Who let them in?
The Vatican today announced a new arrangement under which Anglicans may enter the Roman Catholic Church while retaining many of their traditions, including married priests and the use of at least some parts of the Book of Common Prayer. (It isn't clear from the Vatican news release whether this means only that already married Anglican priests will be welcome, or that future priests and candidates for the priesthood will be free to marry -- probably the former.)
This is a big deal. First and foremost, it is a reflection of the continued crackup of the Anglican Communion, the worldwide association of churches with roots in the Church of England, which was created after King Henry VIII declared himself the head of the church. (As Protestant kids in Northern Ireland used to spraypaint on Belfast city walls: "One Bible, One crown, No pope in our town.")
In an attempt at face-saving, Rowan Williams, the Hamlet-like archbishop of Canterbury, said the new express conversion (as George Costanza would say) wasn't a "commentary on Anglican problems" over the ordination of gays and women as bishops. It's lucky he doesn't claim to be infallible, because this is a holy whopper.
But if the "poping" of conservative Anglo-Catholics eases tensions in the Anglican Communion, it is likely to exacerbate them in their new spiritual home. Many Roman Catholic liberals will be aghast at this development, because they too believe in opening ordination to gays and women. And even some moderate Catholics are likely to grouse over the fact that cradle Catholics can't become priests and be married, but Anglican arrivistes can. (Married former Episcopal priests in the United States have been allowed to switch teams for some time, through the creation of an "Anglican Use" -- a church within a church.)
One group of Roman Catholics, which comprises liberals and conservatives on issues of sexuality, will be happy about this development. They are the Catholics (and I'm one of them) who abhor the tone-deaf language of the post-Vatican II Mass in English. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer is one of the wonders of the English language. Asked what he missed most about his former church, an Anglican-priest-turned Catholic supposedly replied: "The Mass in English."
After today's announcement, I suspect a lot of cradle Catholics in other countries will be sneaking off to "Anglican Use" parishes on Sundays.
-- Michael McGough