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About 500 Anglican priests might test Tiber's waters.

OXFORD, England -- "This could be a moment of grace," said Cardinal Basil Hume in an interview on his 70th birthday, March 2. "It could be the conversion of England for which we have played all these years."

He was referring to the Anglicans "distressed in conscience" by the Nov. 11 synod vote allowing women priests. The highest estimate is that up to 1,000 Anglican priests might want to "swim the Tiber."

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about the prospect. Younger Catholics feel the church is better off without a reactionary bunch of misogynists joining for the wrong reasons.

But Hume will not have that: "I am terrified we are going to turn round and say we do not want these newcomers. We have prayed for Christian unity, and now it could be happening: a realignment of Christianity to bring us closer together in two blocs, instead of a lot of blocs."

The issue is not just theoretical. Meeting in London April 19-23, the English and Welsh bishops have to decide how to deal with the dissident Anglicans.

The Vatican has so far not been involved. In an April 6 statement, its press office simply reported that "Cardinal Hume and other bishops in England have stressed that the Catholic church has responded positively in a spirit of pastoral concern to the request for discussions from certain groups of Anglicans; many of these Anglicans are deeply perplexed and are seeking to discern how they should respond to the changed situation in the Church of England."

That was a cool and accurate statement. But press reports turned it into the dramatic claim that the Vatican had "responded positively" to the Anglicans.

The English and Welsh bishops have to decide what proposals they will put to Rome. The first question is whether they are to move beyond individual treatment to a collective approach.

The Anglican dissidents say they are not opposed to the ordination of women as such. They would accept it if it came from Rome. It is just that they do not accept that an Anglican synod has the right to make this judgment. A provincial synod cannot decide for the universal church.

Hitherto, their theory was that the Church of England formed part of the universal church, sharing with it the first councils, the sacraments, the three-fold ministry of deacon, priest and bishop. The ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) discussions were conducted on this basis and went a long way toward formulating common positions on Eucharist, ministry and authority.

Ecumenist Roy Greenacre explained that, before, he was standing with one foot on two rafts that were getting closer. Now they are beginning to pull apart, and he has to jump. Anglicans would find it easier to choose Rome if they could retain their Anglican identity, worship and traditions. This is the "collective" solution they seek.

If there were two Catholic churches in England, the Roman and the Anglican version, said a London pastor, Father Oliver McTiernan, half may congregation would go off to the Anglicans where they would find married priests and freedom on birth control.

Is there an intermediate stage? There is talk -- mostly from Anglo-Catholic sources -- of some sort of Anglican "rite" with a transitional role along the lines of certain U.S. parishes.

There has also been talk -- no one seems to know where it originated -- of "supplementary ordination" for those Anglican priests who came over. The idea is that, unlike conditional or reordination, this would "fill out whatever was lacking" in their previous ministry and so be in continuity with it.

This sounds like an attempt to establish the validity of Anglican orders by the back door. Since 1996 will be the centenary of Apostolicae Curae, which declared them "absolutely null and utterly void," it is appropriate to look at the question again. But would the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith swallow "supplementary ordination"? It seems unlikely.

How many of the 11,000 Anglican clergy are involved? About 500 have so far applied for the approximately $47,000 layoff money. But not all will turn to Rome -- some will go to Orthodoxy, others, as one said, "somewhere over the rainbow."

Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford reports that 10 of his priests are thinking of going. He said he welcomes this because has has 69 women waiting to be ordained and nowhere to place them.

Hume seems to be ahead of the English Catholic bishops in wanting to make it "easy" -- as he said on TV -- for them to come over as a group. The qualification, "provided no matter of principle is surrendered," was largely overlooked.

Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool is inclined to trust Hume's "intuition." He is, after all, a monk and prays harder than the other bishops.

On the other hand, Clifford Longley, leading lay commentator, has suggested that Hume is increasingly losing his touch and that the time has come for him to hang up his miter.

The affair is seeing the emergence of Crispian Hollis, bishop of Portsmouth, son of the well-known Catholic writer Christopher Hollis, as the leading spokesman for the Catholic church. He is the tough cop to Hume's nice cop.

"The Catholic church is not a flag of convenience," he said on the radio during Holy Week. "It is not something you can change to just because it suits you. To make that change requires a profession of faith, and that includes accepting the wholeness and authority of the Catholic church."

"What is worrying many of my colleagues," explained Hollis, "is the question of the single-issue convert. There are far more serious issues to Catholicism than simply the question of women priests."

However, there are other factors that make this a propitious moment for some kind of realignment. The misfortunes of the monarchy in what Queen Elizabeth herself called the annus horriblis mean that it can no longer act as the glue keeping the Church of England together. That in turn raises the question of disestablishment.

Again, George Carey seems not up to the job of 102nd archbishop of Canterbury. He has talked airily of "heresy" in connection with those who do not accept the idea of women priests. He has intimated he would see the Anglo-Catholics go without any deep sense of loss. "What he wants," says Andrew Brown, religious affairs writer of The Independent, "is a streamlined, efficient Protestant organization."

Now the question is: Was John Henry Newman right after all? The Church of England fails as a via media, and Rome is their home. This view hints the Church of England is collapsing.

But there is another reading of these events. It says that the replacement of stuffy traditionalists by alert and lively women will transform the ministry and the image of the Church of England.
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Title Annotation:become Catholics; protesting women priests
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 23, 1993
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