The first interesting thing was the way this new initiative was announced—by text message. On Monday evening, journalists in Rome received a message on their phones to look at the briefings page on the Vatican website, which had only just been updated. Simply there was to be an announcement concerning the Anglicans. Speculation, of course, immediately began, but there wasn't much time to get anything out before the meeting itself. This very short notice prevented all the hyping-up and sabotaging-in-advance that might have taken place.
The next interesting thing is that the forthcoming document is to take the form of an Apostolic Constitution. Even Summorum Pontificum was only a Motu Proprio. The form of Apostolic Constitution will give it very heavy clout: the Novus Ordo Missæ was established in this way.
I read on Damian Thompson's blog this morning that Archbishop Rowan Williams (and probably Cardinal Kaspar too) is fuming over this. Actually, I'm not so sure about Kaspar, remembering his intervention at Synod a few months ago. In the Archbishop's case, this is, I suppose, understandable. Having himself failed to broker an acceptable solution for Anglo-Catholics in his jurisdiction, he has had the carpet pulled out from under him and faces the loss from the Church of England of at least some of the Catholic ballast that might have been crucial in preventing the CofE becoming entirely a liberal protestant sect. As the Telegraph put it, having failed to create a third province for the CofE, the Pope of Rome has done it for him: Anglo-Catholics will have everything they want (on paper, at least—more in a minute) except communion with Canterbury. Had Rowan Williams behaved with a little of the (albeit risky) decisiveness of Pope Benedict, he might himself have produced this particular rabbit out of the hat, and now be smiling. Not his fault: he simply doesn't have the statesmanship necessary, nor the personal authority to override the warring factions in Synod and Convocation. Nor, I suspect, the serenity of conscience simply to let the opposition snarl and grumble.
Rowan complains that he was not consulted, and simply informed a fortnight before the announcement. Well, the discussions were never made with the CofE, or even the Anglican Communion. On paper, they don't even seem to be concerned. The arrangement was made with the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), a body led by, embarrassingly, a former Catholic priest, John Hepworth, who is now the Archbishop of the Australian Anglican Catholic Church, a subset, I suppose of the TAC. Officially, there is no reason why the Archbishop of Canterbury should have been involved: it concerns a discussion with a splinter of the Anglican Communion that broke away years ago. But of course it does concern him indirectly, because, presumably, lots of people who are under his authority will want to join this group as presenting the best solution to the nasty mess the Anglican Communion have got themselves into.
Frankly, I think the Pope has done him a favour. This will clarify things enormously in the CofE. They will now be free to get on with women bishops, gay bishops, meaningful dialogue with Vanuatu head-hunters, and whatever they like, without having to stop to complain at the Anglo Catholics holding them back and preventing the Spirit blowing where she will. At a blow, the main schismatic problem of the Church of England is, if not solved, at least considerably ameliorated. Now, Rowan Williams can blame the Pope for splitting the Church of England; all he has to do is sit back and enjoy the credit for pulling together the remainder (which will, of course, be the overwhelming majority), who will be happier, more united, and grateful to him.
So, are large numbers of Anglicans about to join in?
Forward in Faith are fortuitously forgathering this weekend, I gather, so we will no doubt be hearing lots soon. A guarded footnote on Fr Hunwicke's blog concerning the Society of the Holy Cross, an Anglo-Catholic clerical brotherhood, suggests that the very nature of their existing resolutions implies very great interest indeed in whatever may happen. The Flying Bishop of Richborough has suggested that people should take from now until the feast of the Chair of St Peter (February 22nd) to have a long think and a pray about this—good advice.
This will clearly interest 'papalist' anglicans like Fr Hunwicke, and no doubt many others downwards. But we must not ignore several issues that may yet prevent them joining.
1) Never, ever, forget the fundamentally congregationalist aspect of Anglicanism. If an Anglican priest cannot bring his church building, he is unlikely to bring (much of) his congregation.
2) Having joined the Roman Communion, they will be out of communion with Canterbury. They will not be in communion with both: this will probably prevent the conversion of buildings to the Roman communion.
