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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - An Anglican bishop has triggered outrage after celebrating Mass in the Roman Rite at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran — the official ecclesiastical seat of the pope as bishop of Rome.
Bishop Jonathan Baker, a suffragan bishop in the diocese of London, concelebrated the liturgy on Tuesday at what's known as the "mother of all the churches of Rome and of the world" with over 30 Anglican priests from the episcopal area of Fulham.
Saint John Lateran supersedes St. Peter's Basilica in primacy, and despite the grandeur of St. Peter's (designated a "basilica" compared to the Lateran "archbasilica"), St. John's remains the cathedral church of the Roman pontiff.
The clerics from Fulham, a traditionalist Anglo-Catholic group that rejects the ordination of women, are in Rome at the Villa Palazzola for their clergy conference — an event held once every three years.
On Wednesday morning, Pope Francis met Bp. Baker and Bp. Glyn Webster, former bishop of Beverly, after the papal audience in St. Peter's Square. The clerics also visited the English College and were treated to a dinner and an after-dinner talk with Cdl. Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Baker triggered controversy in the Church of England after he was appointed bishop of Ebbsfleet in 2011 despite being an active and senior Freemason.
While a student at Oxford University, Baker joined the Apollo University Lodge, a masonic lodge associated with the university, and served as its "worshipful master." He held the senior position of deputy grand chaplain in the United Grand Lodge of England.
Baker's Freemason initiation ceremony involved vowing to keep the "secrets of Freemasonry," being blindfolded, wearing a hangman's noose and being warned that those who break the oaths of allegiance will have their throats slit and their tongues torn out before being buried in the sand.
When confronted with his Masonic membership, Baker responded:
For many years I have been an active member, and I continue to be a member. This came up in discussion with Rowan [Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury], but it has not caused a problem for me at any stage of my ministry, and it won't cause a problem now.
Under pressure just before his consecration as bishop, Baker said he would stop being a member of the lodge so he could concentrate on his episcopal ministry: "I wish nothing to distract from the inauguration of that ministry."
In 2014, Baker wrote to his clergy informing them that he had been given permission by Richard Chartres, bishop of London, and Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, to remarry after his divorce.
In the spring of 2015, Baker married his second wife in a private civil ceremony, "followed by a Mass celebrated by the bishop of London, with prayers of dedication and thanksgiving" at the Guild Church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West.
"Promoting divorced bishops is a far more serious matter than homosexual bishops because it is undermining one of the fundamental teachings of Scripture," former Anglo-Catholic priest Fr. Geoffrey Kirk stated.
Kirk, who was later ordained a Catholic priest in the Ordinariate, added, "Either Jesus said what He did about divorce and marriage, or He didn't. If you allow yourself not to take notice of this, can you then allow yourself to take notice of anything else He taught?"
Traditionalist Catholics and Anglican converts to Catholicism reacted with outrage to photographs of the service posted on social media and blasted the Holy See for permitting Anglicans to celebrate the liturgy at the archbasilica.
Father Ed Tomlinson, an ex-Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism and is now a Catholic priest of the Anglican Ordinariate, tweeted:
Strange how Anglo-Catholic clergy, who turned down gracious offer of the Ordinariate to remain in a liberalized Protestant body, are all over social media — like giggly schoolgirls —because they celebrated a non-Catholic "Mass" at St. John Lateran. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
Anglican deacon and celebrity television presenter Calvin Robinson responded:
No, Father. They posted a picture of their retreat and Mass, as they always do. There was no giggling, that's dishonest. What is interesting is the vitriolic abuse they received from former Anglican converts to Rome. The lack of charity is incredibly sad to see from the outside.
Father Mark Elliott Smith, another Anglican convert to Catholicism and priest of the Ordinariate, asked:
What about Catholic lay faithful who happened by chance to be present? How can they know that what is being celebrated on a Catholic altar in a Catholic basilica using a Catholic missal is in fact an Anglican Eucharist celebrated by Anglican ministers?
On Facebook, Catholic author Dr. Peter Kwasniewski remarked how it was "absolutely inappropriate for the pope (or someone acting with his clearance) to grant permission to Anglicans to 'have Mass' in the Lateran Basilica," when "Rome's own venerable rite has been hounded out of churches and driven from the side altars of St. Peter's."
An Anglican source, however, told Church Militant that the Anglican clergy had "celebrated communion using the Roman Rite as is the common practice in most Anglo-Catholic parishes in the British Isles."
Another issue at hand is that a number of Anglo-Catholic bishops and priests have valid but irregular Catholic orders — having been ordained by schismatic bishops or Eastern or Oriental Orthodox bishops who themselves were validly consecrated bishop. The Vatican may have cleared Baker because of that.
The Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity has stated that diocesan bishops may allow "priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church" the "use of a church" and "also lend them what may be necessary for their services" if they "do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies."
"Where there is a good ecumenical relationship and understanding between the communities, the shared ownership or use of church premises over an extended period of time may become a matter of practical interest," the Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms on Ecumenism adds.
Rome has two Anglican churches and a chapel at the Anglican Centre in Rome, which enjoys close relations with the Holy See.