What a busy and historic time the Catholic church is having at the moment!
We have had the astonishing news that the Pope had made a provision for disaffected Anglicans to easily slip into the Catholic fold, with their identity and traditions pretty much in tact.
I have read so much contradictory media analysis on the potential impact on Anglicanism as a result of this Papal offer, that frankly my head has been spinning and I have only learnt one thing with certainty, and that is nobody knows for sure what the impact will be. The conservative Anglicans are fearful that this will strengthen the liberal element of the church and visa-versa.
There is a small detail that most of the media seem to have overlooked however, and that is the impact on the Catholic church from this action. Most it would seem, have assumed little or no impact, as in terms of the numbers of Anglicans who may defect to the Papal home, this would represent nothing more than a tiny blip in the Catholic sea. However, I think there is a grander plan afoot.
It strikes me that all of those Catholic priests that have taken a vow of celibacy, may be more than a little ‘put out’ that married Anglican priests will be able to swan over to the Catholic church and be accepted as ‘kosher’ Catholic priests. Would this not cause a certain amount of resentment? Could this be the catalyst that provokes reform of the Catholic tradition of priestly celibacy?
The Pope who is an exceptionally intelligent man, would have figured all of this out in advance of course, so this leaves the question, why embark on this action, when lets face it, as stated before, the numerical numbers of defecting Anglicans will probably be negligible and the fallout within the Catholic church potentially explosive?
Whilst Anglicans think that this Papal move is all about them (and the media seems to agree), could there be a larger picture that most are missing. I would argue that this is really all about the Orthodox church.
For the first time in a millennium, the relationship between the Catholic church and the Orthodox church is thawing in a BIG way. The main division traditionally (and I confess that I am no expert) seems to have been around the infallibility of the Pope and celibacy of priests. Well, the infallibility of the Pope can be overcome as most accept that every man is fallible, but how do you overcome the problem of differing views on celibacy for the priesthood. Let’s face it, the Catholics couldn’t ask all of the married Orthodox priests to suddenly become celibate in order to have full communion and unity with the Catholic church. This leaves the option of the Catholics softening their stance on priestly celibacy.
The formal acceptance of married Anglican priests into the Catholic church is bound to cause friction from celibate Catholic priests, which ultimately may create the perfect fertile ground for reform. Once this is achieved and the Catholic church accepts non-celibate priests, what is to stand in the way of full unity and communion between the two largest churches on earth, namely, the Catholic and Orthodox churches!
The more that you read the words and view the actions of Pope Benedict, the more obvious it becomes that he is rightly theologically driven by the notion of Christian unity, (found especially in the discourse of Jesus at the last supper in the Gospel of John) consequently, I think it prudent to view his actions through this lens.
Just some thoughts.
Vatican row delays Anglo-Catholic text (New internet link – Times – 29/10)
Following on from my comments above, relating to the media generally focused primarily on the impact on Anglicanism from the Papal announcements, it is lovely to read articles from Get Religion that offer a fresh counter-balance perspective, from the Catholic side of the fence.
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