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Anglicans fleeing women priests will have to jump through hoops.

OXFORD, England - Though ready to welcome into the Catholic fold all Anglicans distressed by the Nov. 11 synod vote in favor of the ordination of women, Cardinal Basil Hume, archbishop of Westminster, at an April 23 press conference appeared to draw back from his previous desire to make things "easy" for them (NCR, April 23).

Seated beneath a portrait of Pope John Paul II, who seemed to hover over his shoulder, Hume dashed the hopes of those who have been saying for months that up to a thousand Anglican priests would swim the Tiber "if the terms were right."

There were practically no "terms" on the offer that would enable Anglicans to move as a group. "The aim for those who seek to enter into full communion with the Catholic church," said the episcopally agreed unanimous statement, "must be their eventual total integration into the life of the Catholic community." These words had been carefully weighed, said Hume, closing the door gently.

"Total integration" means that they have to be absorbed to be united, and integration will come about only through "the experience of a shared life of faith in the Catholic community."

True, the word "eventual" offers a possible loophole, but a highly fragile and provisional one. "For those who may approach us as a group," the statement goes on, "we envisage the possibility of some temporary pastoral arrangements which will help them, after their reception, to become fully integrated into the local Catholic community."

They must come out, said Andrew Brown of The Independent, "having first thrown away their theological weapons and with their hands held high in surrender." That was hardly a caricature.

So the idea of a "Uniate Church" has been firmly ruled out, along with the notions of a "personal prelature" or an "Anglican rite" - all floated by Graham Leonard, former bishop of London and unofficial leader of the Anglican "dissidents."

Even the U.S. experiment of Episcopalian parishes' keeping up their Anglican traditions for a limited period seems to be discouraged. "Supposing," said Hume, "and there isn't much evidence for it yet, a group or a parish wanted to come over, there would be no global reception. Religion doesn't work like that." Those who want to join the Catholic church, individually or as part of a group, are required to "follow a process of reception which includes an appropriate catechesis leading to the rite of reception, namely, individual profession of faith, reception into full communion, reconciliation, confirmation and Eucharist."

Hume said very clearly that opposition to women's ordination was not a sufficient reason for coming over. "There is no question of becoming Catholics by accepting our teaching a la carte," said Hume. "You have to eat the whole menu or go to another restaurant."

In sterner language: "Those entering into full communion with the Catholic church are required to accept the teaching authority of the church, in matters of faith and morals, as exercised by the pope as the successor of Peter and by the College of Bishops in communion with him."

Perhaps the harshest thing Hume had to say concerned Anglican clergy who believe themselves to be validly ordained. Those among them who "seek ordination after their reception will undergo a process of discernment and selection determined by the local Catholic bishop."

Hume laid it emphatically on the line. The phrase "conditional ordination" is not acceptable. Neither is "reordination," still less the neologism of "complementary ordination." Those Anglican priest who are accepted will be ordained absolutely.

In other words, the 1896 bull Apostolicae Curae, which declared Anglican orders to be "absolutely null, and utterly void," is still in force.

However, that did not mean their ministry was a waste of time. Hume made much of Vatican II's Decree on Ecumenism, No. 3, which says that the sacred actions of our fellow Christians "most certainly can engender a life of grace ... and must be held to be capable of giving access to that communion in which is salvation."

Hume's distinction between ministry and ordination will not be much consolation to those Anglicans who have believed all along that they had a valid ordination issuing in equally valid sacraments.

Nor can it be assumed that they will be automatically ordained after a two-year delay. They still have to go through the process of selection and "discernment." Because their entire position depends on the view that they are true priests, while the women to be ordained will not be, this is a tough nut to swallow. A further limitation is that "Rome" has decreed, as Bishop Alan Clark, chairman of the ecumenical commission, told NCR, that there shall be no more than three married priests per diocese. That would give a total of about sixty married priests in all - well short of the 400 to 500 that have been talked about. But Clark thinks - or hopes - that this limitation will prove unworkable.

Clark is working hard to ensure that ecumenism gains rather than loses from this whole process. His task is made all the harder by prominent individuals denigrating the Church of England even as they leave it.

Anne Widdecombe became a Catholic on April 21 in the crypt chapel of the House of Commons. She claimed the right to use the chapel as a Conservative member of Parliament and a minister of social security. (The last significant Catholic activity in the crypt of the House of Commons was in 1605, when Guy Fawkes tried to blow the place up).

While denying that women's ordination was the sole motive for her move, Widdecombe declared that she sought "a church which puts faith before fashion, creed before compromise ... which takes the Christian message to the world, and not simply the world's message to Christianity."

Her fellow Conservative member of parliament, John Selwyn Gummer, minister of agriculture, has also been breathing incoherent fire and thunder but without so far taking action. "By asserting that the Church of England can alter doctrine and order unilaterally", Gummer claims, "it has relinquished its apostolic claim to the allegiance of the people of England."

It should be said firmly that Hume and his fellow bishops do not join in this rubbishing of the Church of England. "We take no pleasure at the prospect of a weakened Church of England," said Hume at his press conference. "It is important for the nation that the Church of England be strong."

Triumphalism has been avoided as far as possible, and a joint commission with the Church of England will, it is hoped, smooth the pastoral and legal difficulties that lie ahead.
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Title Annotation:male Church of England priestly conversions to Catholicism
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:May 7, 1993
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