Was reunification between the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion ever a viable prospect?

There were people in both churches who sought corporate reunion between the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion (or a portion of it). That goal ceased to be viable when the Church of England began ordaining women as priests and, all the more so, bishops. However, was it ever a viable prospect? I suspect not:

  1. The Catholic Church would have had more bargaining power in negotiations between the two churches on account of its size, global reach, history, and more clearly defined doctrinal positions.

  2. Those within the Church of England who desired corporate reunion were only a small proportion of the whole. In the rest of the Anglican Communion, this group would have been negligible. Even among Anglo-Catholics, the mainstream only ever wanted to restore Catholic practices within Anglicanism. Those who regarded the Church of England as part of the Catholic Church (in the Roman Catholic sense) were always a minority.

  3. There were always differences on doctrine. It was never feasible to imagine that the Church of England, let alone the Anglican Communion, was going to accept a Catholic interpretation of the Eucharist (transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass), Marian doctrines (the Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity, the Assumption), or papal infallibility. Nor would Anglicans tolerate a ban on contraception after 1930.

  4. One must not forget that Anglicanism also includes an evangelical faction which finds more common ground with Presbyterians and Baptists than with Catholics.

  5. Anglicans would never have settled for anything less than a fully married clergy, including married bishops and permitting clergy to marry after ordination. Catholics would presumably have conceded allowing married men to become priests, but not allowing priests to marry, and certainly not married bishops.

  6. Anglican clergy would have to agree to be re-ordained by Catholic bishops according to Catholic liturgy. It is unlikely that they would accept this.

  7. Either the Church of England would be disestablished or the Catholic Church would become the established church in England. This would entail the monarch losing the titles of Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. Succession to the Crown would be amended either to remove a religious qualification or to impose a different one. This would require the agreement of both Houses of Parliament and the monarch. This would bring about the greatest constitutional crisis since the Glorious Revolution. Northern Irish Protestants would rather secede from the Union than accept a Catholic monarch. A Catholic monarch would be unable to swear the oath to “maintain and preserve” Presbyterianism in Scotland and would be unable to worship in the Church of Scotland.

  8. How would this work? Would the Anglican Communion become an autonomous particular church sui iuris, or would it become part of the Latin Church? If the latter, would overlapping church structures coexist or would there be a process of suppressing and amalgamating dioceses? E.g., the Anglican diocese of Canterbury currently lies within the Catholic archdiocese of Southwark.

Any thoughts would be appreciated!

3 Likes

We’ve already had a bunch of reunification between the Catholic Church and the Anglicans in the form of the Personal Ordinariates. They aren’t sui juris churches, they’re like a diocese. A number of Anglican communities have chosen to join with the Catholics in this way. If more want to join then I presume the door is open.

The married Anglican priests who want to convert to Catholic priests are allowed to stay married and bring their wives and kids. I presume the wife has to be on board with this arrangement. We also have married Lutheran priests who converted with their families and became married Catholic priests. This has been going on for decades. I remember reading about married Anglican priests who converted to Catholic priests way back in the 1970s.

Obviously the Anglican groups that want to join with the Church in this way tend to be the more conservative ones who, from what I’ve heard talking to some of the people in them, are joining in many cases because they don’t like the changes in the Anglican/ Episcopal churches regarding gays and women clergy.

From what I understand there are a whole bunch of different factions of Anglicans and Episcopals and they’re not operating in any sort of unified manner. I’m not looking for the Episcopal church in USA to become Catholic en masse any time soon.

3 Likes

(I’m a former Anglo-Catholic.)

I think it was a very remote possibility, and both parties were likely cognisant of this: there was minimal sustained negotiation that aimed to deliver practical results, and much of their inter-communal dialogue was very piecemeal and symbolic (reflection this, sharing that, etc.).

Part of the problem was that they delegated the task to committees who lacked plenary powers to make any sort of authoritative resolution, and that they set no clearly defined and achievable goals. Compare this, to say, the CDF’s authoritative 2001 study on the West Syriac rite that enabled mutual admission to the Eucharist between Chaldean Catholics and Syriac Christians of the Assyrian Church of the East. Likewise, Pope Francis and (Coptic Orthodox) Pope Tawadros II who - by the authority of their own offices - issued a surprise declaration in 2017 that recognised baptisms by both parties.

