Vatican move to ease access for Anglican converts is boldest since the Reformation

Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, left, from the Anglican church listens as Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols from the Roman Catholic Church speaks during a news conference in London, held in reaction to the announcement of a new church structure for Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church. (Christian Science Monitor photo)

Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, left, from the Anglican church listens as Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols from the Roman Catholic Church speaks during a news conference in London, held in reaction to the announcement of a new church structure for Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church. (Christian Science Monitor photo)

The Vatican on Tuesday opened the way for Anglicans to switch allegiance to the Catholic Church en masse. The move — aimed at conservatives opposed to the Anglican Communion’s more liberal stance on gay marriage and female clergy — may result in hundreds of thousands of churchgoers defecting to Rome. Age-old institutions rise and fall, but this is pretty monumental. Times Online reports that as many as 1,000 priests could quit the Church of England and thousands more may leave churches in America and Australia — even entire parishes and dioceses.

The move comes nearly 500 years after Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce led him to break with Rome and proclaim himself as the head of the newly formed Church of England in 1534. The framework is the Vatican’s most sweeping gesture toward any schismatic church since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century and the Thirty Years’ War that followed it in the 17th century. (CSM)

The juice here is that “individual Anglicans have long been free to convert to Catholicism, as former British prime minister Tony Blair did after leaving office in 2007. But the so-called Apostolic Constitution will enable entire Anglican communities to transfer their allegiance.”

The Guardian‘s Andrew Brown deems the Anglican’s lost battle nothing less than another garishly elegant Vatican funeral. Not to mention, one that the British church had little power over. This ripple is bound to be big.

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