Ross Douthat, who I think means well—which is not nothing when it comes to the New York Times’ coverage of Catholic issues—pens a speculative piece about Pope Benedict’s “gambit” in establishing a canonical structure allowing Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church. He wonders out loud why the Pope would drop this “bombshell”? Why this “unusual effort at targeted proselytism” breaking with the recent ecumenical traditions of emphasizing unity and common ground over differences?
He wonders whether besides trying to increase Catholic numbers, the Pope may not have in mind a coming epic struggle with Islam.
Well maybe so. But if we’re trying to understand why the Pope did it, shouldn’t we begin by considering what he said about why he did it? Key from that point of view is the fact that this move on the part of the Pope came as a response to “the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion”.
A further key—key to all things touching the Church and touching human persons—is the spiritual question. In other words, the Pope (being a good Pope) is surely less concerned with political questions—questions of strategy and tactics and numbers and concentrations of power—than he is with the care of souls. If he has many souls and many congregations of souls who have been expressing a longing for full, visible communion with Rome, is not reaching toward them and working to ease their way in simply the fatherly and priestly thing to do?