The Oct. 21 front-page story in The Bee recounted how the Vatican hopes to woo Anglicans into converting into Roman Catholics, with the double enticement of retaining our liturgy (the Book of Common Prayer) along with our married clergy.
I have a personal perspective on why this overture will be met with only limited success.
For several years I served as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church before becoming an Episcopalian. (Since 1789, Anglicans in the United States have called ourselves Episcopalians. Recently in the San Joaquin Valley, some disaffected Episcopalians have departed our church and now refer to themselves as Anglicans.)
When people ask me why I left the celibate priesthood, they want to hear a love story. Everyone understands the desire to marry and raise a family. I've seen their eyes glaze over when I speak of profound differences in how churches make decisions. Here's an example: Should women be priests, or not?
As a Catholic priest in the 1970s, I met several women who had the same call to ordained ministry that I had. Some even paid for their seminary education so they could be ready when the Vatican might change its mind and ordain qualified women. I did my little bit to encourage them and signed petitions to change the policy.
We were naïve. That's just not how the Catholic Church operates. I'm not trying to criticize my brothers and sisters in the church of my birth when I say that it's a very hierarchical institution. Simply put: If the pope opposes something, it's just not going to happen.
Meanwhile the Episcopalians were debating about women in the ministry, wrestling with biblical passages about women being quiet in church and submissive to their husbands. Episcopalians consider human reason as a gift from God, by which Christians can sort through the tensions between church authority and Bible verses. Thirty years ago, Episcopalians said "yes" to ordaining women.
I knew that a church in which lay people had equal voice with ordained people and that had retained so much that was healthy in the Catholic tradition was the church for me.
Ironically, at the same time I became an Episcopalian in 1980, the Roman Catholic church made an appeal to traditionalist Episcopal priests who were unhappy with women's ordination: They could convert and serve in Roman Catholic parishes while remaining married. A handful did so, but their celibate brother priests were more than a little perplexed with that earlier attempt of the Vatican to swell the ranks of priests.
So who will respond to the recent Vatican overture of an Anglican rite? It won't be most Episcopalians, who welcome women, gays and lesbians into all orders of ministry. And it won't be many of the "new" Anglicans, whose priests and people value their newly-found independence.
Perhaps this overture from the Vatican includes a desire to address the serious shortage of clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. A more direct solution presents itself: simply allow priests to marry. But that's for the Vatican to decide, and for that decision I still pray.
The Rev. Stickney is priest in charge at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Modesto.