A piece that illustrates some of the perils on the ground of Anglicans hoping for "The Roman Option"
The Roman Option
Commentary and proposal
by Mark Cameron
I recently read (almost at a sitting actually as I found it quite gripping) William Oddie's The Roman Option (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), the story of the entry of Anglo-Catholic dissidents into the Catholic Church in the UK, and to a lesser extent the US, after the decision of the Church of England to "ordain" women. I think there are many lessons in this book which are relevant to traditionalist Catholics, especially when it comes to tactics on how to carve out our own distinct but integral place in the Church.
The Anglo-Catholics were by and large perfectly orthodox, willing to accept all Catholic doctrine and to submit themselves to reordination. But they also wished to preserve some of their liturgical and historical traditions. Quoting Pope Paul VI's statement to Anglican Archbishop Michael Ramsey, they wished to be "united but not absorbed." They also wished to maintain their group and parish identities, not simply be absorbed into the anonymity of large (and liberal) suburban Catholic parishes. While traditionalists may argue with some of their liturgical preferences, and certainly with married priests, I think most of us would sympathize with their general goals.
The path they faced in trying to find a way to join the Church as distinct groups and to preserve their liturgical heritage is both discouraging and highly familiar to traditionalists. At first, they received a warm welcome from Cardinal Hume, and an even warmer welcome in Rome (where their biggest ally was, surprise, surprise, Cardinal Ratzinger). Their ideal goal was an Anglican rite personal prelature. But they quickly realized that this was a non-starter, so they started negotiating for a lesser aim: a canonical structure that would allow them to be catechized and join the Church together, and to continue to worship together after they had joined. (I will come back to the details of this later) Rome was keen for this, and Hume was initially willing. But the English Catholic bishops, egged on by liberals and feminists in the Church who did not want to see 1,000 priests and 50,000 laity loyal to Rome and against women priests enter the Church, balked. What the English Bishops eventually produced was a very watered down statement saying that parishes or groups could join together, but once received they would be absorbed into the mainstream church. The hope of staying together as parishes or keeping elements of Anglican liturgy was more or less crushed. It was join Father Flippant at St. Teilhard de Chardin's for the Novus Ordo, or nothing.
Some U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Law, were more keen and were promoting a wider explansion of the "pastoral provision", by which a few Anglican parishes, mostly in Texas, had already been received into the Church. Rome tried to push for a more generous settlement in both the US and the UK, but it came to nothing. Some of the individual stories are shocking. One key player in the negotiations was Episcopalian Bishop Clarence Pope of Fort Worth, Texas. He tried to negotiate for a personal prelature, or some form of nationwide, expanded patoral provision, with the help of Cardinal Law. They had a meeting in Rome with key Cardinals, which concluded with a dramatic meeting where Pope John Paul II embraced Bishop Pope and gestured towards him saying, "in communion." But when they went back home, nothing happened. Finally, the ailing Bishop Pope announced his retirement as Anglican bishop, and that he couldn't wait any longer and wished to come into the Church as an individual. On retirement, he moved to the diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The bishop of Baton Rouge had said that he would happily reordain Bishop Pope as a priest. But having said this, the bishop then said that he would first... (wait for this) put it to a vote of the diocesan priests council. Guess what? They voted against allowing an Anglican bishop, involved in direct negotiations with the Pope and Cardinals Law and Ratzinger, to become an ordinary priest. Pope was completely isolated from the Catholic community in Baton Rouge, and was left in the dark as to what was happening atthe national and international level (after all, he was just a retired layman now). Old and sick, he started getting calls from the Episcopalian primate and the new Episcopal Bishop of Fort Worth to return to the Episcopal Church to the dignity of being a retired bishop. He did, thanks to the petty jealousies and heartlessness of a small bishop and his liberal priests.
In the end, thanks to a myriad of stumbling blocks on the Catholic side, and a more creative response on the Anglican side by giving the dissident parishes four bishops of their own and allowing them to opt out of the regular Church of England structure, the negotiations with Rome and Westminster came to nothing. Many individual priests and laity came over, but the prospect of a mass conversion of whole parishes flopped.
The similarities to the position of Roman rite traditionalists to the Anglo-Catholics discussed in Oddie's book were striking. How many times have we had friendly words or documents from Rome, only to be shot down by bishops? How many times have we heard initially positive responses from bishops, only to be shot down by a vote of the priests council? How many times have we had to endure insults that we are not really loyal to the Church because we want our own distinct liturgy? It also makes me think that if Rome is too powerless to bring over an Anglican bishop who the Pope has said he is "in communion" with because of the Baton Rouge priests council, or unwilling to help bring over 200+ whole Anglican parishes, how much power will they have or energy will they spend to help us? We may have to come to the same sad lesson that most of the Anglo-Catholic dissidents still in the Church of England came to: the bishops and priests don't want us, and Rome is unwilling or unable to help us. Therefore, we have to help ourselves. The dissident Anglicans, with their own four bishops, are united through the Forward in Faith movement in the U.K. (and now in the U.S.as well) This will give them a powerful structure to negotiate with Rome as a bloc. Next time, it will take more than kind words from Cardinals: they will want it in writing.