Reese disputes the assumption that the Vatican is accelerating a sorting out that will produce a more conservative Catholic Church. Some Catholics, he notes, will experience the fact, and many more will contemplate the idea, of married priests administering the sacraments. This, Reese thinks, may remind Catholics that for its first thousand or so years, the church had married priests and bishops. A celibate priesthood, he says, is a product of church law, which can be changed.
Reese thinks that would strengthen the church in the competition for souls. In parts of Latin America, he says, Catholic priests are so scarce that many villages see one only a few times a year. Evangelical Protestants, however, come to a village, identify a respected man, married or not, train him, build a church and the village becomes Protestant.
Reese, slight and bespectacled, laughs easily and infectiously but once caused a future pope to mutter, as Henry II did about Thomas a Beckett, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Reese was editor of the Jesuit magazine America until 2005, when he was reprimanded by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose defense of orthodoxy earned him the sobriquet "God's Rottweiler." Then he became Benedict XVI. Reese's offense, conservative Catholics said, was latitudinarianism -- lack of stringency regarding disputes about faith and morals.
But with the Latin Mass restored and Anglicans being courted with liturgical concessions, will the Catholic Church have three liturgies? Who are the latitudinarians now?
Today, the most contentious issues between liberal and conservative Anglicans concern gay and women priests. But many of the conservative Anglicans to whom Rome is beckoning are apt to be especially serious about the theological differences with Rome that have defined Anglicanism for almost five centuries, including the nature of the sacraments, veneration of Mary, and papal infallibility.
Benedict XVI's 2010 visit to Britain, where the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be amused by Vatican poaching, may be awkward, but the most disconcerting consequences of what the Vatican began in 2009 might eventually be felt by conservative keepers of Catholic tradition. Popes have mighty powers, but the law of unintended consequences contains no exemptions for the merely infallible.