As I mentioned a few days ago, the Traditional Anglican Communion (which is not in communion with the See of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion) officially petitioned the Vatican for intercommunion. Reading a lot of the commentary, I've seen a lot of misconceptions thrown around, perhaps understandably by those who fear corruption and scandal of the Roman Catholic Church. What follows is my attempt, as one somewhat familiar with Anglo-Catholicism, to clarify things a bit.
So who are these TAC folks anyway? Do they ordain lesbian bishops?
The Traditional Anglican Communion is an Anglo-Catholic group which splintered off from the Anglican Communion (those national churches in communion with the See of Canterbury), largely over the issues of women's ordination and the general free-fall of worldwide Anglicanism. If the ones I've encountered are representative, they accede to Roman Catholic beliefs, pray for the intentions of the Pope (and somewhat implicitly consider him to be their head; anything he says gets a lot of airtime), and often use a somewhat retro style of Mass (words like "Thou" and "shalt" make a lot of appearances). Most of them would very much like to be in communion with Rome. To their mind, the only truly major hurdle is that of married priests and bishops. All the TAC bishops seem willing to step down if necessary, and the ban on married priests in the Roman Rite is canonical, not doctrinal (which is why Eastern Catholic priests are usually married).
Do they have valid orders?
TAC orders are probably valid, but definitely illicit. While Anglican orders were declared invalid in the 1800s due to a break occurring in the way priests were ordained shortly after the English Reformation, the method of ordaining has been "fixed" and is generally considered okay. That still left the problem of having actual orders to transmit. The TAC solution to this was to get Old Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bishops to co-consecrate TAC clergy. As Rome recognizes the validity of the orders of these co-consecrators, a seemingly strong argument can be made that TAC priests do in fact have valid orders.
Are there really 500,000 members of the Traditional Anglican Communion?
Eh, probably not. For all I know, it's a tenth of that. If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably one or two hundred thousand, with maybe 60-90% of those willing to swim the Tiber. I don't have any hard data, but those are the numbers which strike me as reasonable bases on what little I know.
What are the TAC folks asking for?
In short, intercommunion (unity) with Rome. They'd like something like Uniate status, if possible. They're pretty much ready to jump through whatever hoops Rome has for them; they've just got some requests for things they'd like to keep. Seriously: I think that if Rome were to say "the only solution is for each of you to convert individually," the TAC leadership would encourage their members to do it.
So why not just convert individually? Why all this hassle?
Again, the short answer is that I don't believe it would be in everyone's best interests to do that. Some are seeing this as a give-and-take affair with winners and losers. That seems to me to be a mistaken view. It's about reconciling in such a way as to effectively bring people into the Holy Catholic Church while also enriching it.
Anglicanism has a somewhat unique pedigree in the West. They believe their roots, especially through Celtic Christianity, predate the Roman mission to Britain. Historically the English Church has had many of its own traditions and a distinctive culture. It sent bishops to the Councils of Arles and Nicaea. It has been officially recognized by Rome as the oldest church in the gentile world. The Archbishop of Canterbury (pre-English Reformation) was treated by the Pope as the head of his own "ecclesia," rather than diocese.
Why is this a big deal?
Firstly, no Reformation-induced body of Christians has ever corporately reunited with Rome. The petition of TAC provides numerous benefits. In English-speaking countries, Roman Catholicism is generally regarded as one (maybe just a half) step up from Santeria. It's regarded as an ethnic enclave of Irish, Italians, and Hispanics. Those of Anglo-Saxon(-ish) background (either physically or mentally) have a lot of trouble with that. It's just seen as impenetrable and somewhat suspect. An Anglican Rite would be something of a bridge and a touchstone for English speakers, allowing them to poke around and say "hmm, it's not as bad as I thought it would be." Roman Catholics: feel free to be offended. At the same time, charity's altogether lacking in this world and a little bit here could go a long way. Don't think that the Eastern Orthodox and the Lefebvrist SSPX folks aren't watching to see whether the TAC will be treated cordially as long-lost brethren or simply gobbled up and told to shut up about Anglican ideals. There are Anglo-Catholics outside the TAC, including entire dioceses of the Episcopal Church, who might very well latch on to a viable recognition of Anglican Catholicism. I honestly believe that the Roman Catholic Church, especially under the current Pope, has the potential to heal the Great Schism, bring back the SSPX, get a foot in the door with Anglicanism, and even get the Evangelicals to sit down and really think about how separate they want to be.