Page last updated at 09:44 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 10:44 UK

Faith Diary: Changing loyalties

By Robert Pigott
Religious Affairs correspondent

Although the Church of England has had women priests for 15 years, some traditionalists still believe that the fact that they are women means they cannot validly carry out all priestly functions.

The Right Reverend Kay Goldsworthy,  Australia"s first Anglican bishop
Not all congregations approve of female Anglican priests and bishops

But now liberal Anglicans are celebrating a decision by Blackburn Cathedral to reverse a controversial concession it made to traditionalists.

A year ago, the cathedral began providing communion bread blessed by a male priest for use when a woman was taking a service.

The concession was introduced after a female canon was appointed to the cathedral staff.

Now the cathedral has apologised for any hurt caused by that decision, but it has also acknowledged that the ordination of women priests still caused "sorrow and pain" to some Anglicans, and said it would continue to provide Sunday services taken by a male priest.

As many churches creak under the pressure to reform in line with contemporary life, modernisers and traditionalists in many of them are increasingly feeling that they have more in common with like-minded people in other denominations.

In recent times, divisions about homosexuality have been the principal reason for finding allies outside your own church.

In the United States, 10 nuns at an Anglican convent near Baltimore have taken the extraordinary step of converting to Roman Catholicism, citing the Episcopal Church's liberal approach to homosexuality as a reason.

The decision by the All Saints Sisters of the Poor is thought to be the first by what is virtually an entire order.

It comes shortly after the Episcopal Church's governing body declared gay people eligible for any priestly role, including that of bishop.

Gay candidates are already on the shortlist for the vacant positions of Bishop of Los Angeles and Bishop of Minnesota.

The nuns' Mother Superior, Christina Christie, said they read the Bible as forbidding being "actively involved in a same-sex relationship".

She added: "We are now more at home in the Roman Catholic Church."

The disputes between modernising and traditionalist Anglicans in the United States go beyond women priests and homosexuality.

The Anglican enclave planted in the United States by the Nigerian Church has accused the Episcopal Church of unintentionally encouraging conversions to Islam by moving away from a simple message and liturgy.

Polite multi-faith conversations must never become a substitute for the proclamation of the historic Christian message which we in the American Church must assertively declare and defend
Cana spokesman

The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (Cana) cites research by bodies such as the Pew Institute to show that Islam is growing rapidly, and attracting Protestant women in particular.

It says they are marrying Muslim men partly because of the dearth of marriageable men in their own churches.

Cana says the women are attracted by "the apparent order and simplicity of the Islamic faith and its ability to successfully manipulate governments and public policy".

Potentially inflammatory differences exist within Anglicanism about how to approach Islam.

Traditionalists sometimes accuse liberals of diluting the Christian belief in Jesus as the only way to God, through an attempt to preserve neighbourly relations with the followers of other faiths.

Some conservative evangelicals even suspect progressive members of their church of seeing other faiths as a "valid" route to a relationship with a common creator.

They also emphasise the duty to convert non-Christians.

For its part, Cana is reluctant to talk about conversion, saying instead: "Polite multi-faith conversations must never become a substitute for the proclamation of the historic Christian message which we in the American Church must assertively declare and defend."


Pope Benedict is about to assert and defend his Church's position in the Czech Republic, by making the first papal visit to the country for 12 years.

St Vitus cathedral
Can Pope Benedict resolve a legal dispute about the cathedral?

The country is famously secular, with fewer than one in three people describing themselves as believers.

Most of these are in the Moravia region of the country, and the Pope is to celebrate Mass there.

But the local church is engaged in another more immediate battle in which it might be hoping for the Pope's help.

It concerns ownership of the cathedral of St Vitus, the towering building in the centre of Prague Castle.

Perched on a hill high above the Vltava River, the cathedral is one of the defining images of the Czech capital.

In 1954 the atheist communist government of what was then Czechoslovakia declared the cathedral to be the property of all citizens, and transferred it into the control of the president's office, which continues to occupy the castle.

After the fall of communism the Church began a legal fight to win back the cathedral, but so far the courts have ruled in favour of the state.


Even in the United States, which has a far more devout population than the Czech Republic, the Roman Catholic Church is finding it hard to attract young people to a life of religious vocation.

The demands of celibacy and a renunciation of material wealth are among the obstacles to becoming a priest, monk or nun.

Dollar bills
Once her debts are paid, one would-be nun can commit to a life of poverty

But there's another problem facing potential recruits - student debt.

A 24-year-old Chicago woman ran the city's half marathon - more than 13 miles along the spectacular lake-front - to raise at least some of the almost $100,000 she needs to pay off student loans.

Alicia Torres was one of those who was inspired by Pope Benedict's call, when he went to the United States last year, to consider a religious vocation.

Ms Torres is in the strange position of raising almost $100,000 in order to live in poverty.

But as she puts it, "you can't live a vow of poverty with a bunch of debt".


For those not taking vows of celibacy or poverty the Catholic Truth Society has produced new guidance in its Prayer Book for Spouses.

Married couples are urged to pray before they have sex - about the purity of their intention in making love.

The book's authors are evidently concerned to protect the values of "those caught up in a culture that rejects the indissolubility of Christian marriage".

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