The Vatican's announcement this week that it will allow disgruntled Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church en masse has caused a stir among South Florida Episcopalians, members of the American wing of the worldwide Anglican communion. But it likely won't have much of an impact on the local church landscape because of existing denominational splits.
Aimed at conservative Anglicans opposed to their church's liberal stance on same-sex blessings and the ordination of woman priests and gay bishops, Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval Tuesday to a formal method to bring Anglicans into the Roman Catholic church while allowing them to keep some religious traditions, such as worship methods.
In the past, Anglicans who wanted to become Catholic needed to be approved on a case-by-case basis, but now the process can be done for individuals as well as entire congregations and dioceses. Anglican priests, who can be married, will be allowed to become Catholic priests. The Vatican has not released details of the process.
Already, one conservative Anglican diocese in Nigeria has said it is weighing the Vatican's offer. Another English group that opposes the ordination of women, Forward in Faith, has predicted the announcement could mean 1,000 less Anglican priests in the United Kingdom.
Yet South Florida's Episcopal bishop said he doesn't see the Vatican's decision putting a dent in his 38,000-member diocese.
"In a given year I can assure you that I receive more Roman Catholics into our communion than they would receive of ours," said the Rt. Rev. Leo Frade of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida, which covers an area from Jensen Beach to Key West and includes 8 churches.
"But the reality is that those who wanted to leave have left already."
Six years ago, when the Episcopal church approved the election of a gay bishop in New Hampshire, hundreds of South Florida Episcopalians broke away in protest, aligning themselves with the more conservative Anglican Mission in America. In other parts of the country, such as Texas and California, entire dioceses have broken away from the church.
The Anglican church was formed in the 16th century after it broke away from Rome, and relations between the two churches have been improving since the 1960s.
However, Alberto Cutie, the Miami priest who famously left the Catholic Church in May after publicly breaking his vow of celibacy, was critical of the Vatican.
"Why does the church accept married priests from other churches, but does not allow its own priests to be married? . . . Does not accepting gays and women in the clergy put you in communion with the Roman Catholic Church?" asked Cutie, who is now a lay minister at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Biscayne Park.
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