Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Vatican gets Revenge on Henry VIII!!!

And once again, a woman is at the center of the controversy between the Pope and the Church of England!

Following representations from English Anglicans alarmed by the prospect of women bishops, the Catholic Church has offered them the ultimate remedy. In an extraordinary move and with no forewarning, Pope Benedict XVI has created a structure that will allow conservative male clergy and their congregations to remain Anglican in all but name under female-free Vatican protection.

The details of the new structure have not yet been announced, but presumably the erstwhile Anglicans will be allowed to continue using Anglican worship services in Anglican-style parishes while being officially members of the Catholic Church. Pretty sneaky, huh?

For some time, married Anglican priests have been accepted by Rome while retaining their wives, but only on a case-by-case basis. (Ahem, Cardinal Wolsey, anyone?) Apart from their married status, they have had to forgo the culture of Anglicanism and embrace the fullness of Catholic polity. The new structure seems to offer conservatives the best of both worlds from their perspective.

This is not by any means the first split in the Anglican Church, a church created as a separate entity by Henry VIII in 1534 when an earlier Pope refused to give him permission to divorce Katherine of Aragon. There have been numerous others, caused by disputes over the relationship between church and state. But this one, just like the original split, can be attributed to women.

King Henry wanted his divorce so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Centuries later women bishops are fast becoming a reality for the worldwide Anglican Church. Twenty years after the first woman bishop was consecrated in the US, and 65 years after the first woman priest was ordained by the Bishop of Hong Kong, there are now 24 women bishops around the world, including two in Australia: Kay Goldsworthy in Perth and Bishop Barbara Darling in Melbourne.

A vociferous minority protests that women are not acceptable as leaders in the Anglican Church. This is ironic, given that a woman - Queen Elizabeth II - has been Supreme Governor of the Church of England for the past 57 years, and her ancestor Elizabeth I - Anne Boleyn's daughter - was the monarch who entrenched a reformed Church of England.

Despite these female leaders, some argue that a few verses in the Bible deny women authority over men; these verses were used for centuries to prevent women from having an equal role in society, not just in the church. (Other verses, including the example of Jesus himself, support the full equality of women.)

Those bishops and clergy who petitioned Rome for this indulgence are no doubt mostly conservative clergy who have longed for the security of the Catholic Church for aesthetic, theological and psychological reasons. They want to belong to what they see as the ''true'' church, but either their married state or their sentimental attachment to cultural Anglicanism has held them back. Such longings well pre-date the emergence of women clergy in the Anglican Church.

From the Roman perspective, it is a means of demonstrating to its own restive nuns and lay women that there is no hope of female equality in the foreseeable future. It may, however, lead to some heart-searching for Catholics concerned about the impact that priestly celibacy continues to have on their Church. How can it be unacceptable for home-grown clergy to marry but OK for the imports from Anglicanism?

It will be interesting to see how many Anglican clergy and laity actually go over to Rome and how long they stay. The Anglican Church has a much more democratic polity than the Catholic Church. Anglican vicars and parishes have a significant degree of autonomy and Anglicans have decision-making powers through diocesan and national synods. They participate in the election of their bishops. They help decide how church finances will be spent. Will they adjust easily to the complete obedience required by Papal autocracy? Again.

It's 1533 all over again...

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