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Traditional Anglican Communion Primate Seeks Union with Rome

Traditional Anglican Communion Primate Seeks Union with Rome
Correspondence Revealed Between Rome and TAC

An Exclusive Interview with the Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion the Most. Rev. John Hepworth

By David W. Virtue

Virtueonline met with Archbishop John Hepworth near Philadelphia recently. He is on a world trip visiting his constituency. He agreed to be interviewed.

VOL: With negotiations as delicate as they are between the TAC and Rome, why are you prepared to talk to VirtueOnline at this time?

HEPWORTH: There is much inaccurate information about the TAC. I would like to state our position as clearly as I know how to the Anglican and Roman Catholic world. I also want to clear up some misconceptions and misperceptions about the TAC. I chose VOL because I wanted the widest possible circulation. This interview has been cleared with Rome.

VOL: Readers of VirtueOnline are aware that the TAC has petitioned Rome for full sacramental and organic union. As a priest and bishop operating outside the Roman communion, can you describe the process of discernment that led you personally to the conclusion that union with the See of St. Peter was necessary?

HEPWORTH: Yes. The process began with ARCIC and the derailment of ARCIC over the ordination of women even back in the time of Pope Paul VI. He warned the Archbishop of Canterbury that it was a great obstruction to unity. The catholic part of the Anglican Communion had invested much time and optimism in a process towards organic unity. The Continuing Anglican movement - the Affirmation of St. Louis - determined positively to continue that process even though the Anglican Communion refused to continue it. The Affirmation was agreed to affirm the catholic truths about the sacraments and other basic catholic doctrines.

VOL: Can you describe the process of discernment through which the TAC as a body was led to the same conclusion?

HEPWORTH: The TAC, 20 years ago at its formation, determined the pathway of St. Louis and determined in the first place that for the catholic ecclesiastical movement in the West to continue down the patriotic and biblical pathway was to discern truth in communion with the See of Peter. We have pursued communion with Rome as the source of unity in the church way and the biblical way as truth is affirmed.

VOL: What do you see as the possible responses from Rome to your petition, and how would the TAC respond to each one?

HEPWORTH: Our letter (see below) in fact was both as Rome and we have understood it. It is a petition for full communion especially Eucharistic communion in Christ with the See of Rome. In fact, the letter reminds the Holy See of the advice we were given 18 years ago with the counsels of Christian unity and it makes a series of statements about the faith of our bishops in whose teaching authority resides and asks the Holy See in the light of that what our course should be now. We are awaiting what their advice should be. I see a number of stages including a period of discernment which we are happy to accept.

VOL: Contacts in the Roman Catholic Church have suggested that for your move towards Rome to succeed, strong ties at local levels between TAC bishops and Roman Catholic bishops need to be forged. Do you have a program in place to do this?

HEPWORTH: Yes. The program necessarily differs from place to place. There are places where we exist on equal terms, that is where Romans and Anglicans are equal. In other places where there is virtually no Roman Catholic presence such as Torrres Strait and parts of Africa where mission territories were divided. The program is essentially where the bishops develop strong personal friendships and that is happening. The parishes develop joint programs with local Catholic parishes and that is happening. Thirdly, the acceptance of our ordination candidates to study in Catholic institutions and, most daringly, the forming of joint TAC Roman Catholic religious orders, one of which has preliminary acceptance by the Vatican.

VOL: Contacts in the Roman Catholic Church have suggested that the statements issued by you in acceptance of Roman Catholic dogma are weak on the primacy and infallibility of the Pope. How would you respond?

HEPWORTH: In the paragraph, "we accept the ministry of the Bishop of Rome" and the quote from Vatican II and from John Paul II's encyclical to the separated churches is sufficient indication that we are accepting contemporary statements of Catholic Doctrine and he explicitly made that statement ex cathedra.

Secondly we signed the catechism of the Catholic Church which includes contemporary Catholic teaching on the papacy and we state in the letter we signed that we accepted this as the most perfect statement of Catholic faith in the world at the present time and that it is the faith we "aspire to hold and teach."

VOL: It has been reported that at the gathering of all TAC bishops in England last October at which the TAC formally petitioned Rome for union, that all the bishops signed a copy of the Roman Catholic Catechism on the altar as an expression of their complete acceptance of Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine. Others have reported that this was not the case, that they signed the petition to Rome but not the Catechism. Did the bishops all sign the Catechism, and is there complete acceptance by the TAC of Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine?

