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

The Issue of Priestly Celibacy

Ironically, Benedict’s attempt to woo conservative Anglo-Catholics into the Roman fold may in the long run end up liberalising Rome’s own approach to a doctrine it has doggedly maintained in the face of centuries of criticism: priestly celibacy.   For Anglican priests are usually married men.  And if they are permitted to come over into Rome and become Roman Catholic priests even though they remain married, then obviously celibate Roman Catholic priests are going to start wondering why they cannot marry as well: why, they will ask, must we take a vow of celibacy, and yet one can become an Anglican priest first, get married, and then convert to Rome and remain as a married Roman Catholic priest?  Why the double standard?

There are what are called “eastern rite” Catholics, and they have always been married men.  But now, for the first time, there will be a structure within what is called the Latin rite, or the western rite, which will allow married priests.

It raises the possibility of a Roman Catholic man, wanting to become a priest but not wanting to remain celibate, first becoming an Anglican, then becoming a married Anglican priest, and then rejoining the Roman Catholic “Church” within this new Anglican structure as a married Roman Catholic priest.  Vatican spokesman, Jesuit priest Federico Lombardi, dismissed the idea as a “trick”;[31] but in theory there is a very real possibility of men going this route in order to avoid the requirement of celibacy.

Austen Ivereigh, former advisor to Romish cardinal, Cormac Murphy O’Connor of Westminster, explained: “If you get used to the idea of your priests being married, then that changes the perception of the Catholic priesthood necessarily.”  He said, “We face the prospect in the future of going to a Catholic church in London and it being normal to find a married Catholic priest celebrating at the altar, with his wife sitting in the third pew and his children running up and down the aisle.”[32]

It certainly would not be the present Roman pope’s intention to liberalise the doctrine of celibacy; but when he is gone?  Will Rome, once it cracks the door open in this way, be able to forever prevent it from being pushed wide open?  And the question then is: would Rome in the long run be prepared to sacrifice its doctrine of priestly celibacy for what it would gain in doing so?  For priestly celibacy is a major reason why fewer and fewer men are entering the Roman Catholic priesthood.  And now, with the option of a married Anglican priest being permitted to become a Romish priest, it will make it even more difficult to justify the old doctrine.

There could, in fact, be very good reasons for eventually dropping the celibacy requirement, chief among them being that it would result in greater numbers of men entering the priesthood; lowering the number of sodomites who at present are a huge percentage of all priests (see my article, Homosexuality in the Roman Catholic Priesthood [33]); and hopefully (from Rome’s perspective) reducing the number of child sex abuse cases that have done such harm to Rome’s cause over the past few years.[34]

The Official Text, and Rome’s Concept of “Unity”

The official text of the document itself was finally published on the 9th November – many days after the Vatican announcement about it had been made.  It was entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus (“Groups of Anglicans”).  It begins like this:

“In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately.  The Apostolic See has responded favourably to such petitions.  Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches, could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization.”[35]

Note the wording carefully.  First, it says the Holy Spirit has been moving Anglicans to seek full union with Rome.  This immediately sends out the message that this Romeward movement is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that therefore for any Anglicans to say that it is merely the desire of various disgruntled Anglicans is to contradict the work of God Himself.  Second, it states that the pope of Rome is Peter’s successor and the legitimate, divinely-mandated Head of all Churches (see my article, Rome Still Claims to be the One True Church [36]).  This sends out the message that to resist submission to the pope of Rome is to resist Christ Himself.  A little later in the document this doctrine of Rome was restated, but it was added (quoting the Second Vatican Council) that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside her visible confines.  Since these are gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”