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Vatican Wonderland

2009 November 15
by Gordon Reid

Much of the latest proposals from Rome about Anglicans becoming Roman Catholic seems to belong in the realm of fantasy rather than reality.

One of the most absurd proposals is that married Anglican Bishops who convert can be reordained, but not as bishops, only as priests. But to sweeten the blow to their egos, they will be able to be “ordinaries” in charge of ex-Anglican congregations, and ( what a relief!) will be allowed to carry on wearing purple cassocks, copes and mitres, pectoral crosses, episcopal rings and all other vestments of a Bishop.

So people like the Bishop of Fulham, who, as far as Rome is concerned, is not a Bishop at the moment, will be ordained as an RC priest, but then allowed to continue to dress as the Bishop he never was! What is the point? Humpty Dumpty said “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean”, and this seems to be the Pope’s view too.

Of course, the Holy Father must have pretty awful advisers, or he would realize that English Anglo-Catholics are not going to be tempted to swim the Tiber by being allowed to keep “valued elements of Anglican liturgy and spirituality”. Most of them despise the Prayer Book and use the roman Mass and recite the Roman breviary. For many of them, it is only because they are married that they have not become normal Roman Catholics years ago.

The more I hear the growing sound of back-pedalling among Anglican clergy here and in the UK, the more I suspect that the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) had better get on with its sounder and less Looking-Glass methods of promoting friendship between our two Communions. Adult Christians should be able to face the fact that even if Roman Catholics and Anglicans do not believe the same things about doctrine or morality (and especially about who has the right to decide on these things), and then get on with living the Christian life and loving each other – and even Baptists and Russian Orthodox and Presbyterians – to say nothing of the rest of the world for which Christ died.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. November 15, 2009

    Most Anglo-Catholics despise the Prayer Book? Most Anglo-Catholics use the Roman Mass and recite the Roman breviary? With one very notable exception, this is not true of any Anglo-Catholic parish that I have come across. Why even S. Clement’s church has the Book of Common Prayer in the pews. Why would this be if what is contained therein is to be despised?

  2. November 15, 2009

    Sorry, John, I should have said “in England”. Forward in Faith and the Society of the Holy Cross’s thousand priests were the ones I was talking about. And they are the ones most likely to go over to Rome. But they wouldn’t want to use Anglican rites. No one seems to have told the Pope this!

    In the USA, it is quite different: American Anglo-Catholics have usually used the 1928 Prayer Book. But the majority of them are in schism from Canterbury already in all the “Continuing Churches”, so are Anglican in a very different sense from what is usually meant, namely in communion with Canterbury. It is the US Anglo-Catholics who may welcome a Roman Catholic Anglican rite. But I see no signs of that so far.

    Personally, I love the old Prayer Book and say Evensong from it in public every day. It’s modern English in church I can’t stand.

  3. Paul Goings permalink
    November 15, 2009


    Surely you’re aware that traditionally the use pontificals was bestowed as a privilege on any number of minor prelates who were not ordained to the episcopate? Abbots, of course, had the use of pontificals, and also cardinals, certain monsignors, and even some chapters of canons. So conferring these privileges on former Anglican bishops is hardly something out of “wonderland;” it is a gracious and pastoral gesture, and fully within the traditions of the Roman church.

    The Apostolic Constitution was formulated with two groups in mind, I think. The FiF/UK contingent, as you say, use the modern missal and breviary; their patrimony largely consists of the New English Hymnal and liturgical decorum. The Continuing Anglican churches are much more devoted to the Prayer Book. Some of those will go over to Rome, but there is a substantial majority of non-papal Anglo-Catholics in the American Continuum. This is not true, however, in Australia, Asia, and Africa, where the numbers will be greater.

    The Book of Common Prayer, to answer Mr Burrows’ question, admits of a catholic understanding, if read torturously enough, but it was compiled with protestant intent, and so should be eschewed by Anglo-Catholics whenever possible.

    • BCP permalink
      November 16, 2009

      Don’t see how this is different than what the poster wrote. The pontificals don’t have the rights of the Ordinaries as far as I know. So just like the poster said, they get to play dress up like a bishop and carry a cool stick. But they can’t even walk down the isle and bless the people much less ordain another.

  4. AMM permalink
    November 16, 2009

    It seems like a difficult situation to me. Accepting that a married episcopate is currently not part of the tradition of the eastern or western churches (Rome, Constantinople or the Non Chalcedonians), what else conceivably could Rome do?

  5. Disgusted in DC permalink
    November 16, 2009

    I agree with Paul about pontificals, though it indeed will be a very hilarious thing to see all of these former Anglican bishops who are no longer bishops parading about in precious mitres and whatnot. But this sort of parading about is hardly the exclusive province of former Anglicans. For instance, my own pastor recently starting using the title “Very Reverend Monsignor” and, to my surprise, wore red pontifical gloves at Pentecost! Technically, I’m not sure that sort of thing is normally permitted after Paul VI changed the rules. On the other hand, my pastor knows liturgy and ceremony to the most obscure detail, so he might have found some genuine reason that would permit him to don the gloves.

    As for the Anglo-Papalists coming over, now truly is the kairos moment. Since it now seems that acceptance of women bishops will be practically mandatory in the C of E, those of a papalist bent will now have to decide whether they are papalists and will take up the Holy Father’s offer or whether they want to remain in the C of E and give up the papalist cause altogether. I, too, think that many papalists will find some lame excuse for not following their consciences.

  6. David O'Rourke permalink
    November 20, 2009

    Not surprisingly, Paul Goings points out that traditionally the use of pontificals is not limited to bishops. Let me assure BCP that blessing the people as they (the bishops)walk down the aisle is also not limited to bishops nor, indeed, is administering Confirmation.

    As to married bishops, I believe that this good pope is ready to bend over backwards in the cause of unity and reconciliation but the Orthodox are watching over his shoulder and they don’t have married bishops.

  7. Paul Goings permalink
    November 20, 2009

    I am unaware of non-bishops being able to bless in procession. Indeed, even among bishops it is limited to the ordinary and other greater prelates, although one sees this widely disregarded in even the better Anglo-Catholic parishes.

  8. David O'Rourke permalink
    November 22, 2009

    Paul Goings may well be right in saying that prelates who are not bishops may not bless the people as they go up the aisle but in my experience auxiliary bishops do bless the people upon passing up the aisle. Fortescue is silent on the matter.

  9. David O'Rourke permalink
    November 22, 2009

    P.S. Fortescue fails to mention that an auxiliary bishop, if he is vicar general, does carry the crozier at Pontifical Mass.

  10. Little Black Sambo permalink
    November 23, 2009

    The Bishop of Ebbsfleet (our flying bishop) says that out of all the parishes in his care only three use the English Missal or equivalent. All the others use the cloth-eared novus ordo or some extract from modern Anglican material that approximates to it.

  11. David O'Rourke permalink
    November 24, 2009

    It is truly unfortunate that so many AC’s in England have gone over to the Novus Ordo with it’s ICEL English. Cranmer was terrible as a theologian but excellent as a linguist. Granted, a good deal of the English Missal is not translated by Cranmer per se but it is linguistically in the Cranmerian tradition. That language together with it’s music is surely a part of the Anglican Patrimony. How ironic tha the AC clergy have dropped it in favour of a translation which the Holy See itself considers to be not only less than accurate but also impoverished in it’s lack of beauty and majesty.

    P.S. Can anyone tell me which missal has the Canon Missae as translated by Miles Coverdale?

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