ROME – In a reminder that while some Catholics may feel the Church is changing too much under Pope Francis, others obviously feel it isn’t changing enough, a priest in northern Italy said Thursday he’s leaving to affiliate with an offshoot of Anglicanism, claiming it’s more expressive of his “values of inclusivity.”
Father Andrea Barberini, formerly the vicar of the Catholic parish of St. Ambrogio in Cremona in the Italian region of Lombardy, made the announcement on his Facebook page.
“Becoming Anglican puts me in a distinct situation, that of no longer being in communion with the Catholic Church of Rome,” Barberini wrote. “However, it permits me to be in full harmony with my spirituality and the gift of priesthood, in tune with my vocation to a family and marriage.”
“I do this within a Church which, without any pretense of perfection, shares those values of inclusivity that I always hoped would be reached also within the Catholic Church.”
“In my new Church, I’ve discovered a community in which ecclesiastical leaders can be seen not as authority figures but as friends, and that’s an invaluable gift,” he wrote.
“Inclusivity” was among the watchwords of the recently concluded Oct. 4-29 Synod of Bishops on Synodality, which Pope Francis began by declaring that the Catholic Church must be open to “everyone, everyone.”
Nonetheless, Barberini seemed to want more than the institutional Catholic Church is prepared to deliver, choosing to join the “Inclusive Anglican Episcopal Church,” the Italian branch of the “Anglican Free Communion International,” which is an offshoot of a splinter group of Anglicans that dates to the late 19th century.
It is not recognized by the worldwide Anglican Communion led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, though it is a member of the World Council of Churches. Its presiding bishop is currently based in Florida in the U.S.
In Italy, the Inclusive Anglican Episcopal Church, based in Catania on the island of Sicily, is led by a former Catholic nun named Maria Vittoria Longhitano, who was recently named the provincial bishop for Europe of the Anglican Free Communion International. The Church endorses women’s ordination, married priests, and same-sex marriage, among other progressive positions, and uses a redacted version of the traditional Anglican Book of Common Prayer to eliminate gender-specific references to God.
Another former Catholic priest, Luca Ceccarelli, serves as a bishop in the Church after having left the Catholic priesthood 14 years ago upon announcing that he was gay, and today he’s civilly married to his longtime partner.
In presenting his reasons for leaving Catholicism, Barberini cited “doctrinal” and “theological” factors as well as motives “connected to my life journey.” Without specifying the identity of his partner, Barberini thanked “the person who is by my side in this new phase of life, whose understanding and sharing regarding the reasons for my choices are like a ‘supporting pillar’ that would destine everything to definitive collapse if it were to fail.”
Barberini made clear that he holds no “rancor” for the Catholic Church, and thanked Bishop Antonio Napolioni of Cremona for allowing him to take two years of paid leave while he pondered his future.
Nevertheless, Barberini also said some Catholics hadn’t been so understanding.
“I have to say with great displeasure that in these two years I’ve had to bandage some wounds,” he wrote. “My choice hasn’t gone down well with everyone. Different people have stopped saying hello to me, have revoked their friendship or even asked me not to contact them anymore.”
“When they sit in Church and receive Communion, they may think they are Christians, but perhaps they should reflect on what that faith really means,” Barberini wrote. If they don’t see me, a priest, as a person but only as a role, then perhaps what they feel is more of a deference to the institution.”
In terms of his future, Barberini said he’ll earn a living by teaching elementary school while dedicating himself to helping introduce more Italians to Anglicanism.