Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Bridge Across the Tiber

by Rev. Dwight Longenecker

There was a T-shirt on the market last year for converts to the Catholic faith. Emblazoned on the front were the words, "Member of the Tiber Swimmers Club." After today's amazing announcement from the Vatican, Anglicans no longer need to change into their swimming trunks. Trembling toes no longer need to be dipped in the chilly waters of the Roman river. Anglicans needn't take the plunge: Benedict has built a bridge.

The "personal ordinariate" is a structure whereby Anglicans will be able to come into full communion with the Holy See. Individuals, congregations, parishes, religious communities, whole dioceses and provinces will be able to maintain their Anglican traditions, use the Anglican Use Roman liturgy, see their married priests ordained to serve as Catholic priests, and even have their own "ordinary" (akin to their own bishop). Think of a mixture of the system used to minister to the military and the semi-autonomous structure that the Eastern Rite Catholics enjoy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury looked a bit like a deer in the headlights at the press conference in London today, where he admitted that he was not consulted about this step and was only informed about it two weeks ago. Nevertheless, he should have seen it coming: Not only has the Traditional Anglican Communion been publicly courting the Vatican, but two of his own traditionalist bishops were in a "secret" meeting with the Vatican last Easter.

The archbishop and the rest of the established Anglican Communion regarded the dissenters in their ranks as a rather troublesome sore that, in time, they hoped would go away. Even so, the mainstream Anglican response will be the lofty response usually given by those who are in established institutions to upstarts. With a casual wave of the hand they will imagine that the traditionalist Anglicans are just an eccentric rump. They will regard the Traditional Anglican Communion, Forward in Faith, and all the other traditionalist groups as "garage churches" -- little schismatic groups who trouble the great Anglican Communion as a fly might annoy an elephant.


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