The latest move from the Roman Catholic Church to extend an American experiment comes not a moment too soon. Two of our Church of England provincial bishops (the “flying bishops” of Ebbsfleet and Richborough) met Cardinal William Levada in Rome some months ago, and believed an offer would be made towards Anglican Catholics. The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, had said to me more than ten years ago that Rome would have to be generous to Anglicans who could not accept women bishops.
The offer to extend the Apostolic Constitution to England and elsewhere is very welcome. In America a similar constitution allows Episcopalian priests, some married men with families, to become Catholic priests. They have been given a prayer book, the Book of Divine Worship, that takes a great deal from the Book of Common Prayer but makes it entirely Catholic. Clearly Rome now sees the need to extend this provision to England.
The Holy See has come to realise that the Church of England is so divided that it must speak to separate groups within it. As Cardinal Levada says, these are Anglicans who have declared that “they share the common Catholic faith as it is expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and accept the Petrine ministry as something Christ willed for the Church”. For many Catholic Anglicans, that is exactly where we stand.
This week Forward in Faith, a traditionalist grouping of Anglicans, will meet — and the Vatican proposals are bound to be on the agenda. Should it become possible to respond positively to what Rome is offering, the way will be cleared for the majority in the C of E to have its way and consecrate women.
Those of us compelled by conscience to leave will expect generous provision, not just financial, but also in the way of the transfer of churches and vicarages. The Archbishop of Canterbury has often berated the American Church for its meanness towards those who have left over issues such as the consecration of gay men and the ordination of women.
He cannot let the C of E be any less charitable towards those it is forcing to leave. Had the Church of England Synod made generous arrangements, permitting separate dioceses for traditionalists, few of us would have left the Church of our baptism.
As it is, the intransigence of the synod has given us no choice; and the Roman Catholic Church has made it clear we shall be welcome.
Edwin Barnes, the former Bishop of Richborough.