Grist for the Mill on Large-Scale Roman Reception of Anglo-Catholics
Keith Pecklers, Professor of Liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, described Bertone's letter as 'highly significant'. 'The fundamental issue is that the Vatican wants to support the Archbishop and hold everything together. The reality is the decision of the Church of England complicates the relationship, but we don't walk away from the table. I didn't see a letter like that at the previous Lambeth conference. At a Catholic gathering you will get a letter from the secretary of state for internal affairs, so Bertone's letter is highly significant.'
He confirmed that the prospect of English bishops seeking refuge in Rome was a 'delicate issue' and that the Vatican was reluctant to encourage defectors. However, a senior Vatican source was more forthright.'They don't want to look like they're poaching people. But what does the Vatican do about people knocking on its door? They won't turn anyone away, but they can't be seen to welcome people en masse.'
RWF resumes: The bold-faced portion above confirms what I have suspected for several days (though one ought not place too much faith in unnamed "senior Vatican sources"). I doubt that the Pope has any plans to set up major new structures to handle large-scale conversions of English or American Anglo-Catholics to Roman Catholicism. Such a large-scale intervention might not only be construed as "sheep stealing" in the media, but could also lead to diplomatic complications for the Vatican. (Remember, the C of E is a state church. It is a component of the English state, and the U.K. is an important player in the European Union. For the RCC to be seen as interfering in the affairs of such a state church would raise special challenges for them.)
Instead the Vatican will probably widen the existing door of the Pastoral Provision and Anglican Use just a bit to ease the path of individuals into communion with the Bishop of Rome. Individual Anglo-Catholic priests will be able to convert and be considered for a sort of "fast track" ordination on a case-by-case basis, as is already the case in the U.S. today. Rome might even be willing to receive the lion's share of an English Anglican parish's membership into the RCC as a group and set up an Anglican Use parish, as has been done half a dozen or so times in the States in the last thirty years. (I understand, however, that many English Anglo-Catholics already use the Roman Novus Ordo liturgy rather than a BCP-based one and I doubt the C of E will surrender its buildings to Rome, so it is a bit difficult to see what the point of an entire new RC parish set up specifically to handle ex-Anglicans would be--other than to help those converts feel a bit more comfortable in the first generation by retaining their old priest for a time.) But it does not seem likely to me that Rome will create a new, separate body for ex-Anglicans with its own bishops and administration.
If I'm right, I know that my Anglo-Papalist friends will be much disappointed. But of course, I may be wrong. Surely nothing concrete will be done about such a hypothetical new ex-Anglican structure until after the C of E makes women bishops official with legislation next year. So time will tell.