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VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has paved the way for groups of disaffected Anglicans to come into communion with Rome.
In a historic announcement Oct. 20, the Vatican said the Holy Father has approved canonical structures to allow Anglican clergy and faithful to be received into the Church while retaining elements of their distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.
The new structures would be open to members of the Episcopal Church in the United States, otherwise known as TEC (formerly ECUSA); the TEC is the main American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion. They will also help regularize Pope John Paul II’s 1982 Pastoral Provision, which allowed former Anglicans in the U.S. to come into communion while retaining their Anglican liturgies.
At a Vatican press conference this morning, American Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced that an apostolic constitution has been prepared in response to “many requests” from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful wanting to enter into full communion with the Church.
The constitution, which Cardinal Levada said “provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a worldwide phenomenon,” will be a “single canonical model for the universal Church that is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application.”
The new canonical structure, which aims to “preserve elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony,” will be made up of “personal ordinariates.” This means groups of Anglicans won’t be received en masse, but rather that bishops’ conferences around the world will be able to create a special, supraterritorial structure to accept Anglicans under the leadership of a former Anglican minister who would be designated a bishop.
The new structure will allow for married former Anglican clergy to be ordained. However, in common with Eastern-rite Catholic Churches, married clergy will not be allowed to be ordained to the episcopate.
Former married Anglican bishops will also not be allowed to be bishops in the new structure.
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 that have been established in most countries to provide pastoral care for members of the armed forces and their dependents throughout the world,” Cardinal Levada said.
Cardinal Levada took note of the fact that in recent years, some Anglicans conferred holy orders on women and others have “departed from the common biblical teaching on human sexuality.”
“At the same time,” he added, “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.”
“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 Promotion of Christian Unity,” the cardinal said.
Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, former undersecretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who helped draft the new structure, said: “We’ve been praying for unity for 40 years. Prayers are being answered in ways we did not anticipate, and the Holy See cannot not respond to this movement of the Holy Spirit for those who wish communion and whose tradition is to be valued.”
He said there has been a “tremendous shift” in the ecumenical movement, and “these possibilities weren’t seen as they are now.”
Technical details still need to be worked out, and these personal ordinariates may vary in their final form, Archbishop DiNoia said. Full details of the apostolic constitution will be released in a few weeks, but the Oct. 20 press conference went ahead because it had been planned some time ago, Cardinal Levada said.
‘Not Fishing in the Anglican Lake’
To underline the importance of this decision, and to perhaps lessen tensions, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury held a joint press conference in London Oct. 20.
“The apostolic constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition,” they said in a joint statement. “Without the dialogues of the past 40 years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this apostolic constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.”
The two leaders said they hoped “this close cooperation will continue as we grow together in unity and mission, in witness to the Gospel in our country, and in the Church at large.”
Previously, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, said “there is agreement” between Archbishop Williams and the Holy See that anyone who wishes to be received must have their conscience respected. But Cardinal Kasper stressed “we are not fishing in the Anglican lake” and that ecumenical dialogue “is not aiming to proselytize.”
Breakaway Anglican groups who will benefit from the new structure include the Traditional Anglican Communion, an ecclesial body that claims to have 400,000 members worldwide. Its membership has swelled in the past couple of years, its leadership says, as the Anglican Communion has been torn by issues over homosexual clergy and bishops and the Church of England’s decision to ordain women as bishops.
The Traditional Anglican Communion broke from the Anglican Communion in 1991 over the decision of the Church of England to ordain women as priests. As well as other breakaway groups of traditionalist Anglicans, some of its membership has been hoping for such a canonical structure for at least a decade.
The Traditional Anglican Communion formally made a request two years ago, after all its bishops symbolically signed a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at a ceremony in England.
The discussions that followed were protracted, owing to the unique nature of such a structure, in particular over whether Anglicans should have their own rite.
Archbishop John Hepworth, primate of the traditional body, has played a key role in trying to bring the matter to a conclusion. He will no longer be allowed to be bishop in the new structure, but he has always said he is willing to step aside and let others lead the ecclesial body if such a structure would oblige him to do so.
The apostolic constitution will no doubt be discussed when Archbishop Williams visits the Holy Father and Vatican officials in November.
Edward Pentin writes
The Vatican’s note on the constitution can be found at:
The archbishops’ joint statement can be found here: