The world of the Traditional Anglican Communion is not well known among Catholics. Broadly, most of its members are former Anglicans—former, that is from the point of view of Canterbury. Members of the TAC would argue that the Anglican Communion has left them, rather than the other way around. They try to maintain what, in their view, Anglicanism had been, and ought always to be. In particular, they reject liberalism in doctrine (women clergy and homosexual cohabitation in particular), expressed in the 1977 Affirmation of St Louis, and liturgically tend to the Catholic end of the candle. Historically they have leant Romewards, but have been keen to maintain their particular Anglican practices and not simply become part of the Roman Rite.
The TAC is not huge: formed in 1991, it has a worldwide membership of about 400,000 spread over the various continents, being stronger in Australia and North America than elsewhere. In England it is very small, this being probably due to the difficulty of any dissenting congregation retaining ownership of their church buildings. It has few substantial buildings, perhaps the most significant being the Church of St Agatha in Portsmouth.
There are also other 'Continuing Anglican' bodies, mostly connected ideologically in some way from the Affirmation of St Louis, such as the Anglican Catholic Church; some of these groups speak to each other, some don't. Most of them are uninterested in the Ordinariate scheme until Rome has repented of all her errors.
Early on in its history the TAC signalled to Rome their wish to continue dialogue in the spirit of ARCIC, and the approach was welcomed warmly if cautiously there. The contacts have continued and indeed intensified under the leadership of the present primate, Archbishop John Hepworth, an Australian (the TAC is more numerous there than in many other places).
John Hepworth is an interesting man. A former Catholic priest, he joined the Anglican Church of Australia in 1976 and married twice. Recently he has claimed to have been raped by (Catholic) priests when in his twenties (claims which some dispute, arguing that a tall and burly young man can hardly have been entirely uncooperative in the alleged assault). This sad incident, however one looks at it, has not deflected Hepworth from his biggest scheme, to lead the TAC into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has passionate defenders even among those who will not be following him into the Ordinariate, such as the TAC priest and interesting blogger Fr Anthony Chadwick.
As for what Hepworth stands for, you can read about it his own words here.
In October 2007 there was a meeting at the above-mentioned St Agatha's church in Portsmouth. There the assembled clergy of greater or lesser dignity signed a document known as the Portsmouth Declaration, which takes the form of a petition to the Holy See for admission to full communion. This they consider to be the most significant step in the process that was to culminate in the Ordinariate Scheme. The declaration was signed on the altar during a celebration of the Eucharist by a large number of clerics, including some 'mainstream' Anglicans. It's a long document, and contains the following extraordinary passage:
The Bishops and Vicars-General of this Communion, now meeting in Plenary Session in the Church of Saint Agatha, Portsmouth, England, on the Feast of Theresa of the Child Jesus and in the days following, have reached the following mind which they have asked their Primate and delegates to report to the Holy See:
1. We accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, which is a ministry of teaching and discerning the faith and a “perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity” and understand this ministry is essential to the Church founded by Jesus Christ. We accept that this ministry, in the words of the late John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint, is to “ensure the unity of all the Churches”. We understand his words in the same Letter when he explains to the separated churches that the Bishop of Rome “when circumstances require it, speaks in the name of all the Pastors in communion with him. He can also – under very specific conditions clearly laid down by the First Vatican Council – declare ex cathedra that a certain doctrine belongs to the deposit of faith. By thus bearing witness to the truth, he serves unity”. We understand that, as bishops separated from communion with the Bishop of Rome, we are among those for whom Jesus prayed before his death “that they may be completely one”, and that we teach and define matters of faith and morals in a way that is, while still under the influence of Divine Grace, of necessity more tenuously connected to the teaching voice of catholic bishops throughout the world.
2.We accept that the Church founded by Jesus Christ subsists most perfectly in the churches in communion with the See of Peter, to whom (after the repeated protestation of his love for Jesus) and to whose successors, our Divine Master gave the duty of feeding the lambs and the sheep of his flock.
3. We accept that the most complete and authentic expression and application of the catholic faith in this moment of time is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its Compendium, which we have signed together with this Letter as attesting to the faith we aspire to teach and hold.
4. Driven by these realizations, which we must now in good conscience bring to the attention of the Holy See, we seek a communal and ecclesial way of being Anglican Catholics in communion with the Holy See, at once treasuring the full expression of catholic faith and treasuring our tradition within which we have come to this moment. We seek the guidance of the Holy See as to the fulfillment of these our desires and those of the churches in which we have been called to serve.
As a position document, this passage is truly remarkable, and it caused something of a stir. The TAC may have been small, but it had boldly seized the Unity initiative and was clearly in the vanguard of the Anglo-Papal movement. Before too long, Rome had responded with Anglicanorum Coetibus. It was a good moment for the TAC which was seen to be punching above its weight. But then things went slow, and the first group to be set up was in England and had nothing to do with the TAC. In fact some began to say that Anglicanorum Coetibus was for the benefit of 'real' Anglicans, not 'continuing' ones.
The trouble is that Archbishop Hepworth had counted his chickens before they were hatched. His signature of the Portsmouth Declaration was greeted with shock by some members of the TAC who do not subscribe to the Anglo-Papal position at all. It seems that some campaigned within the TAC against the move, and others made sure that Rome understood that the TAC was not really a serious player.
In the TAC, the battle grew more heated; it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Ordinariate option is tearing it apart. Archbishop Hepworth continues energetically to promote the Ordinariate; others equally energetically oppose it, as on a comment on this post, portraying their Primate's efforts as his personal ticket to be accepted back into the Catholic Church which he regrets ever leaving:
As a member of the Anglican Church in America (a part of TAC worldwide). Seeing what he has done to our church body is madding [sic]. As though TAC/ACA are some sort of peace offering for him to get back into the Roman church. Thanks but no thanks. We are Catholics and we are Anglican and we don't need the Pope to be Catholic, but first and foremost we are faithful Christians. I just hope the ACA can repair the damage he has done.
'We don't need the Pope to be Catholic'. Well, no doubt the writer is not a theologian, but that comment speaks volumes. And the battle is getting nasty. In a recent Pastoral letter to the whole TAC passionately deprecating the spat, Archbishop Hepworth made the following remarkable charge against one Bishop Marsh, one of his brother bishops:
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Bishop Marsh is a high-ranking member of a virulently anti-catholic Lodge of Freemasons, and claims to have successfully influenced Roman Catholic authorities to reject the TAC and its bishops as a credible ecclesial communion.
Those TAC bishops who wish not to accept the Holy Father's offer seem now to see themselves as the authoritative leaders of the communion. They have called on Hepworth to resign—he offered to do so at Pentecost, but apparently that is unacceptable. They insist he must go straight away. The feeling seems to be that as Rome did not offer corporate reunion, but insists that each person has to make his own decision to be part of the Ordinariate, then the offer is unacceptable. This is what the English Vicar-General of the TAC wrote to the clergy in his jurisdiction:
To those of you who … have submitted personal dossiers to Rome the following applies directly to you.
As we now know, the petition that was agreed at the Portsmouth Synod of the College Of Bishops and duly sent to Rome. The Petition did not receive an offer of “intercommunion or unity between us” from the Holy See, but an offer to us requiring personal individual conversions to become Roman Catholics. That offer has been rejected by our College of Bishops.
The Motion that was agreed and passed by the Assembly of the Traditional Anglican Church in October 2009, in pursuit the offer made by the Holy Father has also been firmly rejected by the College of Bishops and will not be implemented. The current leadership of the College of Bishops have authorised me to state the following; “that in effect those who have submitted dossiers for personal conversion to Rome have by their own actions indicated their decision to leave and have in effect left the Communion”.
Those of you who have submitted personal dossiers and may now wish to reconsider your position to return to the TTAC/TAC should do so by contacting me directly in writing by February 3rd 2012.
Which is plain speaking enough. The issue of conversion is not really at the heart of the matter, though, for if these people really believed what the Catholic Church teaches, those things that Archbishop Hepworth affirmed in the Portsmouth Declaration, then the Roman Option would become the Roman Imperative (as someone else has said). What they want is Roman Communion without the Roman Faith, and that was never going to work. The faith of the TAC may be more like the Roman faith than is professed in most mainstream Anglican churches today, but it still has a way to go. Those who remain in the TAC will have been weakened by the current movement and some no doubt will feel profoundly hurt by it and probably betrayed by their own Primate. What their future is remains to be seen; if their differences are not too profound, they may seek common cause and communion with the Anglican Catholic Church or some other body. Those of the TAC who do seek Roman Communion, such as the famous St Agatha's Church in Portsmouth (where in fact the mainstream former Bishop Robert Mercer was received into full communion a few weeks ago) will no doubt merge gently into the Ordinariates. In Australia they are likely to be the major player in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, since they already have their own churches and organization, and the mainstream Anglican church tends to be rather Evangelical, and therefore not a large provider of aspirants to Roman communion.
In some ways I feel saddest for those who really do share the Roman faith in their deepest heart but for whom the path of Roman Communion would involve what they believe to be intolerable sacrifice. Like the rich young man in the Gospel, they turn sadly away. In all this one can be deeply edified by the determination of Archbishop Hepworth; whatever else he may have said or done, he has committed himself to Roman Communion with an admirable single-mindedness, rendered all the more poignant by the fact that, as a former priest of the Adelaide Diocese, he is likely to have to surrender his own practice of the priesthood in order to achieve it. As a priest myself, I can only imagine what that prospect must feel like. We would do well not to belittle it.