Newsflash Archives > Another Dramatic Move
Another Dramatic Move
The Vatican today made a dramatic announcement: Pope Benedict has authorized a bold new plan to bring Anglicans back into full union with Rome. But many questions remain unanswered
By Dr. Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome
VATICAN CITY, October 20, 2009 -- Dramatic news today -- as dramatic as the decision earlier this year to "un-excommunicate" the four Lefebvrist bishops, as dramatic as the decision on July 7, 2007 (in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum) to restore the old Mass.
Pope Benedict XVI is proposing a special Church structure for those Anglicans who wish to come into full communion with Rome without giving up many of the things they cherish as Anglicans.
The news, which came without prior warning this morning, was precisely coordinated between Rome and London.
On a cool, sunny, crystal clear day here, at 11 this morning, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, held a press conference to announce this unprecedented Roman initiative after almost 500 years of Anglican-Catholic division.
In London, at precisely the same hour, a parallel press conference was held by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England, and Archbishop Rowan Williams, the head of the Anglican Church.
"Rome is reabsorbing us, it's as simple as that," one prominent British journalist told me after the Vatican press conference, when I asked him what he thought this was all about.
That is too simplistic.
Rome is hoping to reunite with all those elements of the Anglican Church which still feel a deep connection with Rome and with the Catholic faith -- and is willing to take considerable pains to make those Anglicans feel comfortable when they "come over to Rome."
That is what is happening.
And quite a few people don't want that to happen -- and that explains some of the anomalies associated with today's anouncement...
"New era begins"
In London, Damian Thompson, a religion writer for the Telegraph Media Group, wrote an excellent article today on this papal decision, headlined: "New era begins as Benedict throws open gates of Rome to disaffected Anglicans."
"This is astonishing news," Thompson continues. "Pope Benedict XVI has created an entirely new Church structure for disaffected Anglicans that will allow them to worship together – using elements of Anglican liturgy – under the pastoral supervision of their own specially appointed bishop or senior priest...
"In theory, they can have their own married priests, parishes and bishops – and they will be free of liturgical interference by liberal Catholic bishops who are unsympathetic to their conservative stance. There is even the possibility that married Anglican laymen could be accepted for ordination on a case-by-case basis – a remarkable concession."
Thompson goes on to report that both Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Williams "are surprised by this dramatic move."
He writes: "Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was in Lambeth Palace only yesterday to spell out to Dr Williams what it means. [Note: Levada flew back to Rome at midnight, and so, as one would expect, he was exhausted during this morning's press conference. The Pope evdiently feels a deep urgency to get this done, or he wouldn't be asking his cardinals to travel in this way.] This decision has, in effect, been taken over their heads – though there is no suggestion that Archbishop Nichols does not fully support this historic move."
Thompson adds: "Incidentally, I suspect that Rome waited until Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s retirement before unveiling this plan: the cardinal is an old-style ecumenist who represents the old way of doing things. His allies in Rome, and many former participants in Anglican-Catholic dialogue, are dismayed by today’s news, which clears away the wreckage of the ARCIC process."
He further adds: "The truth is that Rome has given up on the Anglican Communion. With one announcement, the Pope has given conservative Anglicans a protected route to union with Rome... Thousands of Anglicans who reject women bishops and priests and liberal teaching on homosexuality are certain to avail themselves of this provision."
Will this really affect "thousands" of Anglicans?
Cardinal Levada seemed to think the number will be fewer, just a few hundred.
"'Many' is, of course, a relative term," Levada said. "If I had to say the number of [Anglican] bishops [who may come over to Rome], I would say that is in the 20s or 30s. If I had to say individual [Anglican] lay people, I would say that would be in the hundreds."
How will this work out, practically, in England?
Anglicans will have to request their own “Personal Ordinariate."
Thompson says he suspects that the "most pro-Roman Church of England bishop," the Right Reverend Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, could submit a request to Rome.
He would then be ordained a Catholic priest (as Anglican orders are not recognized by Rome) and might himself be made “ordinary” (bishop in all but name) of ex-Anglican clergy and lay people who have been received into the Catholic Church together.