3) There are a lot of Anglo-Catholic clergy who live with boyfriends. Those who seek communion with Rome will be expected to be celibate or be married to one woman.
4) Liturgical pluralism is unlikely to be permitted. There will be one rite (possibly with a BCP and an English Missal form, plus maybe the possibility of the Novus Ordo) and people will be expected to use it.
5) Who is going to pay the clergy? You can't expect established Catholic Dioceses to support a possibly very large influx of priests with wives and children without getting any benefit of work from them, since they will have their own interests and congregations. I very much doubt that Synod will issue any form of compensation, but only pension. The clergy will have to be supported by their own people, and if the people are not great in number, this may be difficult. On the other hand, they will presumably no longer have to pay the crippling levies now exacted by the Church Commissioners, so there will be more money around. I suppose this means that it will work as long as a priest can retain the loyalty of his people.
6) I am sure that a lot of Roman Catholic parishes will be very supportive, and if the new, truly, Anglo-Catholic congregations lack a home, they can no doubt share the local Roman Catholic building. Any around here would be welcome to use my buildings. But this will be traumatic for many.
No doubt there are more thoughts here.
This new move may, of course, be of interest to many in other strange situations. Sometimes this will not be easy, either.
1) There are those who have been Catholic priests but become Anglicans who now see a way to return to communion without having to part from their wives and bairns. John Hepworth's example, presumably, will encourage them that there will be a process of forgiving and forgetting.
2) There will be those who became Catholics, even priests, in the wake of the 1992 decision, but then returned to the Anglican Communion. I expect they will be in the situation of 1) above, but this is not certain. There is at least one case I know of someone who has shuttled back and forth and eventually ended up a Catholic priest in the West country, so it ought to be all right.
3) Then there will be those who were Catholic priests and left the ministry to marry, remaining as Catholic laymen. Will they be allowed to join and reactivate as clergy, or will they remain on the sidelines, grumbling and unhappy? Is it necessary that potential clergy have an Anglican pedigree, in other words?
I think it unlikely that the Church Commissioners will permit the alienation of Anglican property to this new Uniate structure. Partly this will be on the basis of 'why should we?', and partly simply hard-nosed business sense. They would probably permit the groups to buy their own buildings (churches, halls, rectories), but this is going to take a great deal of money, and, as I suggested above, money is something that there isn't going to be a lot of. Perhaps the Redundant Churches Commission might be able to help.
And finally, there may well be trauma at a definitive separation from the state, of no longer being part of the Established Church. No longer will clergy be able to claim that 'I am the pastor of all people in this place' or 'I have access to every home, because I represent the Established Church'—a claim that I always found annoying and faintly ridiculous, none the less so because it has been sincerely and sometimes passionately held.
Finally, how will this affect the Roman Catholic Church in England? That remains to be seen. Probably it will affect us very little. Some of our congregations will enjoy going to Evensong occasionally, if there is a church that has the resources to do it, and I hope that there will be flexibility between the rites, so that clergy of each may help each other out. There may be some church-sharing. Unquestionably, some liberals will be spitting feathers right now, because the conservative ballast from the CofE has been lifted across to the barque of Peter, further strengthening the course Pope Benedict has been steering. I can foresee lots of Angry of Purley letters to The Tablet next week, and lots of welcome in the Catholic Herald, if I may put it like that. Time will show how much cross-over there will be; most of it will depend on how large the take-up is of Pope Benedict's offer. If the groups will be small and scattered, as in the already existing Anglican Use provision in the US, then the impact will be very minimal. If most towns have a fully Anglo-Catholic church (I suppose we will soon be able to write Church, with a capital C), then you can expect quite a bit of pew-hopping. So much remains to be seen.
I am confident that, like Summorum Pontificum, this will prove a great blessing for the Church; in the same way, if there is substantial take-up, this, too, should exert positive gravitational pull on the wider English-speaking Church. And it will make me very happy to be in communion with many of whom I am fond.
A useful article here, on Fr Tim's blog.