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Will married Catholic priests be a blessing or a blunder?

By Vision Reporter

Added 30th November 2009 03:00 AM

A sizeable number of Christians in the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion has been disgusted and disappointed by the Communion’s acceptance of openly homosexual people to become bishops. Another group from the same Anglican Communion is disheartene

A sizeable number of Christians in the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion has been disgusted and disappointed by the Communion’s acceptance of openly homosexual people to become bishops. Another group from the same Anglican Communion is disheartene

By Henry Mulindwa

A sizeable number of Christians in the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion has been disgusted and disappointed by the Communion’s acceptance of openly homosexual people to become bishops.

Another group from the same Anglican Communion is disheartened and disillusioned by the ordination of women to ministerial priesthood and even to the episcopacy (becoming bishops). In Rome, they speak of half a million lay Anglicans and between 20 and 30 Anglican bishops who want to join the Catholic Church (National Catholic Reporter, November 13).

We hear of some 4,000 traditional Anglican priests worldwide who have requested to be accepted in the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI has given them green light by proposing to create structures to accommodate them. Technically, these structures are called “Personal Ordinariate”. This means that Anglicans who come to the Catholic Church may have a non-territorial diocese governed by their “ordinary” (in most cases their own bishop), with its own clergy, religious orders and laity. This kind of amendment in the laws of the Church will also pave the way for married Anglican priests to be ordained Catholic priests. Do not ask me how “Catholic” they will be!

The Pope also proposed that these Anglicans would keep their own liturgical rites or at least most of them. Liberal disciples of Vatican II applauded this move, believing that the Church can be universal without being uniform. Others burst into shouts of joy: “Our prayers have been heard, the Church is becoming one. Welcome back home, our separated brothers and sisters,” so they believe. However, all is not well. The move seems to be like handling the tiger by the tail. For some Anglicans, the Vatican’s suggestions are tantamount to poaching on the Anglican Communion, fishing in its waters, weakening it further and jeopardising the ecumenical movement.

If all these priests leave, what will happen to the churches they have been leading? If a priest converts with most of his community, do they continue to use the church buildings? They are the community that built them, yes, but they are Anglicans no more now! If Anglicans keep their own liturgical rites, will mainstream Catholics be free to receive sacraments from these rites and vice versa? If yes, how about those sacraments and beliefs Anglicans do not recognise or do not believe in the same way Catholics do, like the Eucharist or Mary, the saints and the icons? If no, then what will be the sense in calling these converts Catholic?

Anglicans have, for over 500 years, rejected that the pope is the top leader of the Church founded by Jesus and the heir to Saint Peter. Will they begin to recognise the pope once they become Anglican-Catholics? Moreover, what will be Catholic about them if they keep their own separate traditional Anglican rites? Liberal Anglicans are shrilled, on the other hand, to see these “catholicizing” traditionalists go.

“They have been keeping us from progress with their centralistic medieval ideas”, so they are likely to be saying. However, Catholic liberals, especially women, are not excited. They are scared by the possible influx of a million traditionalists. “They are going to take us back, mining and poisoning the land we have covered so far. Conservative Catholicism has been loosening and losing ground. That is their concern. Other Catholics wonder what kind of Catholics these would be since they may not have gone through the usual Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults to prepare them to become Catholics. As one woman put it to me, “We are going to have Protestant- Catholics who know nothing of our traditions. They will either divide our Church or convert all of us to their side.”

At St. Theresa’s parish, Kansas, in Missouri, there is already a former Episcopalian priest who converted to Catholicism and was ordained Catholic priest in 2002. Now married Fr. Ernie Davis leads mass with a group of other converts he came to the Church with. The parish has included another mass on its schedule and this mass is in the Episcopalian rite.
Parishioners are watching, some with joy yet others with suspicion and discomfort (National Catholic Reporter, November 27). When it comes to the clergy question, things become even more intricate. Taking the example of Uganda, where the norm is that a candidate to Catholic ministerial priesthood begins his training in Senior One, which means at least 14 years of training, and at least two university degrees before ordination. Most Anglican priests, with all due respect, never get this kind of training. It is therefore most likely that Anglican-Catholic priests, in case of Uganda, would never be more than second class priests in the Roman Catholic Church, considering the criterion of education and training alone. Will the Vatican give some training to these Anglican priests before ordaining them to Catholic priesthood?

Remember there are fundamental doctrinal differences between Anglicans and Catholics. Will they be forgotten and we go with what unites us other than what divides us? Fortunately, traditional Anglicans are mainly in Africa and India. So it is not likely that Anglicans in Uganda, for example will opt to leave their church. They have no reason to.

Whereas Catholics would easily accept married priests, since there are already millions of lay ministers, men and women, who are totally accepted, the married Anglican-Catholic priests would definitely make some laity uncomfortable but largely irritate the Catholic clergy.

There is already discontent over resistance to reform the medieval celibacy requirement. And now you expect those Catholic priests who would love to remain priests but also be married, to tolerate married converts living alongside them? Without going into the administrative challenges of having both married and celibate priests, the fact of married “Catholic” priests will trigger off a movement of priests within the church.

There is an Australian Anglican bishop who was a Catholic priest but converted in order to get married without losing his faculties (authority and power) as a priest.

Just recently, on hearing the Vatican’s move, four priests in South Korea converted to Anglicanism in order to get married (The Catholic Northwest, November 26). They said they will come back to the Catholic Church as “Anglican converts” since they are now sure that they will keep their preaching job as married Anglican-Catholic priests.

If the Vatican implements the proposals to accommodate married Anglican priests coming into the Catholic Church, what good reasons will it advance to not let Catholic priests who want to get married and remain active priests? What will this be prohibiting anyway? It will be very contradictory.

This is the time to ask questions and questioning the answers. I think it is possible that things will be the same but more likely they will be different!

The writer is a Ugandan living in the US

Will married Catholic priests be a blessing or a blunder?

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