VATICAN CITY – The Vatican said Saturday that married Anglican priests will be admitted to the Catholic priesthood on a case-by-case basis as Rome facilitates conversions by Anglicans disillusioned by their church's acceptance of gay clerics, female priests and other liberal practices.
A surprise Vatican decision, announced 10 days earlier to make it easier for Anglicans to become Roman Catholics while retaining aspects of Anglican liturgy and identity, had left some wondering whether Rome would embrace married Anglican clergy in large numbers.
A Holy See statement Saturday quoted Cardinal William Levada, the Holy See's guardian of doctrinal correctness, as saying the Vatican would consider accepting married Anglican priests into the Roman Catholic priesthood as it has in the past — evaluating each case on its own merits.
The Roman Catholic church requires its priests to be celibate, except in the case of the Eastern rite Catholics, who are allowed to be ordained if married. But over the last decades, it has also quietly allowed married Anglican clergy to stay priests when converting to Catholicism.
In no case could a married man become a bishop, and the new rules would exclude any married Anglican bishop from retaining that post.
As for possibly admitting married Anglican seminarians to the Catholic priesthood, Levada said "objective criteria about any such possibilities (e.g. married seminarians already in preparation) are to be developed" for approval by the Holy See.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi dismissed what he called some media speculation that there was "disagreement about whether celibacy will be the norm for the future clergy" among converting Anglicans.
He quoted Levada as saying "there is no substance to such speculation," and that the only reason why the rules regarding the converting Anglicans haven't been published yet was due to "technical" reasons. He predicted work on the new rules would be completed by the end of the first week of November.
Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated a good part of his papacy since 2005 welcoming traditionalists into Rome's fold.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of Anglicans worldwide, wasn't consulted about the changes but will have the opportunity to discuss the state of Catholic-Anglican relations when he meets with Benedict on Nov. 21 during a visit to Rome.
The Vatican's easing the way for Anglicans to convert might undermine decades of efforts between the Holy See and Anglican leaders over how they might possibly unite.
Anglicans split with Rome in 1534 when the Vatican refused to give English King Henry VIII a marriage annulment. The Anglican communion includes the Episcopalian Church in the United States.
Some Anglican faithful, unhappy over progressive reforms in their church, consider themselves Catholics although they have not yet officially joined the Roman Catholic church.
Anglicans have been divided over such issues as admitting women to the priesthood. The rift was torn wide open in 2003, when the Episcopal Church in the United States consecrated V. Gene Robinson, as the first openly gay bishop.
Also disenchanting Anglican conservatives has been the blessing of same-sex marriages.