Local Episcopal clergy are anxiously awaiting details of a new Vatican plan to ease the way for discontented Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church.
"What struck me about the statement was the lack of details, which I found very significant," said the Rev. Gregory Sammons, co-rector of St. Michael's in the Hills Episcopal Church in Ottawa Hills.
In its announcement Tuesday, the Vatican said its forthcoming Apostolic Constitution will contain provisions for ordaining married ex-Anglican priests, appointing unmarried former Anglican clergy as "ordinaries," or bishops, and allowing ex-Anglicans to retain their spiritual and liturgical identities after joining the Roman Catholic Church.
The Episcopal Church, which has 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the 80 million-member Anglican Communion. The denomination was founded in the 16th century after a split between the Church of England and Rome over theological issues, papal primacy, and King Henry VIII's desire for the annulment of his marriage.
It has been deeply divided in recent years over the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of homosexual partnerships, following earlier controversies over the ordination of women and revisions in the prayer book and hymnal.
The Catholic Church, which does not ordain female priests and bars the ordination of openly and actively gay men, has ordained married ex-Anglican priests for more than a decade. But the new Vatican plan goes further in accommodating individual and group converts, saying it will "preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony" while ensuring "these groups and their clergy will be integrated into the Catholic Church."
The plan allows the bishops appointed from among ex-Anglican clergy to establish "a house of formation" for training ex-Anglican seminarians "alongside other Catholic seminarians."
The Rev. Joseph Keblesh, rector of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in West Toledo, said the Vatican "is obviously recognizing the significant spiritual dilemma going on in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion."
He added, however, "I would be interested in knowing more about it."
Father Sammons said he was pleased that the Vatican stressed the continuation of ongoing ecumenical dialogue with the Anglican Communion. He praised the relationship among local denominations, saying, "We have warm, cordial relationships with Christians of many different traditions, and some of our warmest are with our Catholic colleagues in this clergy cluster. Nothing about the statement will change that."
The Rev. John Kimble, a retired Episcopal priest in Toledo, believes the Vatican is being deceptive with the proposal, calling it "a subtle attack on Anglicanism."
"If they were really interested in Anglicanism and coming together, they need to acknowledge that we have women priests and people who are homosexuals," he said. "What undergirds this statement is a subtle attempt to reinforce the biased, prejudicial, and sectarian stances" of the Catholic Church.
Both Father Keblesh and the Rev. Charles Singler, director of the office of worship of the Toledo Catholic Diocese, pointed out that their liturgies are very similar.
"We all believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ's body and blood in the Eucharist," Father Keblesh said as an example.
Father Singler said there are "lots of similarities" in the hymnody, pattern of prayer, and celebration of the liturgy.
Father Keblesh said he personally is not interested in joining the Catholic Church, but feels the Vatican is "throwing lifelines" to Anglicans distressed over current trends.
"In the face of cultural shifts and foolishness of some denominations, the Roman Church is holding fast to the Scriptures and the moral teachings that were held to for 2,000 years," he said.
Father Singler said the Vatican's intent is to meet the spiritual needs of people in crisis, not to steal members from another Christian body. "It shows the church's desire to provide a place for those who are trying to find a spiritual home. … It's a way to provide an option for people trying to find some sense of stability and tradition," he said.
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