Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Anglican Priests and Bishops Risk All to Return to Catholicism

For those unfamiliar with the history of Protestantism, Anglican Christianity (in America, Anglicans are known as Episcopalians) finds itself caught in the middle between the Protestant groups that broke away from the Catholic Church in the early sixteenth century on one hand and the Catholic Church itself on the other. There is even a debate as to what label Anglicanism falls under. And it kind of depends at what end of the Anglican spectrum one falls under. In some sense, Anglicanism is just Catholic enough to not call itself Protestant and just Protestant enough to not call itself Catholic.

Some, however, have called Anglicans “Catholic-light” and “Catholicism without the guilt” – and there are many who consider themselves both Catholic and Anglican. Truth be told, major issues like priestesses, openly homosexual clergy, and a lack of unity with the Pope do in fact create major obstacles and differences that make Anglicans and Catholics divided brethren.

These issues, however, have become major incentives to some Anglicans who see the truth, goodness, and beauty of Rome and would like to return to the once-united Christendom of pre-Reformation Christianity. The Catholic Church, for her part, has also recognized many positive aspects of Anglicanism – so much so, that the Church has set up a process whereby Anglican priests, bishops, and whole congregations can enter the Catholic Church and continue to worship using the liturgical forms they have possessed for centuries!

But in case you don’t know, Anglicanism goes back to King Henry VIII of England. Unlike Protestants like Martin Luther and John Calvin, who both broke from Catholicism over doctrinal issues, Henry VIII divorced his people from the Church of Rome over a moral issue: he needed a divorce in order to re-marry in hopes of having a male heir. As you probably know, this led him down an insane path of divorce after divorce with execution after execution of his many so-called wives.

You’d think people would reconsider Anglicanism from this horrific origin story!

But Anglicanism went on and became a source of nationalism for the British people. Many faithful Catholics in England were put to death for their Catholic faith and many more were forced to practice Catholicism in the shadows. Others, like William Shakespeare whose father was killed for the Catholic Faith, hid their faith in their works and in their cultural practices. Today Catholics are still barred from many political offices in England – and even Tony Blair was forced to become Catholic only after he left office as Prime Minister of England.

Like other mainstream Protestant denominations, Anglicanism has by and large fallen victim to the modern liberal agenda that has watered down the Faith. Not only has there been an acceptance of openly homosexual persons, but they have gone on to allow practicing homosexuals to become priests and bishops. In other circles, priestesses have been “ordained” to minister in their churches as well. Both of these issues are ripping their Anglican communion apart and talk is growing of reunion with Catholicism by many, many Anglicans.

Below is a story from Catholic.org regarding a conference that took place in Texas – at this conference was an explanation of how Anglican priests, bishops, and congregations could open up negotiations and begin a movement back into Catholicism. Though there is no guarantee, many Anglican priests and bishops (even those married) could be ordained in the Catholic Church and begin ministry in their parishes or in other Catholic parishes.

It’s quite a story! Read on for more:

For three days, framed by a solemn Evensong and Choral Matins and anchored by two Eucharistic celebrations, continuing Anglicans, practicing Roman Catholics and soul-searching Episcopalians came together to rejoice in the unique heritage of the liturgical richness of Anglican liturgy as embraced by the entwining roots of Roman Catholicism, which reaches back beyond the English Reformation to Christ and forward into present day post-modern America.

Anglican Use, as it is lived out today in the United States, is perhaps one of the best guarded secrets in American Anglicanism and one of the most misunderstood aspects of Roman Catholic liturgical practice. The Anglican Use Society is dedicated to helping bridge the gap between fact and fiction, understanding and misunderstanding, and actuality and misinformation.

It also helps to construct that overpass across the Tiber River which some embattled American Anglicans are crossing as they flee from the spiritually beleaguered and morally bankrupt Episcopal Church. American Anglicanism is on the verge of fracturing, yet again, in the United States with the birthing next week of the new North American Anglican province. In all, there are more than 50 continuing Anglican or Anglican-like groups, trying to deal with the deepening spiritual crisis in The Episcopal Church, that have been established since the 1970s.

As a result, various Episcopal priests and laity have been turning their spiritual eyes to Rome seeking answers for a unified Catholic Christendom that can only come through reconciliation and reunification with the Great Latin Church of the West in fulfillment of Christ's own priestly Gospel prayer in the Book of John that His Church may be one even as He and the Father are One.

