Belief in Brief: The Catholic and Anglican churches

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 | 11:07 a.m. CST

The Vatican announced in late October that it would make the process for joining the Roman Catholic Church easier for Anglicans who were uncomfortable with their church’s acceptance of female and gay bishops. This announcement bridges the gap between the two churches, which have been split since the English Reformation.

A brief history

The Church of England split from the Catholic Church under the reign of King Henry VIII. He wanted a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the Catholic Church wouldn’t grant it. Despite his legitimate reason for an annulment — Catherine had been married to Henry's brother before his death — Pope Clement would not agree to it.

Henry decided to break from the Catholic Church, making himself supreme head of the Church of England. His archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, granted his annulment.

The Church of England was formalized during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was a middle ground between Catholic and Protestant churches, a reformed Catholicism. Elizabeth and her followers wanted to restore the Catholic Church in England to its original state.

Doctrinal differences

Although King Henry’s original Church of England wasn’t formed on doctrinal differences, the different paths the churches have taken has created a few.

One of the differences is the leadership of the church. The Anglican Church has no central hierarchy. The archbishop is first among a group of equals. Every Anglican church is responsible for governing itself. The Catholic Church has a strict hierarchy, with the pope at the top. In the Catholic system, the pope is infallible in matters of doctrine.

Another issue the churches have split on is whether their clergy may marry. In the Anglican Church, priests are allowed to marry. In the Catholic Church, no member of the clergy is allowed to marry.

Communion in the two churches is also different. Anglicans believe it to be a symbolic act, whereas Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, where the substance of the Eucharist elements actually turns into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Recent controversy

Liberal Anglican churches have been considering allowing female and openly gay bishops in the clergy. This practice is upsetting to many conservative Anglicans, and as a response, the Catholic Church has opened its arms. It announced at the end of October that the Vatican would allow married priests from the Anglican Church to convert back to Catholicism. However, only unmarried priests and bishops would be allowed to become bishops in the Catholic Church.

This move could potentially bridge a gap between the two churches, which have been at odds since the split in 1534. It is possible that this move by the Catholic Church could make things worse for them and maybe open up a debate about the celibacy of all clergy. 


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David Irby December 15, 2009 | 6:14 p.m.

As a former Episcopalian who has been Catholic since 1964, I know that this article is incorrect on a number of points.

1. The Pope had already granted Henry VIII a dispensation from the usual rule which forbade a man from marrying the wife of his deceased brother. This was a human law, not a divine one, which was intended to avoid scandal (e.g., accusations that a man had murdered his brother to gain his wife) and was easily dispensed with because, before he died, Henry's brother hadn't even met Catherine of Aragon, whom he had married by proxy. But having already granted that dispensation, the Pope couldn't then annul a marriage which had been validly formed on the basis of that very same dispensation.

2. The Anglican claim that it is really a return to a form of Catholicism, which had existed previously, that is, one in which the Roman Pontiff had no jurisdiction in England, is patently absurd. Had that been the case, Henry VIII wouldn't have petitioned the Pope; for that previously mentioned dispensation and then for the annulment; which would have reversed the previous dispensation, in the first place.

And it was only after the Pope had refused that annulment, that Henry installed Thomas Cranmer, who had strong Protestant sympathies (and a wife as well!) as his Archbishop of Canterbury, who then granted the annulment against Catherine. And Cranmer granted Henry several other annulments, including one against Elizabeth's mother, Ann Boleyn.

3. The general rule of celibacy applies only to Catholic priests of the Western Rite. Priests of the Eastern Rite (churches with Masses similar to Eastern Orthodox churches, but which accept the supremacy of the Pope) are allowed to be married. And former Anglican clergy who convert are also granted dispensations from the general rule.

4. Actually there are several communion theologies in the Anglican Church, and many “Anglican Catholics” beliefs, are essentially the same as Catholic belief.

(Report Comment)
marvin saunders December 16, 2009 | 2:07 a.m.

The catholic church what a laugh.It is the most dishonest church in the world.All the members that still support the church are living a lie.You must be blind,cant read or just as sick as the leaders.They hide child molesters,miss use your money & still think they are holier than thou.If you think you get a free pass to heaven because you are a catholic ha think again.I would even bet God is wondering what are you people doing supporting a church of God with a past like they got.

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