Another issue was related to the theological trajectories of Anglo-Catholicism post-WW2: there was increasing experimentation in and exploration of liberal and postmodern theologies, to the extent that contemporary Anglo-Catholicism is largely defined by their liberalness (“openness to exploration” as Michael Ramsey wrote). The effect of this was that the Anglican churchmanship most favourably disposed to reunion with the Holy See was also the same theological demographic that supported the ordination of women and a liberal understanding of sexuality. This, assuredly, was a recipe for disaster.

At this stage, any sort of union is - at best - a pleasant delusion from painting in an unventilated room.

5 Likes

On your points 1-6: fully agreed.

On point 7, for several decades now there have been signs of a cautious, step-by-step disestablishment. It’s clearly what the hierarchy is aiming for, and the government is going along with it. Largely out of courtesy to the Queen, the final step won’t come in the present reign, but that’s about as much as anyone could say on the question of the timing.

On point 8, a disestablished Church of England may or may not survive as an independent church. But we can safely say it’s not going to be absorbed into the Catholic Church. If there is to be a merger of any kind, it would be with other Protestant churches having a similar outlook, such as the Methodists, Wesleyans, Congregationalists, etc.

2 Likes

Way back in the 11th and 16th centuries, there was very minimal freedom for the average commoner to practice a religion other than what was practiced by the king and the ruling elite. When the Great Schism happened, almost everybody in their respective countries obliviously continued life as normal and their descendants grew up Orthodox or Catholic.

None of that is really possible in the 21st century and it seems extremely unlikely for a reunification to occur except gradually with each individual person. As far as just the Anglican Church in the UK goes, there are already more practicing Catholics than practicing Anglicans, so in a sense, the reunification has already happened and it seems that more gross numbers of Catholic isn’t far off in the future.

Peace.

5 Likes

Nevertheless, besides the doctrinal differences needing to be resolved, Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inherited from the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices. Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one another often make this situation worse. Consequently, the commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord’s disciples, inspired by love, by the power of the truth and by a sincere desire for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, are called to re-examine together their painful past and the hurt which that past regrettably continues to provoke even today. All together, they are invited by the ever fresh power of the Gospel to acknowledge with sincere and total objectivity the mistakes made and the contingent factors at work at the origins of their deplorable divisions. What is needed is a calm, clear-sighted and truthful vision of things, a vision enlivened by divine mercy and capable of freeing people’s minds and of inspiring in everyone a renewed willingness, precisely with a view to proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of every people and nation.
St. John Paul II. Ut Unum Sint 2

Ecumenism is not done because it has a chance of succeeding. It is done because it is wrong for us to be separated. From the Catholic side, the “elements of Salvation” that exist in other Churches belong in the Church, so it is a matter of being true to Christ that forces us to work out away to be united. (This has been most evident in the martyrs from different Churches; how can we properly acknowledge their witness?)

  1. Christ will lead us by being present with us. Size does not matter for the most part.
2 Likes
  1. Every Anglican believes the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. This belief in the oneness of the Church is understood in different ways, but cannot be lived without an understanding of those differences.

  2. Differences must be viewed from Christ’s position. Reunification will not come by repudiation, but by understanding what we share. The Eucharist is an excellent example since the Pope and the Abp of Canterbury have affirmed our agreement on the subject.

  3. Catholics also must realize they have a many schools of opinion within the shared faith we have with and under the Pope.

  4. The relation between marriage and ordination is a discipline and subject to what the Church chooses.

  5. Reconciliation would include recognition of both traditions. This includes agreement on ministry, which has been the major subject of official dialogue for many years. It is not clear what the result will be or if it will include reordination. (it is not likely)

  6. Rules and customs that regulate how the two Churches are separate will have to change when we are no longer divided. That is what “no longer divided” means.

  7. Again, these are things that need to be worked out in order to accomplish reunification. There will be much discussion that will depend on circumstances. The Ordinariates for example are directly under the Bishop of Rome, an unusual arrangement that had not really been considered before it happened.

Indeed, the whole issue may just go away if the Anglican/ Episcopal church simply goes extinct in the future.

…or a pipe dream from smoking whatever illicit substance you choose.

