From the Thames to the Tiber: Rome Builds a Bridge for Anglicans to Cross Over

Without question this tactical Vatican move greatly undermines Rowans’ authority as the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury.  “He has been undermined.  He now faces the unenviable prospect of an increasing fragmentation of Anglicanism and a severely attenuated state of Anglican-Catholic relations.”[22]

Privately, many Anglicans attacked Williams for capitulating to the Vatican, with some even calling for his resignation.  It is true that he could not have done anything to prevent the Vatican going this route and making its announcement, but they were angry with him for his damage-control joint statement with the Romish archbishop of Westminster.[23]

Williams travelled to the Vatican in late November to meet with Benedict; but it was merely reported that the private audience, at which the recent events were discussed, included “cordial discussions” at which they reiterated the shared will to continue with the ecumenical relationship between Papists and Anglicans.[24] All very calm and collected, hiding the very real tension there must have been.

Benedict’s Plan

Plainly Benedict plans to employ a two-pronged offensive against the Anglican institution in the future: the first being the ecumenical movement, which will continue despite setbacks, the long-term objective being to eventually absorb the “Church of England” into the Roman Catholic institution; but the second being to immediately provide a door for disillusioned, traditionalist Anglicans (as opposed to liberal ones) to cross over to Rome without waiting for the ecumenical Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue to reach that point, which (because of all the setbacks) could be still far in the future.  In this way the Anglican institution will be weakened still further, by the defection of disillusioned priests and people, making it increasingly difficult for what is left of Anglicanism to hold out against the might of Rome, causing it to either be absorbed, or to fracture and disintegrate eventually; Rome’s grip on England itself will tighten; and thus short-term results will be achieved long before the ecumenical movement ever reaches its climax in bringing the rest of Anglicanism within the Roman fold.

The truth is that Benedict is not like his predecessor, John Paul II.  John Paul was an ecumenist, Benedict is far less of one.  For him, ecumenism is not the most important thing.  He wants to see Rome absorb all other religious institutions, just as John Paul did, but if he can do it without waiting for the ecumenical movement to take its course, then he will happily do so.  He has far less patience with the slow dialogue of ecumenism, which takes many years and in the end often achieves very little.  He wants “Christian unity” (i.e. Roman Catholic absorption of all other “churches”) but he wants it now.

In addition to desiring to absorb Anglicanism, Rome desires to control England; and this is a major step in that direction, given the prominence of the Anglican institution in the life of the nation and the serious consequences if it were to disintegrate or to be absorbed by Rome.  As Andrew Rabel, a Roman Catholic journalist in Australia, wrote after the Vatican document was published: “England has long been called Mary’s Dowry.  But a secularized nation and church have caused this gift to be taken from her. She wants it back, and this is the start.” (Emphasis added).[25] Rome has drooled over reclaiming England ever since the Reformation.  It (not Mary!) has always wanted it back.  Indeed, this move by Benedict is a major offensive against England itself in the long run, not just the Anglican institution.

Traditionalist Anglicans Look to Rome

Just how many Anglicans will take advantage of this new structure and formally move over into the “Church” of Rome?  It is difficult to say, although the potential for thousands to do so is certainly there.  Levada himself played the numbers down, stating that he believed the number of Anglican bishops who cross over might be in the 20s or 30s, and hundreds of Anglican “laypeople”.  When a journalist at the press conference asked him, “This is all rather vague.  What type of numbers are we talking about here?” he replied, “If we have been vague, then so be it.”[26] Clearly he was hedging.  Rome might, to placate worried Anglicans, publicly state that perhaps only a few hundred would actually join, but secretly it would be wishing for thousands, even tens of thousands.

The Anglican archbishop in charge of a group called the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), John Hepworth, received a special briefing before the press conference.  The TAC had formally requested to join Rome in 2007.  Its members would be attracted by the new structure Rome has created.  Hepworth welcomed the Vatican announcement, saying, “This is a moment of grace, perhaps even a moment of history, not because the past is undone but because the past is transformed.”[27]

Other traditionalist Anglican movements, such as Forward in Faith, would in all likelihood also be attracted by it.  It consists of sixteen member churches throughout the world, with about 400 000 members, many of them in Africa; and is opposed to the ordination of women and active homosexuals within the Anglican institution.[28] And its chairman, John Broadhurst, Anglican bishop of Fulham, called the announcement a “decisive moment” and predicted that, based on his own group’s membership, up to 1000 Anglican “clergy” could leave Anglicanism and join Rome.[29] The organisation a little later spoke of Rome’s “generosity” in opening a path for them to join it.  Broadhurst said, “This is a struggle for the truths of the Gospel.”[30] Well, no, actually, for neither Romanism nor Anglicanism hold to or proclaim the Gospel.  Forward in Faith may be opposed to female and sodomite ordination, but in other matters it is far from biblical.  The very fact that it welcomes Rome’s announcement shows that it is Anglo-Catholic in doctrine, not biblical.  Broadhurst noted the dismay of many Anglicans when the “Church of England” decided to ordain women, and he said that while Anglican bishops were deaf to these concerns, the “Bishop of Rome” had heard them.