A Bridge Across the Tiber

There was a T-shirt on the market last year for converts to the Catholic faith. Emblazoned on the front were the words, “Member of the Tiber Swimmers Club.” After today’s amazing announcement from the Vatican, Anglicans no longer need to change into their swimming trunks. Trembling toes no longer need to be dipped in the chilly waters of the Roman river. Anglicans needn’t take the plunge: Benedict has built a bridge.

The “personal ordinariate” is a structure whereby Anglicans will be able to come into full communion with the Holy See. Individuals, congregations, parishes, religious communities, whole dioceses and provinces will be able to maintain their Anglican traditions, use the Anglican Use Roman liturgy, see their married priests ordained to serve as Catholic priests, and even have their own “ordinary” (akin to their own bishop). Think of a mixture of the system used to minister to the military and the semi-autonomous structure that the Eastern Rite Catholics enjoy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury looked a bit like a deer in the headlights at the press conference in London today, where he admitted that he was not consulted about this step and was only informed about it two weeks ago. Nevertheless, he should have seen it coming: Not only has the Traditional Anglican Communion been publicly courting the Vatican, but two of his own traditionalist bishops were in a “secret” meeting with the Vatican last Easter.

The archbishop and the rest of the established Anglican Communion regarded the dissenters in their ranks as a rather troublesome sore that, in time, they hoped would go away. Even so, the mainstream Anglican response will be the lofty response usually given by those who are in established institutions to upstarts. With a casual wave of the hand they will imagine that the traditionalist Anglicans are just an eccentric rump. They will regard the Traditional Anglican Communion, Forward in Faith, and all the other traditionalist groups as “garage churches” — little schismatic groups who trouble the great Anglican Communion as a fly might annoy an elephant.

What will be the Anglican response to Benedict’s invitation? The Vatican has played the trump card for all the schismatic Anglican groups that call themselves “Catholic.” Rome has said, “If you really want to be “Catholic Anglicans,” come on in.” These schismatic traditionalist Anglican groups will now have to either use the new provision or stop pretending. As for the non-“Catholic” Anglican schismatic groups, they will simply go their own way, forming yet more Anglican churches and splinter groups.

For mainstream Anglicans, the right thing would be for the Anglican Communion worldwide to face this challenge squarely and put their own provisions in place for Anglo-Catholics to leave and take their buildings and resources with them. The Anglicans across the world should realize that their communion is shrinking and look at things from a practical point of view. They already have too many buildings and staff members to maintain. What would be the point of having a great Anglo-Catholic church if there is nobody there to fill the pews? In English cities, there are plenty of Anglican churches that could very easily be handed over. Corporations downsize all the time. Part of that process is stripping out and getting rid of the properties they no longer need.

The Anglicans should be realistic and set up the procedures for an Anglican-Use Roman Catholic parish in every town. That would solve their problem of the troublesome Anglo-Catholics and free them to then turn the Anglican Church into the Politically Correct Church of Christ. While this would be the sensible and Christian way forward, it is unlikely to happen. Instead, be prepared for more property battles as disaffected Anglicans attempt to leave and take their assets with them.

What are the wider implications of this move? First of all, the Holy Father has effectively closed down the Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical discussions. Of course they will still go on, but the discussions will be like those days of detente where Americans and Russians met, drank tea, shook hands for the cameras, made a bland statement, and went home. Instead of “searching for ways to overcome obstacles,” the pope has given a concrete way for the obstacles to be overcome.

Secondly, the personal ordinariate may provide a model for the reunion of other groups with Rome. It has always been Benedict’s view that the way forward ecumenically is to replicate the existing structures that the Eastern Rite churches enjoy, and that this can be done with new flexibility and creativity. Pundits are already wondering whether this same model might assist the Society of St. Pius X to come into full communion, and once the Eastern Orthodox see it working well, they too might find ways to reunite with the ancient See of Rome.

Finally, what are the implications for the Catholic Church herself at the beginning of the new millennium? Not only is this Apostolic Constitution a rebuff to the old style of ecumenical discussions, it is a rebuff to liberal Catholics. The pope is giving a very clear message to those who wish to follow the historic Christian faith: “Let us be united in the One Faith, One Church, One Baptism.” He is willing to take risks to welcome those who follow the historic Christian faith, although separated from full communion with Rome. On the other hand, he sees those who prefer the modern gospel of relativism, sexual license, and a denial of the historic Christian faith that have taken over the mainstream Protestant churches. He knows there are plenty of them in the Catholic Church, and to them Benedict is quietly saying, “There’s the door.”


