Probably the most important virtue needed when it comes to ecumenism is patience. It has taken 2,000 years for us to get into this mess of divisions and schisms, so it might very well take that long to get out of it. Even when it appears that we’ve reached a breakthrough, it is good to remember that reunion never comes quickly or easily.
The recent news that “100 U.S. Anglican parishes petition to become Catholic” is a good case in point. As was reported widely (including on this blog), the American branch of the Traditional Anglican Communion supposedly requested formal entrance into the Catholic Church. On closer inspection, however, this is actually not what happened. According to a document (PDF) on their website, what actually happened was that the Anglican Church in America requested that the Catholic Church create an Anglican Ordinariate here in America. But that is not the same thing as them petitioning to become Catholic. As the document states:
2. Does this mean ACA parishes will be going immediately to Rome?
No. In fact, no one is “going to Rome.” Once a US ordinariate (the structure defined in the Apostolic Constitution) has been established, each of the ACA dioceses and its constituent parishes will decide whether or not they wish to join the ordinariate. Establishing the ordinariate (the “implementation” requested by the Bishops) is thus the next step in an ongoing process, with discernment at each step.
6. Will the parishes of the ACA decide individually regarding following the national church in the final arrangements between the TAC and Rome?
Yes, and providing continued pastoral care and oversight to parishes which need time to discern their course of action is a high priority for the ACA Bishops.
In other words, after the Ordinariate is set up here in America, each and every parish in the ACA will vote whether to actually join the Catholic Church. It might be that they all vote to enter the Church, but that has not yet happened.
Furthermore, we should also remember that these parishes – and all the members of these parishes – are going to be diverse in their history, their spirituality and their receptivity to the Catholic Church. They will also have varying levels of understanding and acceptance of Catholic teaching. For example, one of the ACA parishes here in Maryland, St. Stephen’s Traditional Episcopal Church, has the following statement on their website: “Everyone is welcome to St Stephen’s and to its altar rail” (emphasis added). This, of course, is contrary to the closed communion practice of the Catholic Church. So obviously if this parish is to be accepted into the Catholic Church it will have to understand and accept the teaching of the Church in this area.
None of what I say here should be taken as opposition to the reception of these churches into the Catholic Church. I am extremely excited about the members of the TAC coming into the Church, and I welcome them warmly. But it is important to be patient with the process and make sure that everyone who is received into the Church comes in with eyes wide open and hearts full of joy. In other words, it is vitally important that we pray in earnest for this process and all involved that this might be one small step that leads us to be one again, as Christ prayed we would be.