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.
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.
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.