At this point in history: Anglicanism’s cruel fate is to be the gateway drug to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy for those who just can’t make the “big leap” from evangelical Protestantism. It was for me. :wink:

3 Likes

@Tis_Bearself Yes, you are quite right that Anglicanism has broken up into numerous rival factions. When I use the term “Anglican”, I mean the Anglican Communion, such as the Church of England and the Episcopal Church. The “Continuing Anglican movement” or “Anglican Continuum” is, for the time being, more of an American phenomenon than a British one.

The personal ordinariates that have been created since 2009 are quite interesting, because they have succeeded in bringing former Anglicans into communion with the Catholic Church while simultaneously defeating the original goal of corporate reunion. I suppose one could say that it was an acknowledgement that corporate reunion was dead in the water. The other interesting thing about the personal ordinariates (or at least the one in Great Britain) is that most of the people who have joined it never seemed to be particularly attached to the “distinctive Anglican patrimony” which it claims to preserve.

As for the issue of married clergy, I think it’s very much a cultural difference between the two churches. We have now had married clergy for almost 500 years, so it is now considered to be the norm. There is no way that the clergy would ever accept that they cannot marry after ordination or that married clergy cannot become bishops. Indeed, it has generally been thought in the Church of England that being married is virtually a prerequisite for becoming a bishop! Certainly the number of unmarried bishops has always been very small. In fact, I can think of one bishop who actually got married while serving as a diocesan bishop (he was a widower and was marrying for the second time). Furthermore, I cannot imagine the laity accepting celibacy as the norm for their clergy and as a requirement for bishops.

2 Likes

Corporate reunion wasn’t going to happen anyway for the reasons that Bithynian and others have posted in the thread.

As a Catholic, I honestly don’t care how Anglicans feel about married clergy. I am happy that the Church has made accommodations for those clergy who came from other faith traditions like Lutheranism and Anglicanism and truly want to join us. I have met some very wonderful married Catholic priests who came into the church from a Protestant faith. However, the idea of priests marrying after ordination is a non-starter, including in all the Eastern Catholic churches where a married clergy is the norm. So I don’t see any change being made ever to accommodate that, and if Anglicans don’t accept it, then they’ll have to discuss that with the Almighty when they meet him. It’s not my problem, it’s theirs.

1 Like

The vast majority of Anglicans (population-wise) are in Africa. There has been open talk of schism by them for years. Anglicanism in GB & North America is dying…slow-motion collapse.

2 Likes

The teaching magisterium would be the sticking point.
Anglican churches will never accept it, and the RCC won’t renounce it.

The Anglican Communion itself is unstable. I don’t think anyone knows what it will look like in 5 years. So the Communion isn’t in a position to merge with anyone.

People tend to overemphasize the power of numbers. There may be lots more conserative Africans than liberal Brits and Americans, but the question is where the money and power is.

2 Likes

I live in Australia, and the conservative and progressive dioceses are more-or-less in de facto schism. For example, the Diocese of Sydney (conservative evangelical) refuses to licence ministers unless they have trained at their own diocesan seminary. They have also established non-denominational parishes in liberal dioceses, and they have also initiated ‘hostile takeovers’ of financially unviable dioceses and then installed conservative Reformed clergy.

Alignment with Canterbury is essentially the litmus test for heterodoxy: the Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral (Sydney) harangued Rowan Williams (then ++Cantaur) for ‘theological prostitution’ to rapturous applause at Synod. Adding onto this is the Diocese of Sydney accounting for over half of Australia’s Anglicans and it is certainly the wealthiest: the Archbishop of Sydney de facto represents the Anglican Church of Australia at the national level, not the Primate of Australia. For example, the recent letter addressed to the Prime Minister regarding the COVID-19 vaccine included our Catholic Primate ++Fisher (Abp. of Sydney), the Greek Orthodox Primate ++Makarios (Abp. of Australia) and the Anglican Abp. of Sydney ++Davies: the Anglican Primate ++Smith (Abp. of Adelaide) wasn’t invited to contribute. There has actually been a concerted effort by progressive dioceses since the 1980s to prevent the Abp. of Sydney from being elected Primate.

