Vatican offers new provisions for Anglican “converts”

 — Oct. 23, 200923 oct. 2009

Earlier this week the Vatican announced new pastoral provisions for Anglicans seeking to join the Roman Catholic Church that will allow them to keep aspects of the historic Anglican liturgy and patrimony. The announcement came from Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The CDF is the Vatican office responsible for doctrine. Since 1980, the CDF has supervised a special pastoral provision for former Anglicans in the United States that permitted married Anglican clergy to be admitted to Roman Catholic ministry and in a few cases for entire parishes of former Anglicans to continue to use Anglican liturgical forms. The announcement this week was touted as a means of making the 1980 pastoral provision universal.

According to Cardinal Levada, the impetus for the recent decision is the request by a number of traditionalist Anglican communities, clergy, and as many as 20-30 bishops, for a pastoral provision allowing corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. In a joint statement from Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the new pastoral provision “brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church.”

The new provisions will be contained in an upcoming “apostolic constitution” coming from Pope Benedict XVI. An apostolic constitution is simply a document used for amending Canon Law. The specific details are not yet public, but the general force was described by Cardinal Levada. Under the new provisions, “personal ordinariates” may be established by the bishops’ conferences to provide for the pastoral needs of former Anglicans. These will be led by former Anglican bishops or priests. Closely modelled on the structure of the existing military ordinariates, the Anglican ordinariates will be established on a national or regional level. Parishes within the ordinariates will use modified Roman Catholic liturgies that will incorporate significant elements of Anglican liturgical texts. Former Anglican clergy who are married will be eligible for ordination as Roman Catholic clergy within these ordinariates. As well, seminarians currently preparing for ordination in Anglican churches will be permitted to continue to ordination in the ordinariates, even if they are already married. The ordinariates will be permitted to establish houses of formation at Roman Catholic seminaries to provide formation for seminarians who will be serving in the Anglican-use parishes of the ordinariates.

Significant details remain unclear. Among them, it is unclear whether the pastoral provisions within the ordinariates will be permanent. The establishment of houses of formation for seminarians implies a certain level of permanence and stability, however as some observers have indicated, it remains to be seen whether in the future the ordinariates will be permitted to ordain married men who were not formerly Anglican clergy or seminarians. Thus, the provision for married clergy may remain an isolated example even within the ordinariates. It is also unclear whether the married clergy of the Anglican ordinariates will be available for ministry in the wider Roman Catholic community which currently experiences a shortage of clergy. The 1980 pastoral provision strictly limited the ministry of the married clergy to non-parish ministries such as chaplaincies.

The Vatican announcement of the upcoming apostolic constitution emphasised the similarity of the personal ordinariates to the existing military ordinariates. However, many observers have also compared them to the personal prelature granted to Opus Dei or to the distinct Eastern rites of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches. There are likely to be certain aspects of each of these models incorporated into the new Anglican ordinariates. Like the Eastern churches, the Anglican ordinariates will retain a distinctive liturgical practice. However, unlike the Eastern churches, they will not be self-governing churches but instead Roman Catholic and governed by the Latin Code of Canon Law. They may not even be considered to be churches in the legal or theological sense that a diocese is. Like military ordinariates they will be extra-territorial, overlapping in jurisdiction with existing diocesan structures. However, the clergy in military ordinariates are incardinated in their original dioceses or religious orders. The Anglican ordinariates will likely incardinate their own clergy like a diocese, providing a certain level of stability.

Additional questions have been asked in news commentary and blogs over the past few days. Among them, there has been the question of which elements of Anglican liturgy will be retained? Will the Anglican ordinariates use the Book of Common Prayer? My own guess is that this is unlikely. The BCP is considered by many Anglo-Catholics to have strong Reformed theological elements that make it inappropriate for Catholic liturgy, although the BCP seems to be experiencing a certain revival among Anglo-Catholics in response to liturgical reforms that have popularised the Book of Alternative Services. More importantly, the historical role of the BCP as a common element binding together the diverse Anglican communities will mitigate against using it as a formal liturgy within the ordinariates.

The ecumenical significance of this new development cannot be ignored. At a book launch a week before the Vatican announcement, Cardinal Walter Kasper was asked about whether provisions for corporate reunion with some Anglicans might be possible. Kasper reportedly answered that the Roman Catholic Church is “not fishing in the Anglican pond. Proselytism is not a Roman Catholic policy.” Archbishop Rowan Williams appears to accept that the proposed pastoral provision is not intended to lure Anglicans into leaving their church, but rather to respond to Anglicans who have already decided to leave. Thus, both Williams and Nichols affirmed that the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue will not be derailed.

Of broader ecumenical significance, in 1993 the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue issued a statement at Balamand, Lebanon where the two communions agreed that uniatism is a form of proselytism and is therefore not an appropriate means of promoting Christian unity. Uniate is the term used by the Eastern Orthodox churches to describe the Eastern Catholic churches, and the Balamand statement describes uniatism as the establishment of churches for the purpose of converting or absorbing members of another church. The historical union of certain communities with the See of Rome has led to the breaking of communion with their mother churches. Roman Catholic ecumenists must therefore consider the implications of the new apostolic constitution carefully to determine whether our 1993 commitment at Balamand has been broken. This has implications for the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue where the Balamand statement is considered a foundation for further dialogue. It also has implications for all dialogues, since the commitments made in one dialogue must be consistent with those made in other dialogues and in the life of the church as a whole.

In all of the official comments on the new apostolic constitution, the Vatican and the Archbishop of Canterbury have been at pains to emphasise that the new provisions are a response to requests from disaffected Anglican groups and individuals, and are not the initiative of the Vatican. However, historians will remind us that the Union of Brest and other occasions that led to the establishment of Eastern Catholic churches were also initiatives taken by members of those communities. There is a fine line between luring potential converts and easing the pain of division. While the latter is intended as a pastoral response, it might be interpreted in historical hindsight as an enticement to schism. In the context of ecumenical partnership between Roman Catholics and Anglicans it might legitimately be asked whether we should sail so close to the line?

Posted: Oct. 23, 2009 • Permanent link:
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