BY JAWEED KALEEM, jkaleem@MiamiHerald.com
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.''
Five 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.
``I've gotten about 10 e-mails from folks about this already,'' said the Rev. Carlos Miranda, rector of King of Glory Anglican Church in Miami Springs, where most members are former Episcopalians. ``It will be interesting to see what the actual stipulations are of the provision.''
The Rev. Pat O'Neill, director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Archdiocese of Miami, called the Vatican's announcement a ``forward step'' in relations between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, but said it is too early to tell what will happen in South Florida.
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.
``Pope Benedict XVI is saying a larger group of Anglican priests worldwide with their congregations or on their own are being welcomed to the Catholic community. There might be hundreds of Catholic priests each year who join the Anglican church -- or vice-versa,'' O'Neill said.
In a statement released Wednesday, Alberto Cutié, 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 Cutié, who is now a lay minister at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Biscayne Park.
Chris Fulton, who was raised Episcopalian, said the announcement gave him hope. He stopped regularly attending an Episcopal church years ago as he noticed the denomination ``veering away from tradition.''
Today, Fulton occasionally attends Mass at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Coral Gables, but since he hasn't formally become Catholic, he cannot receive communion and feels out of place on Sundays because he grew up with the slightly different Episcopal worship style. Under the Vatican's new provision, Episcopalian and Anglican churches will be able to preserve their worship style.
``Mostly I think, `I don't know where to go to church,' so we just don't go,'' said Fulton, a 46-year-old exporter who lives in Coconut Grove.
No South Florida churches have committed to joining the Roman Catholic church, but Fulton hopes to find a one that may switch. ``I'm excited,'' he said.