Catholics, Anglicans will set aside differences as St. Vincent College hosts archbishop ceremony

Mary Pickels
| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 2:30 p.m.

As Robert Duncan pondered where he might hand over his power as archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America to a new leader, St. Vincent College near Latrobe seemed to be the obvious choice.

It was obvious to Duncan, but maybe not to others who know about the centuries of bitter strife between the Catholic Church and the Anglicans.

But given Duncan's friendship with St. Vincent Archabbot Douglas Nowicki and the fact that his primary residence is not far away in Donegal, he thought the Catholic college was the perfect place to say goodbye and transfer power to the Right Rev. Foley Beach of the Diocese of the South.

Beach was elected to the post on Sunday at the start of a weeklong assembly at the college.

Duncan's farewell occurs just one week after Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, leader of the Church of England and symbolic head of the world's Anglicans, met in Rome, where the pope said unifying the churches “should direct our every step along the way.”

Until the 16th century, the two churches were in communion. The Church of England broke away from the pope's authority during the English Reformation.

Six years ago, 40 Western Pennsylvania parishes led by Duncan left the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in opposition to the U.S. leadership's support for the 2003 consecration of an openly gay pastor as bishop of New Hampshire. Biblical teaching on salvation and other issues were other factors in the split. Eventually, Duncan was elected to be the first leader of the North American Anglicans.

On Wednesday, Duncan reflected on those who said it would never work.

“One of the things that I think you know as part of the story is that many folks, our critics in particular, said we would never be able to elect a second archbishop,” Duncan said during the assembly that will culminate with Saturday's “transfer of spiritual authority” from Duncan to Beach.

When the split occurred, Duncan issued a challenge to “plant,” or establish, 1,000 Anglican congregations in North America by 2014. To date, 488 new parishes have been formed, the Rev. Alan Hawkins, canon for church planting, said during the assembly.

Duncan will continue to serve in his role as bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“This is an exciting time in the life of North American Anglicans,” Duncan said.

“Anglicism in the 1960s was terribly fractured over various issues and accommodations of the culture. ... This movement was to bring our family back together.”

And he feels confident that Beach will carry on the mission he began.

“I count it a real joy and sacred trust to be elected as the archbishop of Anglican Church in North America,” Beach said. “I believe leadership is stewardship. ... Leadership is also temporary, and leadership also has accountability.”

More than 900 people — an international mix of laypeople and clergy — have participated in the weeklong assembly. It will conclude with a Eucharist at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Vincent Basilica.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

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