23 October 2007

A few thoughts about the TAC petition...

"The College of Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) met in Plenary Session in Portsmouth, England, in the first week of October 2007. The Bishops and Vicars-General unanimously agreed to the text of a letter to the See of Rome seeking full, corporate, sacramental union. The letter was signed solemnly by all the College and entrusted to the Primate and two bishops chosen by the College to be presented to the Holy See. The letter was cordially received at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primate of the TAC has agreed that no member of the College will give interviews until the Holy See has considered the letter and responded."

The Traditional Anglican Communion is a rather large (some 400,000 persons world-wide) “communion of churches,” all under a Primate, Archbishop John Hepworth. TAC sees itself as carrying on the conversations inaugurated by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey, and His Holiness, Pope Paul VI – conversations which resulted in the Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). TAC is not in communion with Canterbury, but is comprised of “continuing Anglicans,” that is, those who have left the official provinces of the Anglican Communion and formed their own dioceses under their own hierarchy.

This most recent and formal approach to the Holy See is wonderful news, and those of us who are Catholics of the Anglican Use are especially supportive of the initiative. To have an influx of some hundreds of thousands of people from an Anglican background would be not only a great blessing to those who enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, but it would strengthen the presently small numbers in the Anglican Use and would greatly bolster the evangelistic and liturgical apostolate given to us by our Holy Mother the Church.

No one but the TAC bishops and certain members of the Curia of the Holy See knows what is in the letter. No one knows how long it will take for a response to come from Rome. There are, no doubt, many items for discussion and many issues to settle.

Certain obvious problems need to be solved, not least of which is the fact that the TAC Primate is a former Catholic priest who left the Church and subsequently married. In fact, more than one TAC bishop has been divorced and remarried. They have all given assurance that they are willing to step aside if that presents an insurmountable problem (how could they think it wouldn’t?). Sad to say, this will be a problem to be solved also for several of their clergy and laity.

Also, one of the bedrock and guiding principles of TAC is that it seeks to be "an Anglican Church in communion with the Holy See.” What does that mean? Remembering my own understanding of that phrase when I was an Anglican, at that time we visualized reunion as the coming together of two equals which had been separated by the unfortunate circumstances of history. But the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when referring to those Christian communities coming out of the Protestant reformation in its recent “Responsa ad quaestiones,” states clearly, “According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense." I have no idea how this principle of being "an Anglican Church in communion with the Holy See” was phrased in their letter, but it would be interesting to have some insight into the TAC understanding of it.

I’m curious to know what the “average person in the pew” in TAC thinks of this. I’ve read on more than one blog various comments from TAC laity who maintain that they would not actually be Roman Catholics, but would be “in communion” with Rome. If that sentiment is in any sense widespread, it would indicate some problems with the proposal. But nonetheless, I’m very excited about this development, and I am praying daily that it bears good fruit. I’m eager to hear the response from the Holy See, and I hope this request is such that it can be granted.