The Vatican on Monday confirmed that opening the door to married Anglican priests doesn’t mean the Roman Catholic church is easing the requirement for celibacy for its clergy.
The Holy See press office released rules and guidelines, known as an Apostolic Constitution, as part of efforts to make it easier for disillusioned, traditionalist Anglicans to cross over to the Roman Catholic fold.
Under the Vatican’s initiative, Anglicans, turned off by their own church’s embrace of openly gay clerics, women priests and blessing of same-sex unions, can join new parishes, called “personal ordinariates” that are headed by former Anglican prelates
Vatican officials had previously stressed that married Anglican priests would be allowed to remain in the priesthood on a case-by-case basis as they join the Roman Catholic fold.
Still, the Vatican’s decision to allow Anglicans to keep some aspects of their liturgy and identity had raised questions over whether the Roman Catholic requirement for celibacy might change.
On Monday, the Vatican reaffirmed its resolve to leave the celibacy requirement unchanged.
“The possibility envisioned by the Apostolic Constitution for some married clergy within the personal ordinariates does not signify any change in the Church’s discipline of clerical celibacy,” the Vatican said.
It praised priestly celibacy as “a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity.”
Apparently seeking to squash any speculation that Rome had been courting the disaffected Anglicans, the Vatican said the “Holy Spirit” inspired Anglicans to “petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion” individually and as a group.
Married Anglican bishops could lose rank
The Vatican also sought to justify setting up new structures to accommodate any Anglican desire to convert.
Simply assimilating Anglicans in existing dioceses would have led to the “loss of the richness of their Anglican tradition,” the Vatican said.
Allowing them to keep liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions, with Vatican approval, brings the Catholic church “a precious gift,” the new document said.
The rules also confirmed statements by Vatican officials that while married Anglican bishops could be ordained as priests after converting to Roman Catholicism, they will lose bishop’s rank.
But Rome said these former bishops could be invited to participate in meetings of local Catholic bishops’ conferences “with the equivalent status of a retired bishop.”
Without elaborating on the theology involved, the new rules said “many doctrinal questions have had to be addressed, and such questions will continue to arise” as the Anglican converts join their Roman Catholic brothers.
Pope Benedict XVI, at the helm of a 1.1 billion member Church, has made it a priority of papacy to press for unity of all Christians, including the 77 million-strong Anglican communion worldwide.
Both the Vatican and the Anglican Church have pledged to continue unity efforts.
The Vatican’s reaching out to the would-be converts doesn’t “deflect” the Church of England from its “long-standing commitment to seeking the unity of all the Churches, including the Roman Catholic church,” said the Rt. Rev. Christopher Hill, bishop of Guildford, England, and chairman of the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity.
The Church of England was established in 1534 when English monarch Henry VIII was refused a marriage annulment by Rome.