This morning's firecracker announcement by Rome of a new canonical instrument for receiving Anglican congregations en masse (see my earlier post here) has been welcomed by Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England -- the ones who most matter.
Forward in Faith, the main Anglo-Catholic grouping in the Church of England which gathers together opponents of women priests, is led by the Bishop of Fulham. He is delighted:
It has been the frequently expressed hope and fervent desire of Anglican Catholics to be enabled by some means to enter into full communion with the See of Peter whilst retaining in its integrity every aspect of their Anglican inheritance which is not at variance with the teaching of the Catholic Church.
We rejoice that the Holy Father intends now to set up structures within the Church which respond to this heartfelt longing. Forward in Faith has always been committed to seeking unity in truth and so warmly welcomes these initiatives as a decisive moment in the history of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England. Ut unum sint!
The two traditionalist Anglican bishops who last year not-so-discreetly went to see the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith about joining as a body also welcomed the announcement, which they said "many Anglicans in the Catholic tradition have prayed for and pursued". Bishops Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet and Keith Newton of Richborough, the "flying bishops" (with oversight of Church of England parishes opposed to women's ordination), called for a process of prayer and discernment which they acknowledged would lead to different decisions.
"Some Anglicans in the Catholic tradition understandably will want to stay within the Anglican Communion," they said in a statement. "Others will wish to make individual arrangements as their conscience directs." But it's clear what their decision will be. "A further group of Anglicans, we think, will begin to form a caravan, rather like the People of Israel crossing the desert in search of the Promised Land."
They say they will make an announcement on 22 February 2010, Feast of the Chair of Peter, "whether they wish to respond positively to and explore further the initiative of the Apostolic Constitution".
Interestingly, they give an explanation of why they went to Rome in 2008:
We were becoming increasingly concerned that the various agendas of the Anglican Communion were driving Anglicans and Roman Catholics further apart. It was our task, we thought, to take the opportunity of quietly discussing these matters in Rome. We were neither the first nor the last Anglicans to do this in recent years. Following the decision of General Synod of the Church of England in July 2008 to proceed with the ordination of women to the episcopate, we appealed to the Holy Father for help and have patiently awaited a reply. This Apostolic Constitution, addressed worldwide, feels to us to be a reply to concerns raised by others and by us and an attempt to allow all those who seek unity with the Holy See to be gathered in without loss of their distinctive patrimony.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the bishops of the Church of England and the primates of the Anglican Communion, Dr Rowan Williams makes clear that the announcement came out of the blue:
I am sorry that there has been no opportunity to alert you earlier to this; I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage, and we await the text of the Apostolic Constitution itself and its code of practice in the coming weeks.