Timesonline Christopher Morgan
THE POPE, who is this week meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury, is drawing up plans to welcome disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI is keen to reach out to conservative Anglicans who have been antagonised by their church’s stance on women priests and homosexuality. Senior Vatican figures are understood to have drawn up a dossier on the most effective means of attracting disenchanted Anglicans.
The recruitment drive is a potential embarrassment for Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is travelling to Italy for his meeting with the Pope.
It is understood that Fr Joseph Augustine di Noia, undersecretary of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the most powerful of the Vatican’s departments, has led a team analysing the current schism in the Anglican world.
The ordination of the openly gay priest Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 caused outrage among some Anglicans. It threatened to cause a split in the church, which has 70m members worldwide.
In America, some of the 2.5m Anglicans have already left the church and become Catholics. In some cases, entire parishes have “defected”, but they have been allowed to continue with some of their Anglican traditions and prayers.
John Myers, the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, who has been involved in supporting former Anglicans who have converted to Catholicism, has been helping di Noia with his recruitment dossier. He travelled to Rome last month to suggest ways of appealing to Anglicans.
The Pope’s enthusiasm for bringing traditional Anglicans into the fold was expressed powerfully three years ago when as Cardinal Ratzinger he sent greetings to a group of conservative churchmen meeting in Texas in protest at the election of Robinson.
Williams was involved in a controversy last week when it was reported that he had suggested the church might reconsider the issue of women priests. He insisted he had been misquoted.
While the Pope is keen to welcome any conservative Anglicans, he is also keen to forge good relations with Williams. “The Vatican will do nothing to undermine Williams at such a precarious moment in Anglican history,” one source said.
Despite the friendly overtures, the Pope believes the Anglican Church faces a difficult future.
Graham Leonard, the former Bishop of London and now a Roman Catholic monsignor, said: “The Pope’s view is that theologically Anglicanism has no guts in it.”