Vatican invitation to Anglicans has worldwide implications for religion

Friday, October 30, 2009 | 8:55 a.m. CDT; updated 4:24 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 30, 2009

 Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies, Missouri School of Journalism: The Vatican, the other day, invited conservative Anglican priests and laity to join the Roman Catholic Church. In doing so, Pope Benedict XVI appeared to be taking advantage of a split that had developed in the Church of England with its 77 million members throughout the world over ordination of a handful of gays and women as bishops. The Vatican’s invitation to the Anglicans has focused more attention on the Roman Catholic Church, already under examination for the sexually deviant activities of several priests in the United States and elsewhere, failure to attack corruption among national leaders who worship as Catholics and failure to undertake programs to help oppressed women and the poor of the world. There is also a serious shortage of priests throughout the world, particularly here in the U.S., where membership in the church is shrinking rapidly. Does the pope's offer to Anglicans have any chance of healing a rift between two denominations that is now more than 500 years old?

Andrea Kirk Assaf, freelance journalist, Catholic News Service, Inside the Vatican, Rome, Italy: This is another bold move by Benedict, such as allowing the celebration again of the Latin Rite of Mass, the traditional mass. It is part of Benedict’s overall agenda, tidying up all the schisms and separations in the Church of Rome that occurred over the course of its history. At its origin, the division between Catholics and Anglicans had to do with politics not theology. The creation of the Church of England stemmed from Henry VIII’s rebellion against Rome because he lacked a male heir and wanted to divorce his first wife. Over the last five centuries it has become a bit more complicated than that, so Benedict’s move is truly historic.

Loory: Is it likely to be successful or are there going to be problems?

Heinz-Joachim Fischer, author, "Pope Benedict XVI: A Personal Portrait," Munich, Germany. Maybe, these Anglicans who are called conservative, are in fact progressive because they want to reform their church. In Germany, more attention is given to the division between the Catholic Church and the Protestants. The new president of the Protestant Church in Germany, the council of all the Evangelical Churches, is now a woman. Certainly, the pope will not be amused about this new election. The church is in decline in the Western World. The pope says that decline is unavoidable and therefore the right answer is to give a sharp profile to the Catholic Church. His critics say the contrary is true, to give new answers to new challenges. For example, women in the church.

Loory: Is the pope reaching out to progressives or conservatives in the Anglican denomination?

John Blevins, Rollins School of Public Health, writes for Religion Dispatches, Atlanta, Ga.: Looking from the American perspective, the general thought is that the pope is reaching out to conservatives. It seems that the pope is reaching out to disaffected Episcopalians and Anglicans who are not happy with decisions made in Europe and the U.S. If this is indeed a response to the debate roiling to the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglican Communion, then what will the context be in other parts of the world like Africa, Asia or other non-Western countries?

Loory: And, within dioceses in the Catholic Church around the world. How will Catholic priests react, who still have to be celibate, at a time when the pope says married Anglican priests can come into the Catholic Church?

Blevins: As those reactions play out in localized contexts, it will be interesting to watch in the coming months. Some surprising alliances might form that could be contrary to what the Vatican intended explicitly. Also, what will be the effects on the movement within the Anglican Communion of Episcopal congregations in the U.S. affiliating with dioceses in Africa?

Loory: Is there any impact of this latest announcement by the Vatican that can be felt in the Philippines?

Carlos Conde, freelance reporter, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Global Post, Manila, Philippines: The Anglican and Protestant churches, as well as the dioceses and Catholic churches here in the Philippines, have a quite good relationship. They look eye-to-eye on certain issues, and they are active in certain causes; so it is difficult right now to see what the impact would be. I imagine that any conservative section of the Catholic Church would probably reach out to the more conservative individuals in the Protestant churches.

Loory: What might this invitation by the Vatican accomplish in Africa?

Blevins: In the short-term, this will simply continue to stir the pot as the Anglican Communion is struggling to address differences of opinion, both theological and political, between the West and Africa. We tend to paint with an overly broad brush, to assume that in the Anglican Communion and on the African continent that there is a singular unanimous opinion that is against the American Episcopal Church’s decisions in the past number of years. But, the continent has a much broader variety of opinion and a real willingness to engage in the debate. In terms of Benedict’s overtures, there is cynicism about it.

Loory: Hans Küng, a priest and former associate of Ratzinger in Germany, wrote an article for The Guardian recently saying that this move is indicative of the Roman Catholic thirst for power that divides Christianity and is damaging to the Church.

Fischer: Küng and Ratzinger are representatives of two opposite models of church. Küng for the progressive, for the reform of the church; Ratzinger, without any doubt has the opinion that the Catholic Church has to be the same or she will not go on. Therefore, Küng must criticize this decision made by the Vatican. I think that Ratzinger wanted to give a homeland for those Anglican priests who felt disaffected after recent changes.

Loory: There are many other problems confronting the Catholic Church in the U.S. these days. The diocese in Wilmington, Del. last week declared bankruptcy because it can’t handle the claims of 88 people who claim that priests within the diocese had abused them. How can the image of the Church be restored?

Blevins: Those challenges will have short-term ramifications and longer-term processes for playing out across decades and longer. The Roman Catholic response to the various scandals in the U.S. have been less than ideal, and it has impacted the confidence that the faithful have in their church. In the short-term, large numbers of American Roman Catholics are uncertain about their own relationship to the Church, particularly the hierarchy. Hopefully in the longer-term, the ecclesial power structures and the practices and organizational structures of the church on the ground will have enough capacity to absorb some of that impact.

Loory: It seems that the Vatican has not been very active in trying to handle the problems in the U.S. Is that correct?

Assaf: Most things in the Vatican happen behind the scenes. Maybe they feel it is inappropriate, given the scandals that have occurred or the attention they have received. Also, the evil of pedophilia continues in the church and it is a continued source of embarrassment. Recently, a Canadian bishop was arrested at the airport in possession of child pornography. Sean O’Malley, the cardinal of Boston, has done a good job in turning hearts back to the church and reinstating faith in his diocese.

Loory: Pope Benedict XVI has also been criticized for failure to take into consideration health and poverty and oppression of women in Africa. Is the Vatican doing anything about that?

Assaf: The second synod on Africa just took place in the history of the church. The first happened in the 1980s under John Paul. All the bishops came to Rome, remember there were not African cardinals in the Church until the 1960s, so this is a new and fast moving development. Also, an African cardinal was appointed to the Vatican. Africa is definitely on the agenda. The African bishops held a press conference in which they thanked the U.N. agencies for doing good work in Africa; however, they were critical of the U.N.’s effort to promote abortion as a form of population control.

Loory: Religion is not easily talked about; but it is, nonetheless, a major factor in creating and solving tensions throughout the world.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Brian Jarvis, Sananda Sahoo, Melissa Ulbricht, and Megan Wiegand. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.

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