Ever so slowly, with the first ordination of Episcopal priestesses in the 1970's, Episcopal priests have been quietly and examining their own Episcopal priesthood and Anglo-Catholic leanings amid the quagmire of the shifting sands of The Episcopal Church's ever-changing doctrines, dogmas, disciplines, and moral practices. They are realizing that perhaps their very salvation and the authenticity of their own priesthood is embedded in the apostolic roots of Catholic Rome and that, indeed, the Pontiff is the successor of Peter and the symbol of worldwide Christian unity. So far, about 100 former married Episcopal priests have gone through the Pastoral Provision process and have been re-ordained into the Catholic priesthood. There are several still in the remolding process who hope and pray that they too will become a rare married Catholic priest.

What drew 200 people to Houston during the unexpected summer-like heat of late spring? Many things: Curiosity ... Interest ... Questions ... Concerns ... A slate of world-renowned speakers anchored by a magnetic Roman Catholic cardinal ... A common heritage ... Like-mindedness ... Soul-wrenching agony ... A passion for Elizabethan English within the Roman Catholic liturgical setting ... The gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit or in Anglican parlance -- the Holy Ghost.

Coming from New England to the West Coast, the peninsula of Florida to the shores of the Pacific and from many map points in between, they converged at Our Lady of Walsingham Anglican Use Catholic Church to find answers.

An Anglican interest in Catholicism with a subtle shift back to a long-ignored Roman faith foundation started with a humble Church of England parish priest who eventually converted to Roman Catholicism ultimately putting on the scarlet sash of a Prince of the Church. The name of John Henry Cardinal Newman is familiar to Anglicans and Catholics alike. It was as a quaint Anglican priest that the quest for a deeper spiritual meaning and faith expression led him into being a pivotal key player in the Oxford Movement, which helped to establish the High Church Anglo-Catholic aspect of Anglicanism.

It is the High Church Anglo-Catholics within Anglicanism who most appreciate and celebrate the Catholic aspects of Anglicanism as it comes to piety, devotion, faith practice, liturgy and the sacraments. It is the Anglo-Catholics, particularly, who have railed against women's priestly ordination and episcopal consecration and the feminization of the church, and the failure of The Episcopal Church to follow Biblical morality. They decry the incalculable damage to ecumenism brought on by the recent actions of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada while seeking to live out the Lord's desire for the Church to be One as He and His Father are One, In the United States, the Anglican Use provision is a multi-pronged tool which includes the Vatican's Pastoral Provision of Pope John Paul II, a mechanism which allows married Episcopal priests to rethink their Anglican priesthood, renounce their Anglican orders and be sacramentally retrained for the Catholic priesthood and then re-ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. There is also a mechanism that allows Episcopalians to be individually reconciled to the Roman pontiff and then as an intact congregation to become an Anglican Use parish church within a Roman Catholic diocese that is cared for by a Pastoral Provision priest with faculties to celebrate the Anglican Use liturgy.

Usually, it is the Episcopal priest who first starts to examine his Anglican faith walk and priesthood and then makes the first tentative contact with the Roman Catholic Church about conversion. Once the priest starts making progress towards reconciliation and unification with the Church of Rome, he then acts as a leader for members of his Episcopal congregation to join him in the conversion process.

"Lay people don't quite see it," explained The Rev. Msgr. William Stetson, secretary to the Ecclesiastical Delegate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the Pastoral Provision. "The Pastoral Provision is a real gift to the community of the church," explained The Most Rev. Kevin Vann bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.

Several priests from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth were on hand to check things out, interact with their Roman Catholic counterparts, and see how the whole process might work. They admitted there was interest in the Pastoral Provision process, but were reluctant to be more specific.

When VOL asked Bishop Vann to comment on the presence of Episcopal clergy, he demurred to The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker stating that he has reached out to Bishop Iker and the Anglican bishop's priests in friendship. However, it would be Bishop Iker who would have to give any specific details.

"I see the Pastoral Provision and Anglican Use as a great gift," explained retired Bishop John Lipscomb of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida who is one of at least four Episcopal bishops who have renounced their Episcopal orders to become Roman Catholics and perhaps pursue the Catholic priesthood.

"It is a very personal faith walk," the former Florida bishop noted.

"It's a gift of grace," added The Rev. Ernie Davis, a Pastoral Provision priest in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the pastor of St. Therese Little Flower, a unique multicultural Catholic parish that not only embraces the more formal Anglican Use congregants, but also a vivacious African American group.

Currently, the former Southwest Florida Episcopal bishop is studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood and hopes to become a transitional deacon this summer and a priest, next winter. Right now, he is the lay executive director of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg's Bethany Retreat Center in Lutz, FL.

Earlier this year, former Rio Grande Episcopal Bishop Jeffery Steenson was re-ordained into the Catholic priesthood. He is now serving in a parish in New Mexico, but expects to join the teaching staff of St. Thomas University in Houston this autumn. Last year, he was one of the Anglican Use Conference's guest speakers.

