Mgr Mark Langham: The difficult dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans

30 06 2011

Allessandro Speciale of La Stampa interviews Mgr Mark Langham at Vatican Insider:

It is two in the morning of October 19, 2009 when the telephone of Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity – the ‘minister’ for the Vatican’s dialogue with other Christian churches – begins to ring.  At the other end of the line is the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Primate of the Anglican Church of England and ‘first among equals’ in the disparate world of worldwide Anglicanism.

Williams seeks enlightenment on the Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus,” a Vatican document prepared in secret and surprisedly announced for the next day: it allows the Anglicans to pass to ‘Rome’ as a whole, as a community, and not with individual conversions.  They may keep their traditionsand identity by creating ‘Ordinariates’, a kind of diocese without a defined territory, which brings together the ex-Anglicans.

A year and a half after the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and a few months after the birth of the first Ordinariate in England, Vatican Insider reviewed the relations between Catholics and Anglicans with Monsignor Mark Langham, who follows the dossier at the Pontifical Council for Christian unity.

First of all, explains Monsignor Langham, “Ordinariates are not a task of this office, we take care of ecumenism. And, as the Vatican said, the road of ecumenism is different from that of conversion”. “But of course – he adds – the ecumenical message has changed a lot with Anglicanroum Coetibus”.

Vatican’s move, strongly supported by Pope Benedict XVI has left a deep mark in the Anglican world: “There is a problem of trust in us”, he says, for many, the Apostolic Constitution is “a form of colonization, of imperialism”, by Rome.

The Anglican Communion worldwide, has long been split between these churches – like the U.S. – which allows the ordination of openly gay men – and those whose position on homosexuality is much closer to the Catholic position.  In addition, some local churches, like the English led by Bishop Williams, are divided on the possibility of allowing women – for whom priestly ordination has been opened for decades – to become bishops.

When Vatican measures were announced, many of “those who left worked to find a way to stay in the Anglican Church “in spite of their dissent, the search for a solution had made much progress.”The ordinariate – Langham says – came as a bomb and ruined this design. It was difficult for them, a great sadness”.

The same Anglican dialogue will now pay the consequences: those Anglicans “for whom relations with Rome and the proximity to Rome is important, passed to the Catholic Church” and now “within Anglicanism there is this push for dialogue”.

“Before the Second Vatican Council – Langham says with a hint of irony – the only ecumenism was to tell the Anglicans to convert, and there are some who say that this is also the ‘New’ ecumenism. But the Pope made it clear that it (Anglicanorum Coetibus) is not a form of ecumenism, but a pastoral response to a very specific situation”.

Another obstacle, confesses the Vatican ecumenist, is the beatification of John Henry Newman converted from Anglicanism, celebrated by Pope Ratzinger during his trip to England last September: “It’s a little problematic.  For Anglicans it is not the best example of relations between the two Churches”.

For Monsignor Langham, in the light of these difficulties, it is important to continue the stable theological dialogue with the Anglicans started decades ago. The ARCIC – the name of the process – has just started its third phase: “It is a very important speech, alternative to that of the Ordinariate”.   In this field, after Anglicanorum Coetibus, “we took a step back, but in-depth” to “better understand what we have in common”.

Ordinariates, he adds, are still “very important”: the English already have about 100 priests and 1000 believers, and there is a demand for many more.  Many, says Langham, are waiting to see how the debate will be resolve within the English Anglican Church.  In the United States, the birth is expected later this year and about 200 clergy and 2000 lay are expected.

But even among Catholics there are “problems”, and it will probably be possible to solve them only with time. “There are many questions among Catholics – says Monsignor Langham -.  who are these priests? Are they Catholic or Anglican? Where do they live? “

And, of course, there is the issue of celibacy.  Many Anglican priests who entered the Ordinariate are married with children.  The Vatican official uses a personal example: “When I was ordained we were in nine: four have resigned from the priesthood to marry.  Seeing this, and seeing that there is a chance for others to marry and be Catholic priests, what will they think? It’s very difficult”.

Of course, he states, that of married priests in the Ordinariate is “an exception, an answer to a very specific situation, it is not a new way of being Catholic, but there are still many open questions. Maybe we should wait and see how things go. It will be interesting”.

For Monsignor Langham, the birth of Ordinariates has also stimulated new thinking about what it means to be truly ‘Anglican’, especially in England. There, unlike the U.S., most Anglicans who have passed to Rome are already very similar to the Roman Catholic for their theology, liturgy and sacraments.  “If after the first generation, they cannot marry – Langham asks – What will the Ordinariate consist in? We do not know. “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already said that the Ordinariate may “last or be a temporary way to enter the Catholic Church”.   “This, too, – he concludes – we do not know”.