Sunday Telegraph: ‘Pope’s offer was an ‘insensitive takeover bid’, say senior Anglicans’

23 01 2011

From the Telegraph website:

One bishop has claimed that the Vatican’s invitation has “embarrassed” Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, while a leading cleric compared it to a “corporate takeover bid”.

Another bishop admitted that relations between the two Churches had been damaged by the move.

It is the first time that prominent Anglicans have criticised the Pope’s offer since it was made in 2009 and reveals the anger that has been simmering ever since.

Their comments follow the ordination of three former Anglican bishops as Roman Catholic priests last Saturday and risk exacerbating tensions between the two Churches.

Catholic clergy were dismayed by a sermon given by Canon Giles Fraser, chancellor of St Paul’s cathedral, during a service last week to mark a week of prayer for Christian Unity.

Speaking at Westminster Cathedral, the spiritual home of the Catholic Church in England and Wales where the ex-bishops were ordained, he said the Pope’s offer for Anglicans to defect to Rome had a “slightly predatory feel”.

“In corporate terms, [it is] a little like a takeover bid in some broader power play of church politics,” he said.

“And if Anglicans do feel a little like this, I wonder if things really are all that rosy in the ecumenical garden.”

His comments were echoed by the Rt Rev Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford, who is the Church of England’s chair of the Council for Christian Unity.

“I think it was an insensitive act [the papal offer] as it came at a time when the Church of England was still in the decision-making process on the ordination of women and came with minimal consultation,” he said.

“It was awkward and embarrassing not just for Archbishop Rowan, but also for the English Catholic bishops.

“I don’t think they were enthusiastic about it and we realise that it has put them in a difficult position.”

Pope Benedict issued a historic decree in 2009, promising Anglicans they could convert to Catholicism under a structure called an Ordinariate that allows them to retain some elements of their heritage.

Only 50 clergy have so far indicated that they are likely to follow the three former bishops in crossing to Rome, but this number could grow if traditionalists feel unable to remain in the Church of England with the introduction of women bishops.

The Rt Rev John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, said he thought the impact of the Pope’s offer would have more of an impact on relations between the Churches than on the Church of England, which he predicted would only lose “a very small number” of clergy.

“I can’t judge the motives behind it [the offer], but the way it was done doesn’t sit easily with all of the talk about working towards better relations,” he said.

“Fence mending will need to be done to set conversations back on track.”

Relations could be strained further next month when the General Synod, the Church of England’s parliament, debates a report produced by the two Churches on the importance of Mary, who Catholics believe was free from “any stain of original sin”.

“This report is very divisive because it doesn’t represent what Anglicans believe about dogmas concerning Mary,” said one Synod member.

Bishop Hill admits that the tone of the debate is likely to be more “belligerent” than it would have been before the Ordinariate, adding: “It’s so sensitive because in the Church of England you can have a variety of views [towards Mary], but the Roman Catholic Church only has one understanding.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a senior aide to the Pope and former President of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity, attempted to ease tensions last week.

Speaking at a dinner with Dr Williams, he said that the ordination of the three former bishops was not a “day of victory”, but “a day of penance”.