Contraception: A Deal-breaker in Anglican-Catholic Conversion?

Wendy Norris

Before Anglicans can cash-in the Vatican's new express pass to convert to Catholicism the two faiths must bridge one of the biggest schisms between them: birth control.

Wendy Norris is a freelance reporter living in Denver, Colorado and on also on at Rewire.

Before Anglicans can cash-in the Vatican’s new express pass
to convert to Catholicism the two faiths must bridge one of the biggest schisms
between them: birth control.

Days after the Pope’s approval of the expedited
transformation for Anglicans
, religious thinkers are split on how to smooth
over this gaping ecumenical divide.

The Catholic News Service shrugged off the churches’
dissent on contraception
as just a diversity of opinion in its Oct. 16
report on a religious ethics conference. That’s an astounding admission after
brow-beating generations of Catholics to forsake all contraception methods save
for the unreliable "rhythm method" of abstaining from sex during
predicted ovulation days.

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The re-unification of the two church communities has been
decades in the making by conservative forces in London and the Vatican even
while the Anglican Church modernized its teachings, including the formal
acceptance in 1958 that married couples could use birth control methods without
fear of excommunication or eternal damnation.

At the same time of the Anglican enlightenment, the late
20th century popes and current Holy See Benedict XVI have issued encyclicals
condemning "artificial" contraception causing millions of Catholics
to leave the church or simply ignore church doctrine.

Cathleen Kaveny characterizes the news as the makings of
"an interesting social experiment."

Her post at the religion and politics blog Commonweal
spurred a spirited conversation 
about the practicalities of ex-Anglican married couples without birth
control pills and condoms.

As far as I am aware, however, the
morality of contraception under certain circumstances  has been more or
less a settled issue among Anglicans–even traditionally minded Anglicans. How
will this change work out? Are Anglican priests prepared to balance the demands
of a big family with the demands of a big parish? What about the wife of the
priest?  … Are wives willing not only to convert, but to convert on the
matter of contraception? Are Roman Catholics willing not only to see, but to
support financially and in other ways, married priests with six, seven, or
eight children?

As Kaveny notes conservative Anglicans and their American
Episcopal counterparts, who have historically opposed contraception, abortion
and the elevation of women priests and gay bishops, have long aligned
themselves and their rituals with the Catholic Church. So not much is expected
to change for congregants since the Vatican apparently won’t insist on mass
divorces and celibate lives for married Anglican clergy.

Meanwhile, hard line Catholic anti-choice activist Fr. Tom
Euteneuer of Human Life International can barely contain himself over the
promise of bringing the 77 million Anglicans back into the "One True Church."

Says Euteneuer, "Anglicanism is basically committing
doctrinal suicide, much the same way that England’s population is about to
implode due to their excessively high abortion and contraception rates and
their hedonistic culture."

And what an interesting coincidence that 39 million or half
of the worldwide Church of England members now reside in Africa, where the
paleo-conservative Euteneuer operates programs in 26 nations.

In keeping with Catholic dogma on contraception, Euteneuer
boasted on the HLI Web site of destroying 10 million condoms to thwart family
planning efforts in Tanzania — an impoverished country where 1.4 million
people are HIV-positive
and 970,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS.

Euteneuer’s fundamentalist beliefs appear to be matched by
Archbishop Peter Akinola, the head of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, who is
rumored to be a leading candidate for a new role in the blended
Catholic-Anglican hierarchy.

The archbishop has called for the imprisonment of gays
and lesbians
and has been linked to a
2004 massacre of 700 Nigerian
Akinola was also at the center of a widening rift between several
high profile Virginia-based churches that split from the official Anglican
and joined the Nigerian sect after Eugene Robinson was ordained as
the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in 2003.

Akinola who presides over a flock of 18 million Nigerians is
said to be weighing the Pope’s invitation to convert.

Despite the ultra-conservative social perspectives by some
congregants, both Kaveny and the New York Times note on the papal invitation to
Anglicans, mainstream Americans Catholics have been remarkably resilient in
their embrace of contraceptives.

A 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
found that 61 percent of mainstream Catholics believe contraception use
is a personal issue despite church teachings and 51 percent said abortion
should be legal
in most cases.

Perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury should offer a
two-for-one conversion special for disaffected Catholics.

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