HEPWORTH: First. We not only signed the catechism, we also signed the compendium which is the Q & A section of the catechism on the altar and a video of the signing was made for the Holy See and we state in the letter that it is the faith we aspire to hold and teach. We all signed it on that altar in the middle of a mass for Christian unity.

VOL: To what extent is the TAC reaching out to other "continuing churches" to try to achieve unity among the largest possible number of continuing Anglicans prior to union with Rome?

HEPWORTH: We have made public the fact of our engagement with Rome and our desire for unity for just on 18 years since our first official visit to the Vatican. This fact has been more a matter of contest among the other continuing churches than of a growing together. We stated in our last meeting in the Vatican that we wish to place no lines in the sand. We sought their advice on what we need to do to achieve unity rather than setting out an agenda for doctrinal debate. My own belief is that this separates us at the moment from other continuing churches. Our decision has been to pursue unity with Rome in the first instance and to gather those Anglican groups inside and outside the process as it continues.

VOL: To what extent has the TAC found support among local Roman Catholic bishops and to what extent has the TAC found itself rebuffed or put off by Roman Catholic bishops? Can you cite examples?

HEPWORTH: Initially, we found less enthusiasm than we would have expected and the question frequently asked is, why don't we do this as individuals? We have patiently explained the failure of recent large scale individual movements to Rome such as in England and Australia in the 1990's when many priests went to Rome and then returned to Anglicanism. They were disillusioned at the local level. We believe in a corporate engagement with mutual support that would be the most successful pathway forward. Increasingly, we have found significant support from Roman Catholic bishops. For instance, the president of the Australian Bishops Conference has indicated support. Several cardinals have indicated their support. A number of local Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S., such as the Archbishop of Colorado, have publically indicated support.

VOL: Several Roman Catholic sources have indicated that the TAC will not be able to achieve the status of a Uniate church, but that some form of Personal Prelature might be a possibility, provided that the prelate assigned jurisdiction over the Prelature is one chosen by Rome from among existing Roman Catholic bishops. Would the TAC find this acceptable? –and if so, do you have an idea of which existing Roman Catholic bishops you would most like to see holding the Prelature?

HEPWORTH: First we have carefully avoided using the word uniate because it specifically refers to a process in the Eastern Church which is not a parallel in the situation in the West. Secondly, in our meetings with the Holy See we have been asked not to narrow the discussion by alluding only to those possibilities in contemporary canon law. Thirdly, it is only proper that we await the reply of the Holy See and our bishops give it careful consideration. We have the opportunity as we have promised to discuss the Holy See's response to our general synods of our national churches around the world.

VOL: You are aware of the pontifical Pastoral Provision that governs acceptance of formerly Episcopal clergy and faithful in the American Roman Catholic Church in a form that allows them to continue familiar Anglican liturgical practices and build "Anglican Use" parishes. These parishes must operate under the jurisdiction of the local Roman Catholic diocese within whose boundaries they are located. Several Roman Catholic sources have suggested that the way in which Rome may respond to the TAC's petition will be to extend the Pastoral Provision globally. If this were done, the TAC would not come into communion with Rome as a body, but as individual parishes being absorbed into the existing Roman Catholic Structure. Would the TAC find this acceptable? Why or why not?

HEPWORTH: I have strongly indicated that this would be unlikely to work whether we accept it or not. Because very few Catholic bishops have, up until now, been prepared to implement such a scheme and it has no presence outside of the U.S. and therefore it doesn't cover the TAC.

VOL: In the event the Pastoral Provision is extended globally and TAC parishes come into communion with Rome through its provisions, how would you safeguard individual parishes that might find themselves in a hostile environment in which the local Roman Catholic bishop takes steps that prevent the successful creation of an Anglican Use parish?

HEPWORTH: That is purely speculative.

VOL: When and if Rome accepts the TAC into communion, do you have an idea how Rome will deal with the potential problems posed by divorced, remarried members? Do you feel that Rome would accept annulments put in place under TAC jurisdiction?

HEPWORTH: It would be utterly wrong for me to speculate on issues that might occur. In the meantime the TAC has modeled many of its processes on its marriage discipline on Roman canon law with the advice of local Roman Catholic authorities.

VOL: When the former Bishop of London went to Rome, he was "conditionally re-ordained" a priest rather than having to undergo re-ordination. Do you see that as a possibility for the TAC's clergy?