Thompson concludes: "This is a decision of supreme boldness and generosity by Pope Benedict XVI, comparable to his liberation of the Traditional Latin Mass... I suspect that this will be a day of rejoicing for conservative Anglo-Catholics and their Roman Catholic friends all over the world."
But I must say that today's press conference was among the strangest I have ever attended at the Vatican.
Because many things either didn't make sense, or were not explained.
For example, the "missing person."
Who was missing?
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Council for Christian Unity, the man who has been nominally in charge for many years now of the decades-long Catholic-Anglican dialogue.
According to all usual protocol, Kasper should have been at this conference, but was not (he is in Cyprus for a few days carrying on a dialogue with the Orthodox).
Cardinal Levada said: "I invited both Cardinal Kasper and Bishop Farrell (Kasper's second-in-command), and both looked at their calendars and said they were committed elsewhere."
Levada added that the matter has increasingly come under his doctrinal congregation, and less under the ecumenism office headed by Kasper.
Another oddity was the strange haste to hold this press conference.
Why do I say "strange haste"?
Because the normal time-frame for advising all journalists of an upcoming Vatican press conference was not respected.
Normally, the Vatican gives a week's advance notice for a major press conference. (This was confirmed for me today at the press office.)
But today's conference was announced via a cell phone text message frrom Press Director Father Federico Lombardi, S.J, sent to journalists' cell phones at only 5 pm yesterday -- just 18 hours before the event, less than one day.
Journalists at the conference said the short notice was unusual for a document, something that was not an obvious emergency, like a accident or an assassination.
Finally, it seemed quite odd that the text of the document that the press conference was held to present was... not presented!
The document detailing all aspects of this new iniative was announced, but no copies were given out, and so no one knows yet what it really will say because... it isn't finished -- even though officials as recently as yesterday evening thought that it would be finished for today!
Cardinal Levada told journalists that the document wasn't ready because "some questions of canon law need still to be clarified," without expalining what those questions are or how long it may take to clarify them.
So these are mysteries....
What is going on?
Why the evident haste to make this announcement?
Why go ahead and hold a press conference about a document before the document is finalized?
Is someone is trying to "steal a march" on someone?
It would seem so.
But who is hurrying, and why?
Is it the Pope himself?
If so, why?
I don't know.
Does it have to do, perhaps,with the Pope's age, that he wants to move on these questions now, while he is vigorous, rather than waiting even a week or a month, or longer?
Or is the question of married priests the difficulty? Are there perhaps potential "Trojan horses" for a married priesthood within the document that the Pope has only just noted, and has at the last minute decided to remove, even if it means delaying the document's publication?
Or are there financial and political consequences of these ecclesial developments -- much very valuable ecclesial property could be involved in future Anglican conversion en masse to Catholicism -- which demand that "the thing be done quickly"?
A journalist asked: "To what extent does this step weaken the Anglican Church?"
"I wouldn’t even hazard a guess," Levada replied. "I think it would be inappropriate."
Journalist Robert Mickens of the London Tablet said he was "flabbergasted" that no one from the Council for Christian Unity was present.
"This is all rather vague," Mickens said. "What type of numbers are we talking about here? And, who was involved?"
"If we have been vague, then so be it," Levada replied.
A journalist from France asked what would happen if a married bishop in the Anglican Church becomes a Catholic. "Could he become a married Catholic bishop?" she asked.
"This does not provide for married bishops," Levada said, "respecting the long historical tradition of both the West and the East in which bishops were celibate. As for priests, many are asking, if these married Anglicans can be [Catholic] priests, what about us? The Church has now, over the past number of years, dispensed (in the case of married Anglican priests who became Catholics) from the discipline that only unmarried men can be Catholic priests. When the Church deals with these cases, it is an exception…"
In sum, an announcement of such importance would ordinarily have been made with greater solemnity. The split between Rome and London since the time of King Henry VIII is one of the great fractures in the history of the Church, and its healing is one of the deep longings of all English Catholics and of many English Anglicans, who come out of the Roman tradition and consider themselves the heirs of that tradition.