Two other highly visible Episcopal bishops who have converted to Roman Catholicism are retired Fort Worth Bishop Clarence Pope and retired Bishop Daniel Herzog of the Episcopal Diocese Albany. When a priest, or a bishop, is drawn into Pastoral Provision, they end up risking everything for what they have come to believe -- that the fullness of Catholic faith and practice is encapsulated in the Church of Rome with the See of Peter being anchored in the personage of the Bishop of Rome.

When an Episcopal priest, or a continuing Anglican priest, decides to follow his heart into the Catholic Church, he has to be willing to risk everything to say "yes" to God's Will as he experiences it. He will lose his holy orders, he will lose his congregation, he will lose his livelihood, he will lose his rectory, and he will lose his friends. His family may not understand why he is giving up so much up with no real guarantee that he will get his priesthood back as a Catholic.

"Our salvation is at issue," former bishop Lipscomb explained.

The Rev. James Moore, one of the founding pastors of Our Lady of Walsingham, called the papacy the "magnetic center" which draws those Episcopal priests seeking the gifts and graces of Catholic unity.He explained that through the Episcopal priesthood, the Anglican cleric has a taste of the fullness of priesthood available in the Catholic Church. Even though the Pastoral Provision was designed to help married American Episcopal priests convert to Roman Catholicism and perhaps reclaim their priesthood as Catholics, the Pastoral Provision process should not be seen as opening the flood gates for married priests in the Catholic Church.

"Celibacy is the key to spiritual fruitfulness in the Catholic Church," Msgr. Stetson emphasized.

"We are raising up the next generation of celibate priests," explained The Rev. Christopher Phillips who is a married Pastoral Provision priest at Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use Catholic Church in San Antonio.

The Texas priest noted that with the Pastoral Provision process having just turned a quarter of a century old, a new second generation of Anglican Use Catholics is starting to come of age and vocations are now being generated.

"Anglican Use vocations are coming," Fr. Phillips noted.

"This is the maturing of the Pastoral Provision," the Monsignor added.

The new generation of Anglican Use vocations to the priesthood is important. As the married founding pastors of the Anglican Use Catholic parishes retire and eventually die off, the patrimony of Anglican Use needs to continue on with a new harvest of bi-ritual Catholic priests who understand Anglican Use through having grown up in it and thus taking Anglican Use to the next level of growth.

So far, St. Mary the Virgin has developed three priestly vocations and one religious vocation. At Our Lady of Walsingham, there have been at least five vocations raised up -- one priest, one seminarian, a Dominican sister and one deacon-in-training. OLW parishioners are also very proud to boast that they have the first ordained Anglican Use deacon, The Rev. Mr. James Barnett.

Our Lady of the Atonement, too, has a new foundation of contemplative Poor Clare nuns who branched off from Mother Angelica's Our Lady of Angles Monastery in Alabama. The Poor Clares landed in San Antonio because one of their founding sisters is from OLA and returned to her Anglican Use roots along with members of her Franciscan community.

It is not only the priests who are seeing that their spiritual future lies in the Catholic Church. Scores of laity have "Swum the Tiber" and become happy sacramentally practicing Roman Catholics. However, it is the primacy of the papacy which is usually the hardest thing for most Anglicans, particularly Anglo-Catholics, to grasp in their journey from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

Episcopal religious sisters, too, sometimes look towards Rome for a new spiritual dimension in the living out of their religious life. About one hundred years ago, the Eastern Province superior of the Community of St. Mary's in New York left chapel during Terce and joined up with the Catholic Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Pennsylvania. This switch originally shook the community, but now the story has become a treasured part of their history.

Now it is the Episcopal All Saints Sisters of the Poor who have their monastic eyes turned towards Rome and have been in prayerful discernment, quiet communication and spiritual study in exploring that option. They are expected to embrace the fullness of Catholicism later this fall.

Anglican Use President Joseph Blake is very concerned that the powers that be in the hallowed halls of The Episcopal Church will use the same scare tactics, legal threats and spiritual intimidation against the good Sisters as they seek to follow their collective heart into the Great Latin Church of the West in obedience to what they perceive is the Will of God for their spiritual lives and their Order.

In all, there are three thriving Anglican Use parishes; all are in Texas -- Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, and St. Mary the Virgin in Arlington. There are other Anglican Use worship communities scattered throughout the United States including: St. Anselm of Canterbury, Corpus Christie, Tex.; Our Lady of Hope, Kansas City, Mo.; St. Athanasius, Brookline, Mass.; St. Paul's, Phoenix, Ariz.; and St. Thomas More, Scranton, Penn.

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