Lawrence Cunningham, theology professor at Notre Dame University, called it “a stunning turn of events” which “would have been unthinkable 200 years ago.”
He was referring to the announcement from the Vatican that Pope Benedict XVI has approved a new church provision that will allow married Anglican priests and even seminarians to become ordained Catholic priests while maintaining their married status. However, married Anglicans will not be allowed to become Catholic bishops.
The official announcement came at a press conference on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 held by William Cardinal Levada, an American, who previously served as the Archbishop of San Francisco before becoming Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Roman Curia. He confirmed the fact that the Traditional Anglican Communion, a rebel Anglican group that left the Anglican Communion many years ago, is to be received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This will include their married priests. In the United States, Anglicans are referred to as Episcopalians.
Cardinal Levada had previously briefed Catholic bishops as well as the Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams concerning the forthcoming announcement. The Archbishop stated firmly that the new provision would have no negative impact on the relations of the Anglican church to the Roman Catholic church as a whole.
The new Catholic church entities, called personal ordinariates, will be headed by former Anglican prelates who will preside over the spiritual care of Anglicans who wish to convert to Catholicism. It will provide for an easy transition for Anglicans who have become dissatisfied with the ordination of women and gay bishops, as well as with the sanction of same-sex marriages.
To date, clergymen who converted from Protestant churches have been allowed, on a case by case basis, to remain married and still serve as Catholic priests.
The question arises as to whether the forthcoming newly ordained married Catholic priests will open the door to Vatican consent to allow present and future Roman Catholic clergy to marry. The shortage of priests, particularly in the United States, has recently initiated dialogue on that possibility as well as the question of the ordination to the priesthood of married deacons as well as the ordination of women. The new church provision may prove to be the first step in a long exchange of ideas on this controversial subject.
Anglicans first broke from Rome in the 16th century when the Catholic church refused to grant an annulment to the King of England, Henry VIII.
In Great Britain, prominent Anglicans who converted to Roman Catholicism have included John Cardinal Newman, poet T. S. Eliot and former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
James Graff, World Editor, AOL News
Nicole Winfield, Associated Press