Look at what it says on the box

by
21 October 2009

Christopher Hill considers the new Personal Ordinariate on offer to Anglicans

Show of unity: the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster on Tuesday PA

Show of unity: the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster on Tuesday PA

This doesn’t mean it is intended to poach priests and people from the Church of England or the other Anglican Churches. While there are ques­tions about its ecumenical com­munication, it was a known fact that both former Anglicans — such as mem­bers of the Traditional Anglican Communion — and those still be­long­ing to Churches of the Anglican Com­munion have asked the Vatican to consider some group recognition, as some way of retaining an Anglican identity in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican has responded to their requests.

What does the Apostolic Constitu­tion, about to be finalised, entail? What is a “Personal Ordinariate” for former Anglicans? What is clear is that it won’t be all that such individuals or groups have been looking for. It is not a diocese or Anglican-rite Church in communion with Rome.

A Personal Ordinariate is a pastoral provision in juridical form which will allow some continuing Anglican herit­age to be expressed. But it is what it says on the box: it is personal, that is to say, for a network of individuals and groups rather than the norm of a territorial diocese.

The note issued by the Congrega­tion for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) makes this quite clear, saying that the structure of a Personal Ordin­ariate “will be similar in some ways to that of Military Ordinariates”, i.e. the distinct jurisdiction of military chap­lains. The model is that of a society. But this will not be entirely separate from the Roman Catholic territorial dioceses, and there has to be con­sulta­tion with the local Roman Catholic bishops before they can be estab­lished.

HOW MANY Anglicans, priests and laity, will want to avail themselves of this provision remains to be seen.

All will have to conform in doctrine to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as expressed in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Ordinary, who has jurisdiction over an Ordinariate, has to be celibate if a bishop, not if a priest. Married men who were previously Anglican clergy may be ordained on an individual basis — as is already the case for a number of former Anglicans. It has to be self-financing.

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How is a continuing Anglican heritage to be expressed? Many priests who might wish to explore this option are precisely those who for many years have adopted the Roman rather than authorised Anglican rites.

What is clear from the note from the Vatican itself, as well as the joint statement of the Archbishops of Canter­bury and Westminster, is that this is not at all an alternative to the long-term vision that both Churches are committed to, that is, unity and full visible communion between the two Churches.

Former Anglicans will still be required to be ordained if they are to serve as priests. This provision is not a short cut to the longer-term Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical agenda.

On the other hand, it is a positive recognition of the Anglican tradition, in that it seeks to recognise what can continue to be celebrated of Anglican­ism within the communion of the Roman Catholic Church, even before the more distant full communion of our Churches to which both Churches are still com­mitted.

Nor would this recog­nition have been possible without the achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catho­lic International Com­­mis­sion (ARCIC) over many years.

ONE very significant factor in the announcement here was that it was made by the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster together. The implementation — should it be requested of Rome by individuals and groups — will not by-pass the Roman Catholic Bishops. Nor will such imple­mentation be without continuing consultation with the Church of England through the Archbishop of Canterbury. This was also affirmed in the joint state­ment on Tuesday. This unity was apparent at the press conference — supported by two former co-secretaries of ARCIC, Archbishop McDonald of Southwark and me.

The timing of this announcement — in terms of our debates on the ordina­tion of women to the epis­copate — may be unfortunate, but it was not deliberate. Requests have been made to the Vatican by indiv­iduals and groups wishing to find their future within the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican has now responded pastorally to these re­quests.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, personally assured by a visit by Cardinal Levada of the CDF, has said: “This new possibility is in no sense at all intended to undermine the existing relations between our two com­munions, or to be an act of prosely­tism or aggression.” The provision may help some. It is also a recognition of the partial but painful communion Anglicans and Roman Catholics already share.

The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is the Bishop of Guildford.

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