Religion and Spirituality

Cardinal William Levada, Vatican's chief doctrinal official
AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis
Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican's
chief doctrinal official, speaks at a news
conference at the Vatican, Tuesday, Oct.
20, 2009.

Catholic Church Welcomes Disgruntled Anglicans

October 22, 2009 12:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
In response to Anglicans dissatisfied with their Church, the Vatican has opened its doors, highlighting the differences between the two denominations.

Vatican to Receive Converted Anglicans

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At a conference on Tuesday, the Vatican issued a press release announcing the “Apostolic Constitution,” a new set of church laws that will make it easier for Anglicans dissatisfied with their current faith to convert to Catholicism, Stacy Meichtry and Amy Merrick report for The Wall Street Journal.

As the Journal explains, this move, considered to be “one of Rome's most sweeping gestures to a Protestant church since the Reformation,” could prove to be a “serious threat” for Anglican churches, which have approximately 77 million followers worldwide. Many members of the Anglican Church have expressed their discontent over recent developments such as “the church's growing acceptance of gay and women clergy and same-sex marriage.”

Aiming to breach the divide between Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, established by King Henry VIII in 1534, and in response to the requests of many Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic faith, Pope Benedict XVI approved a provision that would allow Anglicans to become part of the Catholic Church “while maintaining many of their distinctive spiritual and liturgical traditions, including having married priests,” Nicole Winfield reports for The Associate Press.

Starting in the 1970s, the Anglican Church began to embrace a “liberal theological doctrine,” according to the Journal, and allowed, for instance, for the ordination of female priests. In 2003, the ordination of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, motivated many congregations to abandon the U.S. branch of the Anglican faith and join other foreign branches of the Anglican Communion, Martha T. Moore reported for USA Today in 2006.

Today, those numbers appear to have grown. As Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told CNN, “‘[H]undreds’ of Anglicans around the world have expressed their desire to join the Catholic Church,” including 50 Anglican bishops. Although married Anglican priests may be ordained as Catholic priests, the same is not true for Anglican bishops. Regardless, many are receiving the news joyfully. “We've been praying for this unity for 40 years and we've not anticipated it happening now,” Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia of the Congregation for Divine Worship told CNN. “The Holy Spirit is at work here.”

Background: Main differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism

In 1534, King Henry VIII of England created the Anglican Church, a branch of Protestantism based in England, in defiance of the Pope’s authority over the Roman Catholic Church. Contrary to popular belief, however, the rift between the King and the Pope was not caused solely by the Pope’s refusal to grant Henry a divorce. As The Anglican Domain explains, Henry spent much of his reign “challenging the authority of Rome.” 

Although the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches are denominations of the same religion, Christianity, their core beliefs differ in several respects. The Web site for the Anglican Church of Australia explains that there are four main differences between these two faiths:

  • The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and has authority over all areas of the Catholic Church throughout the world. In contrast, the Anglican Church has a more “dispersed authority structure,” the Anglican Church of Australia explains. The Archbishop of Canterbury is “a focus for unity” but doesn’t have authority over churches other than his own, the Church of England.
  • Only men can become priests in the Catholic Church, and they are required to remain celibate throughout their lives. Anglicanism, on the other hand, allows priests to be married, and has also permitted women to be ordained as priests.
  • Anglicanism recognizes only two of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church:  baptism and Eucharist (Holy Communion). The Catholic Church also recognizes confirmation, penance, extreme unction, holy orders and matrimony.
  • Anglicanism believes in a direct relationship through prayer with God; God embodies the triptych notion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Anglicanism does not consider other figures, such as the Virgin Mary, saints and priests, as valid intercessors with the Lord, as Catholicism does. 
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