Imagine a new Catholic Church hybrid, one that blends Catholic and Anglican liturgical traditions, one that architecturally looks a lot like Catholic churches before the 1960s — and one in which priests may be married, but neither female nor gay.
Catholics and Anglicans throughout Tampa Bay and worldwide imagined such extraordinary things Tuesday after the Vatican announced a plan to invite hundreds of thousands of disenchanted Anglicans to convert en masse.
One of those was the Rev. Kevin Donlon, rector of the Church of Resurrection in Tampa, whose congregation was among Anglican churches that rebelled after the U.S. Episcopal Church elected its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
"A lot of people felt they had nowhere to go," Donlon said Tuesday. "Some may not like (Pope) Benedict, but he's giving people a place to go."
Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval to a new framework to bring back into the fold Anglicans who oppose their church's liberal stance on gay marriage and the ordination of women priests and gay bishops while allowing them to retain some of their religious traditions. That includes married priests, though under the plan they could not become Catholic bishops.
The papal offer was historic, but not a total surprise. A Catholic Book of Divine Worship published in 2003 blends the 1928 and 1979 editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the 1973 Roman Missal.
The new framework — which sets out general principles for a separate entity within the church — was announced simultaneously in Rome and in London, where the head of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said he did not see the Vatican move as "an act of aggression."
But Vatican commentators described it as a blow to the Anglican Communion.
"But it may also help to let off steam within the Anglican Church. If disaffected traditionalists leave, then they will lower the tensions over issues like gay marriage and women clergy."
The U.S. Episcopal Church reacted carefully Tuesday, saying only it would "explore" the pope's announcement.
Individual Anglicans have long been free to convert to Catholicism — notably John B. Lipscomb, who converted to Catholicism in 2007 right after he retired as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida.
But the so-called Apostolic Constitution announced Tuesday will enable entire Anglican communities to transfer their allegiance en masse.
The pope was responding to "numerous requests to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in various parts of the world who want to enter into full and visible communion" with the Catholic Church, Cardinal William Joseph Levada told a news conference. He is the American head of the Vatican's doctrinal body.
Vatican officials declined to say how many of the world's 77 million Anglicans might take the opportunity to convert to Catholicism.
"We have had requests from large groups, in the hundreds," said Cardinal Levada. "If I had to say a number of bishops, I would say it's in the twenties or thirties."
The deep divide in the Anglican Communion over elections of women and gay bishops has created an alphabet soup of break-away Anglican entities, which claim hundreds of thousands of members. Among them are the Anglican Province of America, the Traditional Anglican Communion and the Anglican Church in America, which was embraced by conservative Anglican churches in Africa. They're not all rushing to accept the pope's invitation.
The Rev. Dan Trout leads the very traditional Holy Trinity Anglican Church of Sarasota, which uses the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. He would like a merger, but not the pope's.
"I'm not optimistic," he said. "I'd like to see us affiliate with the Eastern Orthodox Church."
Big unresolved differences hearken back to the 16th century's Reformation, including the Catholic Church claim of papal infallibility and transubstantiation — the transforming of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
But many Anglicans want to give the offer a chance. The Rev. William Perkins leads St. Matthew's Anglican Church in Riverview, affiliated with the Anglican Province of America.
"Depending on the terms, we might be interested," he said. "We'd be stronger as a part of a bigger church."
He likens St. Matthew's to Catholic churches before the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s. Masses are in English, not Latin, but "we stick to our liturgy, we use traditional instruments like the organ, our hymnal is from the 1940s and our Book of Prayer is from 1928." When he celebrates Mass, he faces the altar, not the congregation.
The historic difference: Father Perkins is also married with three children and three grandchildren.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2258.