HEPWORTH: The way in which pastoral provision currently works allows Anglican clergymen to tender evidence of the validity of Anglican ordination. In fact, the re-ordination is a response to the circumstances within Anglicanism which vary for good and ill in the last century as Cardinal Kasper recently said, and re-ordination is a necessary assurance to the good consciences of those with whom unity is sought.

VOL: Some fear, if conditional re-ordination is not allowed, that sacramental rites performed by TAC clergy prior to their re-ordination would be considered invalid. Do you see the difference between "conditional" and unconditional re-ordination as important?

HEPWORTH: No. It is important to individual Anglo-Catholics who in practice have responded to apostolica curae by seeking to involve other than Anglicans in their ordinations, not necessarily as a criticism of their own orders but as an act of pastoral generosity towards the wider catholic church.

VOL: Are all of the lay people as enthusiastic as you are about going to Rome?

HEPWORTH: There is a gradation of enthusiasm across the whole TAC and that extends across our clergy and people. There are places where there is restless enthusiasm and impatience for the process to be at an end, and in other places some fear and hesitation as to what it might mean. A significant part of my work as primate is the apostolic care of those who are fearful.

VOL: Is it possible that there will be some people who will vote not to go to Rome, that is, individual priests and congregations?

HEPWORTH: We have already lost 4 congregations around the world to other Continuing bodies, which is far fewer than I might have anticipated a year ago. We are trying to be generous to the consciences of those who feel they cannot do it while at the same time being equally generous to the consciences of those who cannot wait.

VOL: Every church in the TAC is an independent congregation. Do you see some going to the Anglican Province of America (APA)?

HEPWORTH: He has two congregations of our diocese in Eastern US that is a process not presently full.

VOL: The bishop is everything. The lay people go where they are told. They are being told, but have they been asked?

HEPWORTH: Yes. The bishop isn't everything. The bishop is part of a college and has responsibility for teaching the faith. We do not allow votes in synod on doctrine. We are close to the position of GAFCON where bishops reassert their authority to teach the faith, but our people in synod are responsible for the conduct and existence of the local church. We have taken to our synodical and parish processes this decision and the bishops only proceeded last October when they were confident of their support for their clergy and people.

VOL: Can you still be authentically Anglican and a catholic in the Roman Catholic Church?

HEPWORTH: We have sought to be Anglican and catholic, to take the centuries old and cherished traditions, theology, liturgy into communion and we are reminded that there are indeed over 20 rites in communion with the Holy See in addition to the Roman rite. What we have done is to acknowledge in our letter which says the Catholic faith in all its fullness and wholeness is seeking to maintain the tradition in which we have come to this faith. You can separate the corpus of faith from the surrounding traditions and culture of that faith community such as we see among Maronite Catholics, Greek Catholics, so why not Anglo-Catholics?

VOL: In your opinion, are the theological fluctuations within Anglicanism among many traditional Anglicans who are either being forced out of the Church of England and the American Episcopal Church, many of whom see unity with Rome as their goal, make your case stronger?

HEPWORTH: Cardinal Levada's generous letter to me (see below) mentioned the troubles in the Anglican Communion as a factor influencing the work of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in responding to our petition. We have always understood that we were one group among many Anglican groups searching for an orthodox future. The disintegration of catholic faith within Anglicanism is a profound historical tragedy, but on the other hand it opens possibilities for unity that have not been there before.

VOL: What is your relationship like with Forward in Faith?

HEPWORTH: Bishop John Broadhurst (chairman of Forward in Faith International) and I have agreed to have a meeting in October of TAC/FIF and other bishops who see unity as a pathway for Anglican Catholic future and this will be held in England in October.

VOL: Thank you Archbishop Hepworth.


The following is a letter made available to VirtueOnline:

Per La Dottrina
Della Fede
Prot. No. 66/77 - 27629 July 5, 2008

Your Grace,

Over the course of the past year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has studied the proposals which you presented on behalf of the House of Bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion during your visit to the offices of this Dicastery on October 9, 2007. As the summer months approach, I wish to assure you of the serious attention which the congregation gives to the prospect of corporate unity raised in that letter.

As your grace is undoubtedly aware, the situation within the Anglican Communion in general has become markedly more complex during this same period. As soon as the Congregation is in a position to respond more definitely concerning the proposals you have sent, we will inform you.

I assure you of my continued prayers and good wishes for you and your brother bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion.

Wishing you God's Blessings, I remain,

Sincerely yours in Christ,
William Cardinal Levada Prefect


His Grace
Archbishop John Hepworth
Traditional Anglican Communion
PO Box 746
South Australia

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