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Vatican makes bid to lure disaffected Anglicans into fold

Targets those unhappy with recent changes

AN OPEN INVITATION Anglicans would be able 'to enter full communion with the Catholic Church' said Cardinal William J. Levada. AN OPEN INVITATION
Anglicans would be able "to enter full communion with the Catholic Church" said Cardinal William J. Levada.
By Rachel Donadio and Laurie Goodstein
New York Times / October 21, 2009

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VATICAN CITY - In an extraordinary bid to lure traditionalist Anglicans en masse, the Vatican announced yesterday that it would make it easier for Anglicans uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of women priests and openly gay bishops to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their traditions.

Anglicans would be able “to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony,’’ Cardinal William J. Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a news conference here.

It was unclear why the Vatican made the announcement at this time. 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. The issue has long been close to the heart of Pope Benedict XVI, who has long worked to build ties to those Anglicans who, like Catholics, spurn the idea of female and gay priests.

Both Catholic and Anglican leaders sought yesterday to present the move as a joint effort to aid those seeking conversion. But it appeared that the Vatican had engineered it on its own, presenting it as a fait accompli to the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, only in recent weeks. Some Anglican and Catholic leaders expressed surprise, even shock, at the news.

The move could have the deepest impact in England, where large numbers of traditionalist Anglicans have protested the Church of England’s embrace of liberal theological reforms like the consecration of women bishops. Specialists say these Anglicans, and others in places like Australia, might be attracted to the Roman Catholic fold because they have had nowhere else to go.

If entire parishes or even dioceses leave the Church of England for the Catholic Church, experts and church officials speculated, it could set off battles over ownership of church buildings and land.

Pope Benedict has said that he will travel to England in 2010.

In the United States, traditionalist leaders said they would be less inclined than their British counterparts to join the Catholic Church, because they have already broken away from the Episcopal Church and formed their own conservative Anglican structures (though some do allow women priests).

The Vatican’s announcement marks a significant moment in relations between two churches that first parted in the Reformation of the 16th century over theological issues and the primacy of the pope.

In recent decades, the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church have sought to heal the centuries of division.

The Very Rev. David Richardson, the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Vatican, said he was taken aback. “I don’t see it as an affront to the Anglican Church but I’m puzzled by what it means and by the timing of it,’’ Richardson said. “I think some Anglicans will feel affronted.’’

The decision creates a formal universal structure to streamline conversions that had previously been evaluated case by case. The Vatican said it would release details in the coming weeks, but that generally, former Anglican prelates chosen by the Catholic Church would oversee Anglicans, including entire parishes or even dioceses, seeking to convert.