It was announced this week that there will soon be a way for Anglicans who so desire to achieve full communion with the Catholic Church. They would be able to preserve many of their traditions and operate in "Personal Ordinariates". This is welcome news for many faithful Anglicans who have grown disillusioned with the denomination's acceptance of homosexual marriage, contraception, and the like. It is welcome news to Catholics who will be enriched by the reverence, zeal, and traditions of former Anglicans. This is one of the most significant events in the quest for Christian unity since the Reformation. It forces no one to leave, but gives a home to those who have long felt estranged. As a Catholic, I wish to joyfully welcome home those brothers and sisters of mine who will come into the Church.
It is estimated that 12 bishops and 1,000 priests will enter the Church. It is hard to guess just how many lay people will join them, but the number is sure to be significant. The Church already has many former Anglican priests who now serve as married Catholic priests. I have known some of these priests and they are simply amazing. If all of the priests that will join the Church are like them, we are in for an incredible period in the Church.
The press will focus on the question of what this will do about the Church's rules on priestly celibacy. Indeed, a sudden influx of married priests will be significant, but I don't think that celibacy is likely to go anytime soon; the Church has long recognized the great benefits of priestly celibacy. Anyway, to focus on that issue is really missing the point of a reunion longed for for a very long time.
As for the future of the Anglican Communion, that remains to be seen. I would think that there will be two camps- traditionalists who are wary of a reunion with Rome, and liberals such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. The extreme liberals among the Anglicans seem to be steering away from everything for which the Church of England once stood. In my view, they are building on pillars of sand, and they will not be vital for very long. The others, I believe, will eventually join the Church when they see a mass movement towards it, or continue in a significantly smaller Anglican Communion. That's just my view.
The great hope, of course, is that this will facilitate unity with other denominations. I believe that some degree of reunion with the Orthodox churches is possible within our lifetimes, and although there is still a wide gap between Catholics and Protestants in terms of belief, those gaps are much more narrow as we have come to understand each other more and work together in the cultural battles of our day.
Converting to the Catholic Church is often referred to as "crossing the Tiber." Thanks to Pope Benedict, there is no longer a need to swim, because as Fr. Dwight Longecker puts it, the Holy Father has "built a bridge".