After the ordinariates erected in England, the Unites States and soon in Australia, what will be the future of this new ordinariate?
In 1995, after 10 years serving as a minister in the Church of England, I, along with my wife and children, came “home to Rome.” For the next 10 years I lived and worked in England as a Catholic layman; then in 2006 I returned to my native United States to be ordained as a Catholic priest under the Pastoral Provision — a special process established by the Vatican allowing married former Anglican priests to be ordained as Catholic priests.
When I and many other Anglican priests came into full communion with the Catholic Church in the mid-1990s, few of us imagined the historic events that would unfold some 15 years later.
In November 2009, I was on retreat in Florida with other former Anglican priests who had been ordained as Catholic priests. As we traveled for our retreat, that very day the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus was published. This document allowed for the establishment of a personal ordinariate for Anglicans. The personal ordinariate is a revolutionary new development in the ecumenical movement pioneered by Pope Benedict XVI.
Through this provision, Anglicans are granted their own ecclesial structure in full communion with the Catholic Church.
While fully affirming the Catholic faith, they will have their own parishes, their own Anglican-style liturgy, and their own hierarchy and consultative council. They will have their own bishops and their presently-married clergy will be ordained as Catholic clergy. They will be incardinated not to a Latin diocese, but to the new ordinariate.
In this way the Holy See has responded to repeated requests from individuals and groups of Anglicans who were asking for a way to come into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining the treasures of their Anglican patrimony.
In the summer of 2011, the first ordinariate was erected in England with former Anglican bishop Fr. Keith Newton as the ordinary.
On January 1, 2012, the ordinariate for the United States was erected with former Episcopal bishop, Jeffrey Steenson, as ordinary. Later in 2012, an ordinariate will be established for Australia. Between the three ordinariates, over 100 or so clergy will come into the Catholic Church, along with several thousand lay people, and this is just the “first wave.”
What will be the future of this new ordinariate? It could be that this new structure simply brings into full communion a small number of conservative Anglo-Catholics. For many years now they have existed either as one of the “continuing churches” or as a rather quaint “church within a church” in the mainstream Anglican Communion. Some predict that they will continue to be just that within the Catholic Church. The members of the ordinariate will be seen as an eccentric remnant of an old-style Anglicanism — High-Church folk who like lace and incense and Elizabethan language who somehow managed to worm their way into the Catholic Church. Eventually, the theory goes, they will die out. Their descendants will be absorbed into the mainstream of the Catholic Church and the whole thing will be a footnote in the history of ecumenism.
A second prediction is that the Anglican Church herself will eventually disintegrate or morph into something unrecognizably Anglican, and the ordinariate will be all that is left of historic Anglicanism. In this scenario, an increasing number of Anglicans worldwide will see that if they want to be historic Christians within the Anglican tradition, the only place to be that will be within the ordinariate, and they will flee the sinking ship of Anglicanism to join the ordinariate and so be part of the Catholic Church.
This is almost certainly not going to happen. It will not for several reasons.
First of all, it must be remembered that the majority of Anglicans today are Evangelicals. They follow a Protestant religion, and do not understand or appreciate the Catholic faith.
Secondly, many Anglo-Catholics also do not really want to be Catholics. They want to be Anglicans. They honestly do not see the importance of being in full visible communion with the Catholic Church.
Thirdly, the liberal wing of the Anglican Church certainly has no wish to be in full communion with Rome. They dislike Roman authority, dogma and moral teachings and are increasingly anti-Catholic.
However, there is a third way. The ordinariate could develop in a very different and exciting direction. The way to understand this more dynamic possibility is to see the ordinariate as a new bridge across the Tiber for a whole range of Protestant Christians. Already, a conservative, liturgically-minded group of Lutherans has been given permission to join the ordinariate. If Lutherans may come across the Ordinariate bridge, why not Methodists? After all, Methodism was founded as a schism from Anglicanism. Could not conservative, liturgically-minded Methodists (whose denomination has its roots in Anglicanism) also find their way “home to Rome” through the Anglican ordinariate?
For this to happen, the Anglican ordinariate will have to be flexible and the members will have to see their mission not simply as one of conservation of a venerable patrimony, but as one of evangelization and outreach. The signs that this is the spirit of the ordinariate are already very positive.
First of all, those who have joined the ordinariate have truly left everything to become Catholics. The Anglican bishops, priests and people have turned their back on their parsonages, palaces, parish churches and pension plans. They have set out with a true missionary spirit, and the sort of men and women who are willing to take such a step of faith are the ones who will bring that same enthusiasm and faith to the task of helping the ordinariate to be the structure for ecumenical evangelization that it should be.
The way to a very exciting future for the Anglican ordinariate is for the new Anglican-style Catholics to set out with missionary fervor. One of the best groups to whom they might reach out are American Evangelicals. Those who observe American Evangelicalism only through the mainstream media might assume that all Evangelicals are devotees of big Baptist mega-churches, or are followers of fire-breathing fundamentalist televangelists. They do not understand the breadth and complexity of American Evangelicalism, and therefore do not realize that there are many Evangelicals who are not extremists.
There are many well-educated and thoughtful Evangelicals who are very interested in the historic faith. Many are searching for a Church rooted in history. They long for a Church that is liturgical and rooted in a deep spirituality. When they leave their Evangelical Churches and search for something more, their first stop is usually the Episcopal or Lutheran Churches.
They soon find that these Churches are chest-deep in the modernist agenda, so they depart sadly. If these Evangelical pilgrims summon the courage to overcome their deeply-ingrained anti-Catholic prejudice and go to their local Catholic parish, they find that it is either as liberal and trendy as the Episcopalians or there are cultural and devotional obstacles that they find difficult to overcome. Even if they come to agree with Catholic doctrine and are received into the Church, they are still aware of the big cultural gap between the Protestantism they were brought up on and the Catholic Church they have joined.
They are looking for a Church that holds to the fullness of Catholic doctrine and practice, but has some of the practical strengths of Evangelical congregations. If these sincerely searching Evangelical Christians could find a Church that was fully Catholic and yet offered a liturgy and church life that “felt” traditionally Anglican, they would immediately feel at home.
For the Anglican Ordinariate to open up in this way, those involved will have to have an old-fashioned missionary spirit. They will need to make the financial sacrifices necessary for church growth. The Evangelicals are the Christians who know just how to do this. If the Anglican Ordinariate opens up in this way, it could become a new bridge across the Tiber not only for disaffected Anglo-Catholics, but also for many Protestants who wish to find their spiritual home in Rome.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Go to his website at www.dwightlongenecker.com and connect to his popular blog, Standing on My Head.