Meeting here on February 13, the Australian branch of Forward in Faith, which comprises many members of the international anglo-catholic grouping called the Traditional Anglican Communion, “received with gratitude” the Pope’s invitation to join Rome. They decided unanimously to establish a working group to enable the process to move forward.
The British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported on February 16 that the vote represents a world first for any Anglican group to accept the Pope’s offer.
The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has appointed Bishop Peter J. Elliott, auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, as a special delegate for the project to establish an order in Australia by which the Catholic Church can provide pastoral oversight for Anglicans who join it.
Under the terms of an announcement in October 2009, Pope Benedict invited disaffected Anglicans to convert to Catholicism. He offered them an “Ordianariate,” which allows them to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while maintaining distinctive elements of Anglican spirituality and ethos.
At its special Melbourne meeting, Forward in Faith pledged to work with Elliot by establishing an “Australian Ordianariate and foster by every means the establishing of an Ordianariate in Australia,” and to establish a process for the union to take place.”
Writing to the anglo-catholic community through the Australian Traditional Anglican Communion newsletter, Elliott said the Pope, “is reaching out to give you a special place within the Catholic Church — united in communion but not absorbed.”
“(As) Catholics in full communion with the Successor of St Peter, you will be gathered in distinctive communities that preserve elements of Anglican worship, spirituality, and culture that are compatible with Catholic faith and morals. Each Ordianariate will be an autonomous structure, like a diocese,” Elliott wrote.
Commenting on the vote in Melbourne, the head of Forward in Faith, the Rev. David Robarts, told the Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph, “We are not shifting the furniture, we are simply saying that we have been faithful Anglicans upholding what Anglicans have always believed, and we are not wanting to change anything but we have been marginalized by people who want to introduce innovations.” He added, “We need to have bishops that believe what we believe.”
Some of the central complaints of the disaffected group include the ordination of women as priests, and what they say is the Anglican Church’s acceptance of homosexual practice and marriage, and liberal theology.
At the time of the announcement of the Pope’s plan to allow disillusioned Anglicans back into the Catholic fold, the archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, called the departure (of Anglicans), “regrettable but … a matter of conscience.”
The Traditional Anglican Communion, established in 1991, is an international grouping of Anglicans independent of the Anglican Communion and the archbishop of Canterbury. It is believed to have about half a million members worldwide.