Episcopalians hold many of the same beliefs as Roman Catholics. They share similar forms of worship and church government. Yet the genesis of the Episcopal Church came as the result of a dispute between King Henry VIII and the pope, and Episcopalians have traditionally distanced themselves from the Church of Rome as well as the pope. In modern times, however, ecumenical dialogue and outreach from the pope have brought the two churches closer together.

The Split with Rome

The Church of England is the "mother church" of Episcopal churches around the globe. In the early 1500s, Protestant sympathies were growing among the clergy of the Catholic Church in England, and when the sitting pope refused to grant King Henry's request for a divorce, England entered into a series of power struggles with Rome. Henry declared Thomas Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cranmer then granted Henry a divorce. The pope responded by excommunicating Henry, to which he responded with several acts leading to his being declared head of the Anglican church. Thus, the Episcopal Church was born out of a struggle with the pope.

Episcopal Articles of Religion

The Church of England created 39 Articles of Religion to articulate the Anglican view of the Christian faith. While today's Episcopal denominations have omitted some of the Articles and changed others, it's useful to understand the picture the Articles paint of the pope and the Catholic Church. Article XIX states: "The Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith." Article XXVIII specifically refutes the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, calling it repugnant. Article XXV declares that the five sacramental practices of the Catholic Church not practiced by Protestants have grown corrupt and are not ordained by God.

Ecumenical Dialogue

There have been a number of ecumenical dialogues between Episcopalians and the Roman Catholic Church in the past century. In 1960, Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, visited Pope John XXIII, a first since the time of the Reformation. Shortly after Vatican II, a number of commissions were formed to continue the ecumenical dialogue. Since that time, several Archbishops of Canterbury and popes have met, including Archbishop Rowan Williams' attendance at Pope Benedict XVI's Inauguration in 2005. This suggests that while Episcopalians don't recognize the pope's claims to authority over the church, they do at least respect the office and think it worth discussing relationships.

Papal Outreach to Episcopalians

As culture changes in the West, some Episcopalians are finding they have more in common with the pope than with those in their own tradition. The ordination of women and gay priests and bishops have split Episcopalians in the United States, with several conservative offshoot groups breaking with the leadership. Pope Benedict XVI has reached out to disaffected Episcopalian clergy, giving them a clear path into a priestly position within the Roman Catholic Church. This path is open to married Episcopal priests, even though Roman Catholic Priests may not marry.