The Vatican opens its arms to Anglicans – and tightens its grip
Excellent summary by Damian Thompson:
"The faces of many Church of England bishops have turned as purple as their cassocks," said one commentator. They knew nothing about this Apostolic Constitution in advance: the first official notification was a letter from Dr Williams published yesterday, in which he apologised for the short notice but explained that "I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage".The rest is here.
This anger is widely shared by Catholic bishops of England and Wales – and not just because they feel that the Anglicans have been insulted by the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI decided not to consult the English Catholic bishops about his dramatic offer. Indeed, the Vatican's own professional ecumenists in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity were also kept out of the picture until "a very late stage".
But it is precisely the exclusion of liberal Catholic bishops that has delighted traditionalist Anglicans. It helps explain why, yesterday, Forward in Faith, the umbrella group for conservative Anglo-Catholics, welcomed the Pope's decision effusively.
At a conservative estimate, about 1,000 of the Church of England's 12,000 serving priests have seriously contemplated conversion to Rome. (Many years ago, before he was ordained, Rowan Williams flirted with the idea himself.) When you ask them why they have not taken the plunge, the most common response is: "The English Catholic bishops are more wishy-washy and liberal than our lot."
If they become "Romans", they have reasoned, they will no longer be able to worship God with the solemnity He deserves. On the south coast of England, in particular, Catholic bishops treat their own traditionalists with snooty disdain, and an influx of ex-Anglicans with similar tastes is the last thing they want.
Which is why Pope Benedict has effectively cut his bishops out of the picture. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he made friends with High Church Anglicans; he is the first Pope in history to understand their concerns. He watched in dismay as liberal Catholics and liberal Anglicans engaged in ecumenical dialogue that led nowhere: the Church of England voted to ordain women priests in 1992, and now seems certain to ordain women bishops, too.