We've looked a bit at some of the hyperbolic coverage of the major Vatican news this week. Previously, for instance, the Times (U.K.) ran headlines about Catholic tanks parked on Anglican lawns, then Vatican gambits and Papal poaching. But this story shows that there was quite a bit of movement on the Anglican side that led to the Catholic Church's new provision. And the headline is still pretty dramatic:
400,000 former Anglicans worldwide seek immediate unity with Rome
You wouldn't know from the story, however, that the Vatican had been working on how to receive the Traditional Anglican Communion, which has (not coincidentally) an estimated 400,000 people, for years and that what was announced this week were the early details for how that will happen.
Compare that coverage to religion reporter Peter Smith's analysis in the Louisville Courier-Journal headlined "Limits to Rome's Anglican plan." Smith argues that the new overture to Anglicans may have significant consequences on Roman Catholics but he doubts it will draw many Anglicans who weren't going to convert already. He thinks the liturgical distinctions between the two church bodies aren't that major. Here's the gist:
As for the Anglicans, there's no push for the majority of Anglicans in Africa and Asia to bolt for a more conservative church. They already have conservative national churches. Why should any conservative break away from a church where the moral conservatives represent the overwhelming mass of opinion, such as in Nigeria? Philip Jenkins, a scholar on Global South religion, told the Times.
For Anglicans in the United States and other liberal Western countries, well:
1. There aren't that many of them, of any ideology, except in England, and even there many of them are members in name only. As I noted earlier this week, Episcopal membership is down nationwide and in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Catholics outnumber Episcopalians and Anglicans in the United States by something like 20 to 1.
2. A minority of conservative Episcopalians has already broken off to form a rival denomination that claims to be the true Anglican representative in America. But as the network itself says, it believes most members won't accept Rome's overtures.
So, one would have to be: a) conservative enough to want to leave the Episcopal Church, b) unwilling to convert to standard Roman Catholicism, c) then willing to change one's mind because the pope would permit worship under Anglican-style liturgies and married priests.
He goes on to quote -- I know, I know -- the omnipresent Father Thomas Reese saying the move is much more significant for Catholic clergy. There's a discussion of whether Roman Catholic men will try to join the Anglican ordinariate, just so they can marry.
Anyway, the move is significant, it is bold, it is major. But journalists need to be asking some of the questions Smith looks at in his coverage.
It's true that there's very little push in the Global South. And even the major news about parishes and dioceses breaking away here in the States isn't about groups looking to go to Rome. So the move should be kept in perspective. Who exactly, other than those in the Traditional Anglican Communion, will be joining the Catholics? It's a question that deserves ongoing coverage.