Rev. Dwight Longenecker


Rev. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is The Romance of Religion published by Thomas Nelson. Check out his website and blog at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

  • Ted Seeber

    Three days ago Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote the following diatribe that quickly engulfed the pro-same-sex-marriage blogs:

    I wonder if this is the response from the Vatican?

  • Christine

    Hey Ted,

    I hope everything is going well for you. You are still in my prayers as I hope I am still in yours.

    I read the Sprong essay and WOW it seems so odd coming from a “man of the cloth”. I guess I am old school (aka Catholic).

    I was wondering if you knew anything about Anglican hierarchy? How high up is this guy in their heirarchy? I have no idea and, after reading the link, am very curious…

  • Ted Seeber

    John Shelby Spong is the Anglican equivalent of our own Archbishop Wakefield- in almost every respect, including homosexuality. He was the first American Anglican Bishop to come out of the closet with his gay lover, and he lead the discussions on ordination of homosexuals in the Anglican Church that led to the current schism. He’s retired now, but was Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, in the American Episcopal Conference.

  • John2

    I surmise that the Archbishop of Canterbury figured out that he has lost the point.

    After a period of reflection and prayer, he might find himself close to conversion. I hope you will use your prayers to speed him along his journey.

    I do not think the pope gave any direct response whatsoever to this unfortunate fellow.

  • Christine

    All I can say is thanks Ted, wow, and God bless the Anglicans.

  • Michael

    B16 has just acknowledged reality. The Anglican Communion has been drifting away from traditional Christianity. With the appointment of women bishops, the outlook for full reconciliation is naught.

    I don’t know how many will make use of the personal ordinariate, among Anglo-Catholics who have not already split with the Anglican Communion. If it is even 5% then the remaining communion will be dominated by modernizers. Within 10-15 years the remaining communion will have adopted all the policies (and more) of The Episcopal Church.

  • joan

    Great post!

  • Maclin Horton

    I’ve been aware since the ’80s of Spong’s position as someone rather far out even within Anglicanism, but had never heard that he was gay. It would make a certain sort of sense, but are you quite sure about it? I thought Eugene Robinson was the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

    But in any case: it seems questionable whether Spong should even be considered a Christian at all, as he has devoted many years to attacking, in a somewhat hysterical way, everything that bears much resemblance to the historical teachings. Dude’s got major issues, whatever they are.

  • Copernicus

    and once the Eastern Orthodox see it working well, they too might find ways to reunite with the ancient See of Rome.

    This is either a poor joke, or the author is genuinely ignorant of the hatred which the Orthodox churches bear towards the Catholic eastern-rite churches. The existence of the (contemptuously-named) ‘uniate’ churches is the most significant obstacle to improved Catholic-Orthodox relations. If anything, Pope Benedict has backed away from support for the eastern-rite Catholic churches – take the tiny Byzantine-Slavonic Rite Russian Catholic Church, which has more or less been suppressed by Rome since emerging from the catacombs in the 1990s, in the interests of the bigger prize, namely improved relations between Rome and Moscow.

    Pope Benedict’s gesture has nothing to do with ecumenism. It’s a statement of contempt for the Anglican Communion: in comparison with the Orthodox Churches, it matters so little that there’s no need for diplomacy or restraint in enticing its members away.

  • Kamilla

    I think the distinction is that Robinson was an openly partnered homosexual when he was “consecrated” bishop. I doubt if Spong was out when he was made bishop. In any case, the man is long retired and seems to need to create controversy to remind folks of his existence.

    He makes a fitting complement to his Christ-hating distaff, Carter Heyward ( a professor of Theology at EDS).


  • Deacon Ed

    to see my ancestral maternal Anglican Church of St. Peter’s in Martley (just to the west of Worcester) return to its Catholic heritage. This small country church amidst the hops fields of the West Midlands of 12th century origin is where my mother was baptized into the faith and where my grandparents and two sets of great-grandparents are buried. The whitewashed walls of the Reformation period have revealed a very early fresco of the Vigin. It is the church where twenty years ago about 25 of us cousins laid claim to this edifice of our faith – both protestant and Catholic – and held a ‘prayer service.’ Perhaps this heralded what was yet to come. Maybe some bishop would ordain me to the presbyterate to serve as pastor of a returning Catholic community.

