Anglican leaders across the global communion welcomed the Catholic Church's historic decision to allow disaffected Anglicans into their fold.
"We rejoice that the Holy See has opened this doorway, which represents another step in the growing cooperation and relationship between our Churches," commented the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican).
The Vatican introduced on Tuesday a new church structure that will allow former Anglicans to enter "full communion" with the Catholic Church while preserving their Anglican traditions. Pope Benedict XVI has made the provision in response to the numerous requests he has received from Anglicans who are unhappy with the ordination of women and noncelibate gay bishops.
"Those Anglicans who have approached the Holy See have made clear their desire for full, visible unity in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. At the same time, they have told us of the importance of their Anglican traditions of spirituality and worship for their faith journey," noted Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican's chief doctrinal official, who announced the "Apostolic Constitution."
Several individual Anglicans as well as some groups of Anglicans have already entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. They were evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
According to Tuesday's announcement, the new church structure will be headed by former Anglican prelates who will provide spiritual care for Anglicans who want to convert to Catholicism. Former Anglican clergy who are married will be allowed for ordination as Catholic priests but they cannot become Catholic bishops.
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, said he does not perceive the Vatican's move as "a commentary on Anglican problems."
"In that sense it has no negative impact on the relations of the Communion as a whole to the Roman Catholic Church as a whole," Williams stated.
Many in the Anglican Communion have declared the global body impaired, particularly since the 2003 ordination of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Since then, a small but growing minority of parishes have severed ties with their national churches.
Anglican Bishop Martyn Minns, who leads parishes in the United States that have left The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – believes the Vatican's move "recognizes the reality of the divide within the Anglican Communion and affirms the decision to create a new North American province that embraces biblical truth."
Minns joined hundreds of like-minded Anglicans in Texas earlier this year to establish the Anglican Church in North America, which is considered a rival body to The Episcopal Church. They claim The Episcopal Church has departed from Christian orthodoxy and Anglican tradition. The ACNA has not received formal recognition from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
"Rome is reminding Anglicans that our historic, orthodox faith is more important than culture and more important than geography," Minns said in a statement Tuesday. He urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to follow suit and endorse the efforts of the ACNA and other orthodox groups forming within the global body, including the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in England.
Compared to traditionalists in England, those in the United States are not as likely to utilize the Vatican's provision because they have already established their own conservative spiritual homes. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, meanwhile, is not a separatist group but a spiritual fellowship consisting of concerned Anglicans who are still members in the Church of England.
While several key Anglican leaders have expressed their gratitude and appreciation for the new provision, the Rt. Rev. Donald Harvey, who is part of the orthodox ACNA, still has questions about the "full significance" of the move.
He posed, "Will people who accept this invitation have to subscribe to Roman Catholic dogmas to which the Anglican Formularies are diametrically opposed – such as 'Papal Infallibility,' the 'Immaculate Conception' and Transubstantiation?"
"Will Anglican priests – especially married ones – choosing to accept the Roman Catholic Church's invitation have equal status with existing Roman Catholic clergy and will their ministry be interchangeable and welcomed in Roman Catholic parishes?" he also asked.
Anglicans and Catholics have engaged in ecumenical dialogue for decades. The two traditions separated in the 16th century, but according to the Vatican, the question of reunification "has never been far from mind." Differences over church governance and theology remain points of dialogue.
Both the Vatican and the Archbishop of Canterbury affirmed that they remain fully committed to continuing ecumenical dialogue.