t belong there.

    If this happened today, I’d stand up and ask how they can pray the Creed every Sunday if they don’t believe that Jesus was born by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. As it was, I just left. I’ve never regretted my decision.

    As a former Episcopalian, I can say that they take great pride in the democratic process within their church, in tolerance, and in acceptance. Unfortunately, it leaves them extremely vulnerable to fashionable ideas and relativism. Martin Luther was quite wrong about the Magisterium.

  • goral

    noelfitz, brush up on your church history and stop being peevish.
    Just funnin’ with ya!
    The Maronite Rite also has married priests. Marriage comes first, then the priesthood, not the other way around.

    The converts, especially those who were and become clergy have been a great blessing to our Church. If we’re not going to have martyrs, then converts are the next best thing. Most of them put a lot on the line making the conversion.
    Many are ostracized by their friends and family for doing so.
    Our wunderbar Pope knows what he’s doing.

    As for the clergy who are already married when they come in, they’ll just have to tough it out. The Church doesn’t look kindly on divorce.
    Besides, outside of ordination, marriage is the closest vocation to celibacy.

    Cooky may have a choice word for that last paragraph.

  • Cooky642

    Dear Goral: my “choice” word is “thank you”. How do you like them apples?

    Seriously, if marriage is lived correctly (i.e., in the way God intended), then you’re absolutely right! Marriage is the closest vocation to celibacy. From 48 years into my marriage, I have to admit it ain’t easy! But then, God never said it would be. But, He did promise grace to get thru it….even when, due to medical reasons, it becomes literally celibate. (I always used to wonder how the Blessed Mother and Joseph did it. Now, I don’t wonder any more.) If these few (and there are few in the Latin rite) married priests can live marriage as a Sacrament, perhaps they will be the ones to turn around so many of the youngsters who are caught up in the trap of worldly values. That’s something all of us parents can pray for!

  • bairdm66

    The troubling part that I have not been able to get a clear idea about, is what the Pope is saying in regards to liturgy. What does he mean when the Anglicans are accepted in full communion WITH some of their liturgical practices? Isn’t our Mass already muddled enough without adding “Anglican” practices to our liturgy? How much more will the Eucharist be reduced to only a symbol instead of Jesus Christ body, blood, soul & Divinity?

    (When I speak of muddled I mean the American Catholic church “circus” masses that are very prevalent around my part of NE Ohio. They are “merging” my very conservative church with the Akron downtown liberal church who give communion to active known gay & lesbians. The Bishop wasn’t recommended from the “clustering group” to merge or close our church, but the Bishop is doing it anyways. The local priest didn’t help us fight to keep the church open-he doesn’t need to care..he still has a job).

    Anyhow, I’m all for the Anglican community to CONVERT to Catholicism not just MERGE with us. When it comes to ecumunism I’m not into talking I’m into CONVERTING. Catholics have the TRUTH. We don’t have to dialogue about it.

  • goral

    Them apples is as sweet as the squeezin’ down at the mill.

    Actually, thank YOU Cooky for taking a couple of cheap lines and turning them
    into meaningful comments. May God keep all of us pure for His purpose.

  • fractus

    Yes, conversion is necessary, but the main requirement of this conversion would be to submit to Rome. Those Anglicans who might be interested in union with Rome are already quite Orthodox in their beliefs – including belief in the True Presence. Are you aware that there are already “Anglican Use” parishes within the Roman Catholic Church – approved by the Holy Father in 1985? Go to http://www.atonementonline.com and look around a bit.
    I think you misunderstand what the Holy Father is proposing – there would be no “adding Anglican practices to [the Novus Ordo] liturgy”. Anglican parishes would have their own ordinary (bishop or priest administrator) separate from the geographically based dioceses. This would be the same as military chaplains and parishes that have the “Archbishop of the Military Services” as their Ordinary (regardless of who the local bishop might be). The different liturgies would not “mix,” (although that might be a good cure for the “circus” masses you mention).
    God Bless,