But the announcement was made in an almost off-hand way, at a last-minute press conference, announced without any description of its content, at 5 pm yesterday, allowing no time for journalists to prepare questions, and without the presence of any Anglicans who might have answered questions from their perspective, and with the text itself still unfinished.
Unease in England
The haste I sensed in Rome seems to have been felt in England as well.
Thompson has just added another note on his blog, saying that the Anglican archbishop, Williams, has written a letter to the Anglican clergy of England to express his feelings about this annoucnement.
Williams sounds "humiliated – and, I suspect, furious that the Vatican sprang the plans to welcome ex-Anglicans on him 'at a very late stage,'" Thompson writes.
Here is the text of the emotional Williams letter (with emphasis added):
"The Vatican has announced today that PopeBenedict XVI has approved an ‘Apostolic Constitution’ (a formal papal decree) which will make some provision for groups of Anglicans (whether strictly members of continuing Anglican bodies or currently members of the Communion) who wish to be received into communion with the See of Rome in such a way that they can retain aspects of Anglican liturgical and spiritual tradition.
"I am sorry that there has been no opportunity to alert you earlier to this; I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage, and we await the text of the Apostolic Constitution itself and its code of practice in the coming weeks. But I thought I should let you know the main points of the response I am making in our local English context– in full consultation with Roman Catholic bishops in England and Wales – in the hope of avoiding any confusion or misrepresentation."
The View from Australia
My friend and colleague, Australian journalist Andrew Rabel, just sent this to me:
"At joint conferences today in both London and Rome, provisions were announced that will permit Anglicans with a Catholic bent, to enter the Roman Catholic Church, maintaining elements of Anglican liturgy (based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer derived from the Sarum Rite) and discipline, such as married priests.
"Archbishop John Hepworth, the worldwide head of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) received a special briefing beforehand, and it is likely that the new structures have been created, because of a recent request of theirs to formally join the Catholic Church in 2007, although they will be confined to this body and will encompass other conservative Anglican movements such as Forward in Faith, as well.
"This group consists of 16 member churches throughout the world with approximately 400,000 members, with a particularly large proportion from Africa, in nations like Zimbabwe and Tanzania. There are about 5,000 members in the USA, with about 1,500 members in Australia, the country of Archbishop Hepworth.
"An apostolic constitution was announced that will facilitate the integration of disaffected member of the Anglican Communion. But today's announcements indicate that this movement only in the embryonic stages, as it will be up to individual bishops conferences to implement the strictures of the constitution.
"At the conferences, reference was made to the Anglican-Catholic dialogues pursued over the last 40 years, beginning with the visit of Archbishop Ramsay to Pope John XXIII.
"This is also an interesting situation coming with the visit of Pope Benedict to Britain in 2010, and the beatification of John Henry Newman, one of the founders of the 19th Century Oxford Movement, that was pushing for a greater Catholic revival in the Church of England, because of the onset of liberal ideas.
"These ideas have further developed in 20th Century Anglicanism, with the ordination of women and homosexuals, denial of Christ's Resurrection, and a permissiveness regarding practices like abortion. Many Anglicans, both clergy and laity who previously had never had much sympathy towards Rome, fond themselves alarmed at the denomination they were in.
"Up until the present moment, procedures to incorporate disaffected Anglicans, have been largely temporary such as the Anglican Use in the USA, but the structures announced today will be permanent, though technical details are still to be worked out.
"One unexpected problem with this may be, with the movement towards married priests very much discouraged in the Latin Rite, an exception will appear to have been made to a group outside. How this will play out is unclear."
The Text Announcing the Decision
NOTE OF THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH ABOUT PERSONAL ORDINARIATES FOR ANGLICANS ENTERING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
With the preparation of an Apostolic Constitution, the Catholic Church is responding to the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion.
In this Apostolic Constitution the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony. Under the terms of the Apostolic Constitution, pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy.
The forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application. It provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy. Historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Constitution therefore stipulates that the Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop. The seminarians in the Ordinariate are to be prepared alongside other Catholic seminarians, though the Ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony. In this way, the Apostolic Constitution seeks to balance on the one hand the concern to preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony and, on the other hand, the concern that these groups and their clergy will be integrated into the Catholic Church.
Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has prepared this provision, said: "We have been trying to meet the requests for full communion that have come to us from Anglicans in different parts of the world in recent years in a uniform and equitable way. With this proposal the Church wants to respond to the legitimate aspirations of these Anglican groups for full and visible unity with the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter."
These Personal Ordinariates will be formed, as needed, in consultation with local Conferences of Bishops, and their structure will be similar in some ways to that of the Military Ordinariates which have been established in most countries to provide pastoral care for the members of the armed forces and their dependents throughout the world. "Those Anglicans who have approached the Holy See have made clear their desire for full, visible unity in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. At the same time, they have told us of the importance of their Anglican traditions of spirituality and worship for their faith journey," Cardinal Levada said.
The provision of this new structure is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church, particularly through the efforts of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. "The initiative has come from a number of different groups of Anglicans," Cardinal Levada went on to say: "They have declared that they share the common Catholic faith as it is expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and accept the Petrine ministry as something Christ willed for the Church. For them, the time has come to express this implicit unity in the visible form of full communion."
According to Levada: "It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith. Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church. The unity of the Church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows. Moreover, the many diverse traditions present in the Catholic Church today are all rooted in the principle articulated by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (4:5). Our communion is therefore strengthened by such legitimate diversity, and so we are happy that these men and women bring with them their particular contributions to our common life of faith."
Since the sixteenth century, when King Henry VIII declared the Church in England independent of Papal Authority, the Church of England has created its own doctrinal confessions, liturgical books, and pastoral practices, often incorporating ideas from the Reformation on the European continent. The expansion of the British Empire, together with Anglican missionary work, eventually gave rise to a world-wide Anglican Communion.
Throughout the more than 450 years of its history the question of the reunification of Anglicans and Catholics has never been far from mind. In the mid-nineteenth century the Oxford Movement (in England) saw a rekindling of interest in the Catholic aspects of Anglicanism. In the early twentieth century Cardinal Mercier of Belgium entered into well publicized conversations with Anglicans to explore the possibility of union with the Catholic Church under the banner of an Anglicanism "reunited but not absorbed".
At the Second Vatican Council hope for union was further nourished when the Decree on Ecumenism (n. 13), referring to communions separated from the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, stated that: "Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place."
Since the Council, Anglican-Roman Catholic relations have created a much improved climate of mutual understanding and cooperation. The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) produced a series of doctrinal statements over the years in the hope of creating the basis for full and visible unity. For many in both communions, the ARCIC statements provided a vehicle in which a common expression of faith could be recognized. It is in this framework that this new provision should be seen.
In the years since the Council, some Anglicans have abandoned the tradition of conferring Holy Orders only on men by calling women to the priesthood and the episcopacy. More recently, some segments of the Anglican Communion have departed from the common biblical teaching on human sexuality—already clearly stated in the ARCIC document "Life in Christ"—by the ordination of openly homosexual clergy and the blessing of homosexual partnerships. At the same time, as the Anglican Communion faces these new and difficult challenges, the Catholic Church remains fully committed to continuing ecumenical engagement with the Anglican Communion, particularly through the efforts of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.
In the meantime, many individual Anglicans have entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. Sometimes there have been groups of Anglicans who have entered while preserving some "corporate" structure. Examples of this include, the Anglican diocese of Amritsar in India, and some individual parishes in the United States which maintained an Anglican identity when entering the Catholic Church under a "pastoral provision" adopted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul II in 1982. In these cases, the Catholic Church has frequently dispensed from the requirement of celibacy to allow those married Anglican clergy who desire to continue ministerial service as Catholic priests to be ordained in the Catholic Church.
In the light of these developments, the Personal Ordinariates established by the Apostolic Constitution can be seen as another step toward the realization the aspiration for full, visible union in the Church of Christ, one of the principal goals of the ecumenical movement.
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