  • Kevin O’Brien

    The prayers of Cardinal Newman, the intellectual giant of the 19th Century, who paid a heavy price to become the first modern convert from Catnerbury to Rome; the prayers of Cardinal Newman, whose spiritual legacy stretches from G. K. Chesterton to the lay apostolates of the internet age; the prayers of Cardinal Newman, whom Pope Benedict XVI will beatify in England next spring; the prayers of Cardinal Newman have been a factor here, as have those of Blessed Dominic Barberi, who prayed throughout his life, and still prays in Heaven, for the conversion of England and her people, whose true Faith was stolen from them nearly 500 years ago.

  • Stan Gwizdak

    I has been some time since I read something positive in the news. I rejoice and praise God. I know it will be resented by some for a variety of reasons. It is good to know that traditional and orthodox (meaning not the Orthodox Church but unorthodox in doctrine) believers have a place to go home after watching their communion devolve into disaster which is what happens when you compromise with the world and this current age rather than follow Tradition and Holy Scripture.

    As one Englishman said in the UK Telegraph, this was a “bold and generous move by Pope Benedict.”

  • Joe H

    He knows there are plenty of them in the Catholic Church, and to them Benedict is quietly saying, “There’s the door.”

    I hope it doesn’t hit them in the you-know-what on their way out…

  • pete

    I once saw a prophecy about England, which stated that the English were lost to the Church through Elizabeth and will be reunited to the Church through a second Elizabeth.

    Also, the English will be brought back into the Church through the Blessed Mother when they at last appeal to her for help.

  • Robertz

    I think the one thing keeping the Orthodox schism from ending is pride, more so from the Orthodox side than ours from what I can see. This seems to be very pervasive in their clergy, with some exceptions as seen from the good Archbishop in the linked article: http://tinyurl.com/yjl3pns

  • Douglas Coombs

    I don’t think Benedict is showing liberals the door. Rather, he is once again reaffirming what the Catholic Church teaches and hoping for conversion. It would be wonderful if some of these new Anglican Use parishes could reevangelize many of our liberal Roman rite brethren, who may be attracted to them due to their acceptance of married priests.


  • Donna

    I love Venerable Newman, I pray for his canonization every day, and my work is actually focused on him. However, he was not the first Anglican clergyman in the 1800’s to come home to Rome…

    There may have been others I don’t know about.

  • R.C.

    I’m all for that, naturally.

    But I don’t see how anything in this announcement constitutes “showing [presumably Catholic] liberals the door.”

    Did I miss something?

    In what way does allowing Anglicans a comfortable way to embrace their Anglican liturgical and pastoral heritage as non-dissenters within the Catholic Church, constitute a rebuke or even a nudge toward dissenters in the Church who aren’t connected with that heritage?

    Sorry. I thought I’d read the piece carefully; but that observation seemed to come out of the blue.

  • Elizabeth

    I grew up in England during the ’40’s and ’50’s and after every Mass we said a prayer “for our separated bretheren, that they may united with us in the one true fold” I think that this new development is an answer to those prayers. As far as I know that prayer was said in every Church after Mass on Sundays. I can’t remember if it was said after the weekday Masses, but it’s quite possible.

  • Pauli

    If the Anglican hierarchy doesn’t want to let the new Roman Catholic Anglicans take their property with them, I’ll bet a lot of inner cities have closed Catholic churches which can be given to them. Cleveland certainly does, Pittsburgh as well. It would probably be a matter of just moving down the street in many cases.

  • Bernadette

    I belonged to one of the first parishes who approached Rome and our priests were the ones who in my opinion made it possible for the Pastoral Provision and the first Anglican Use parishes.

    In the end the Cardinal denied our parishes to be part of the Anglican Use. If is funny how God worked and the door was closed to us.

    Our parish split three ways, some stayed as they loved the building and became Continuing Anglicans, our building was not owned by the diocese, but they sued us and lost. One group went Orthodox and the rest of us became Catholic. All of our priests became Catholic.

    From our experience I don’t know that any of the churches will be handed over and I don’t think that Rome would want a fight over property.

    I have read many negative responses, that Rome is stealing sheep, that these Anglicans are going to very unhappy submitting to the Pope etc. That they will be Papists, this from Anglicans. There might be some in TAC who aren’t really for this, but they can stay in the Continuing Anglican movement if they want.

    No one is forcing Anglicans to become Catholic, the Holy Father doesn’t need to be recruiting more into the flock as there are millions of Catholics. I feel sad that there is all this anger being shown from other Christians. We all must choose where we feel that God wants us to be and not judge others for their choices.

  • The Rev’d John Adams von dem Be

    “…and they shall hear My Voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”[smiley=cool]