Pope Benedict XVI has reached out to conservative Anglicans who oppose the ordination of gay clergy, women priests, and same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church: Join the Roman Catholic Church, he said.
However, in doing so, the pope may ironically liberalize the Catholic Church by inviting in Anglican priests who are married and allowing them to become Catholic priests.
“This at least raises the question of whether there should be a class within the Roman Catholic Church of married men who could be ordained,” University President Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J. said in an interview.
Von Arx also noted that while nothing in the Bible goes against a married clergy, changing the 1,000-year-old tradition of Catholic priesthood celibacy will not be easy.
It is still unknown as to how many Anglicans will make the shift to the Catholicism. The Vatican’s chief doctrinal officer, Cardinal William Levada, said at the press conference publicizing the new rite in October that only 20 to 30 Anglican Bishops have asked about becoming Catholic, according to The New York Times.
After the Second Vatican Council, which helped to modernize the Catholic Church, many Catholics hoped for more sweeping changes and for the Anglicans and Catholics to unify.
Instead, Catholicism reverted back to its traditional ways on some issues while Anglicans moved forward with their teachings of homosexuality and the recognition of women and homosexuals as priests.
This furthered the division between Catholics and Anglicans and also caused a new split between Anglican traditionalists who opposed the new changes in the Anglican Church and Anglicans liberals who welcomed them.
Rev. Mark Scalese, a Jesuit priest at the University, said that allowing married Anglican priests into the Catholic Church is certainly a step in the right direction that will establish a precedent for the Catholic Church.
“In a few years,” he said, “it won’t be difficult for people in the Catholic Church to imagine their own priests being married.”
Professor Paul Lakeland, a former member of the Jesuit Order and a professor of religious studies at Fairfield, agreed.
“I would not say that the Roman Catholic Church is behind the times, but they need to allow optional celibacy,” said Lakeland.
The new change by the Vatican only pertains to members the diocesan clergy, not to religious orders like the Jesuits since members take a sacred vow of celibacy upon ordination.
Lakeland said to expect few physical changes in the Anglican clergy that make the change.
“If enough Anglicans take up the Pope’s offer, in a few years, I’ll be able to choose to attend a Catholic mass in the Roman or Anglican rite,” he said.
Some students at Fairfield strongly supported the move and said marriage in the Catholic clergy would undoubtedly improve the diminishing priesthood.
“Allowing Catholic priests to marry would not only entice more men to enter the priesthood, but also prove that the Catholic Church can adopt and embrace today’s modern world,” said Weronika Pleban ‘11.
Other outcomes are less certain. If a large influx of conservative Anglicans decide to make the transfer to Catholicism for reasons concerning the ordination of women, homosexual priests, and same-sex marriage, the Catholic Church risks becoming more conservative and less likely to move towards the possibility of universal marriage of the Catholic clergy.
Christopher Morris ‘11 said the current, long-standing tradition of priests being celibate is integral to the identity of the Church.
“Priests and marriage are like water and oil, they just don’t mix,” he said. “It’s science.”