Cautiousness greets Vatican decree to entice Anglicans
Groups of Anglicans will be able to join the Roman Catholic Church but maintain a distinct religious identity under changes announced by Pope Benedict XVI last week. Ariadne Massa sought a local perspective on this historic move.
The Pope's momentous decree to entice thousands of Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church is being cautiously observed in Malta just days after its announcement.
Pope Benedict XVI approved an apostolic constitution, a form of papal decree, to allow Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, while retaining elements of their distinctive spiritual and liturgical patrimony.
Smaller groups of Anglicans joined the Catholic Church over the years, but through this bold move - which comes 450 years after King Henry VIII broke away from Rome and created the Church of England - the Pope is hoping to entice a huge wave of converts.
More than 400,000 Anglicans who quit over the women priests issue plan to convert, while others who are upset at the Church of England's liberal move towards women bishops, gay ordinations and same-sex partnerships, are expected to defect.
This could be a cause for concern, according to Fr Peter Serracino Inglott, who hopes such a move will not result in "strengthening the ultra conservative elements of the Church". He refrained from commenting further, however, saying he preferred to first analyse the document in depth.
This sentiment was echoed by former priest Vanni Xuereb who said he did not wish to see the Catholic Church ending up as a "refuge of conservative values".
Speaking as somebody who formed part of the Church and was now looking in from the outside, Dr Xuereb felt the Pope's decision would kindle several "respectful" debates, including the validity of celibacy, since Anglicans would now make the switch with their wives and children.
This was not an issue of faith or dogma, he said, but of Church discipline. But he cautioned against creating different classes to accommodate Christians from other churches.
The majority of traditionalist Anglicans who have spent years seeking closer links with the Catholic Church are enthused with the news. The Vatican, which has yet to release all the details, said in a statement it was responding to the many requests submitted from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world.
What is known from the Vatican's statement is that the apostolic constitution will offer a single canonical model for the universal Church and provide retraining and "ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy". It did clarify that "historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops".
This deal with the Church of England was sealed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Mgr Charles Scicluna, a Promoter of Justice within this influential section of the Church, described the move as a very important development.
"This is very good news for the hundreds of Anglicans who are really anxious to be part again of the greater Roman Catholic family," he said, adding he was bound not to comment further for the time being.
In its statement, the Vatican described these developments as another step towards a full, visible union in the Church of Christ. Anglicans will be able to convert through the introduction of a canonical structure of Personal Ordinariates that will provide the legal framework.
Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols described the apostolic constitution as "one consequence of ecumenical dialogue". In a joint statement they said it "nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church".
Bishop Nikol Cauchi welcomed the archbishops' joint statement, describing it as a step forward. Rather than create problems, he feels it will give those wishing to regularise their position a chance to do so.
"This is not a grope in the dark by the Holy See, but a well studied decision. I see it as a good move and believe it will have a future," he said, adding that he eagerly awaited the full details.
However, the National Secular Society in the UK described this move as "a mortal blow to Anglicanism, which will inevitably lead to the disestablishment" and dangerously weaken the Church of England's position.
Meanwhile, the British media expressed the opinion that the decree has dealt a blow to Dr Williams' attempts to save the Anglican Communion from further fragmentation and threatens to wreck decades of ecumenical dialogue. Commentators also said he was outmanoeuvred by the Pontiff.
Referring to critics' views that the move by the Pope could be a tactic to strengthen the intimidating masculine structures of authority in the Catholic hierarchy, Dr Xuereb emphasised the significance of collegiality.
Insisting he was not dismissing the Vatican's current hierarchical structure, Dr Xuereb felt more should be done to involve people in the leadership of the Christian community.
"The idea is that the clergy are still privileged. The Second Vatican Council did much to address this but more has to be done in terms of collegiality within the Church, which is not just top bottom," he said.
However, Dr Xuereb feels a more fundamental problem faced by Christian denominations today, including the Catholic Church, is the relevance of the Christian message to people's daily lives.
"I feel the Church, even in Malta, needs to be far more sensitive, yet aggressive, in practising the parable of the lost sheep where the shepherd leaves the 99 to look for the one that goes astray. The problem now is it's not just one lost sheep."
Archbishop Paul Cremona did not respond to questions sent by The Sunday Times, while Rev. Canon Simon Godfrey, chancellor of St Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Valletta, said he preferred not to comment since he still had to absorb the enormity of the Pope's announcement.
Roman Catholicism/Anglicanism - the difference
The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have many similar beliefs and teachings. The main difference lies with who is in authority.
While the Catholic Church looks to the Pope as its leader, the Anglican community disperse this absolute authority, and the British monarch is the head of the Church of England.
Women cannot be ordained within the Catholic Church, while Anglicans regard communion - the miraculous change of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood - as symbolic.
Belief in the Immaculate Conception is not a doctrine within Anglicanism, while the Roman Catholic Church believes the Virgin Mary was conceived free from Original Sin.