A lot of these intra-provincial antagonisms and competitions are already occurring at the international level, and are indicative (to me at least) of de facto schism. For example, the Primates of Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria had already determined to boycott Lambeth 2020, and their provinces comprise some 50% of the global Anglican Communion. The African hierarchy generally discourages their ministers from attending most Oxbridge colleges (the traditional seat of liberal theology), and instead sends them to conservative Reformed seminaries such as Moore in Sydney and Regent in Vancouver.

All of this highlights one additional thing: the vast majority of Anglican dioceses in the Global South - where the growth is - are evangelical and Reformed in theology, not Anglo-Catholic. Reunion with the Holy See is non-existent on their theological agenda.

7 Likes

I venture to say that the only thing propping up “confessional” Anglicanism in GB & North America (and perhaps Australia…Bithynian?) are the rapidly aging (and rapidly retiring) Baby Boomers, thus leaving the task falling to the middle-aged Generation X (my generation) trying to hold it all together. I doubt they’ll succeed. Too many factions. The African churches have already set an exit course. At least in North America, Anglo-Catholicism is considered a “fringe” movement.

2 Likes

Oh yes, the decline in Australia is palpable. The last diocesan synod in Sydney revealed that, out of a city population of 5.3 million, only ~50,000 people attended services weekly. Ageing demographics, stagnant growth for over a decade, failure to attract younger members or even hold onto the children of congregants despite the enormous investment in evangelisation. And the Diocese of Sydney is actually much healthier than other Australian dioceses, most of which won’t be viable in another decade or two.

Whatever small remnant of Anglicanism that survives in Australia will probably be a generic evangelical megachurch that is indistinguishable from any other denomination. The Diocese of Sydney has already jettisoned the ‘Anglican’ label and most of its patrimony: many parishes have lay people (even unbaptized) presiding over the Eucharist, which can sometimes comprise Coke and pizza. This is all operating on the assumption that the Diocese isn’t swallowed up by Hillsong whose head megachurch (with unparalleled year-on-year growth) is in Sydney and has been poaching congregants for decades.

4 Likes

Yikes!

Just as bad as up here. I left Anglicanism for Catholicism back in '96 and never looked back…for good reason…lest i turn into a pillar of salt. It was showing major fissures back then. Here in the USA, the Episcopal Church has entered into full communion with the ELCA some years back…signalling the trajectory of mainstream Anglicanism in America: an amorphous blob of liberal/progressive post-confessional Protestantism that is more ironic than meaningful.

It will be their undoing.

4 Likes

@Bithynian I think I would agree with all the points you raise. I think the other issue that you raise implicitly is that proponents of corporate reunion were setting their sights on something unattainable. Given that the Catholic Church does not recognise the validity of our apostolic succession, holy orders, or sacraments (apart from baptism), the idea that the Anglican Communion could become part of the Catholic Church without root and branch reform was always unrealistic. I suppose, therefore, that documents such as Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ are the best that we can realistically hope for.

I think that you are also right to point to a parting of the ways within Anglo-Catholicism itself. The faction who sought (and perhaps still seek) corporate reunion would be the conservative Anglo-Catholics sometimes known as Anglo-Papalists. These are the Anglo-Catholics who celebrate Mass according to the Roman Rite, display portraits of the popes in the vestry, and distribute copies of papal encyclicals to their congregation. The conduct themselves as if they were Roman Catholics while remaining within the Church of England. Then you have, as you rightly say, the Anglo-Catholics who celebrate beautiful liturgies and hold high doctrines of the church, apostolic succession, episcopal polity, holy orders, and the sacraments, but also affirm the ordination of women, hold liberal positions on issues such as homosexuality, and read Don Cupitt and his predecessors in the South Bank school of theology.

@BartholomewB, I agree that the disestablishment of the Church of England is probably all but inevitable. I think it is not a matter of whether the Church will be disestablished, but when and how. Note that the scenario which I was considering in my post was the entirely hypothetical question of what would happen if the Church of England were to be restored in toto to communion with the Apostolic See.

2 Likes

What holds the Anglo Papalists inside the Anglican Communion? I could see maybe in the 1970s or 80s where the AC plausibly might have gone either way. Some might have felt that remaining inside helped assist a good outcome.

But now? Why aren’t they in ACNA or Continuum or ordinariate?

1 Like

What does disestablishment mean? Is there a current economic, political, or public relations benefit for being the official Church?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.