LONDON — Pope Benedict’s move allowing Anglican converts to enter the Catholic Church as a group makes him “the Pope of Christian Unity,” says the head of the United Kingdom’s structure for these communities.
“I think it just shows his fatherly care: to open his arms to those who came from different traditions, but shared a common faith,” Msgr. Keith Newton said Feb. 13.
Msgr. Newton leads the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham — an ecclesial structure in the U.K. for Anglicans who enter the Catholic Church in groups and who wish to maintain elements of their spiritual and liturgical heritage.
“I’m more than happy to call him the Pope of Christian Unity, because, for me, that’s exactly what he’s been and (also) for those who entered the Catholic Church through that provision.”
On Feb. 11, Pope Benedict XVI announced that, effective Feb. 28, he would be stepping down from his position as pope, due to advanced age and declining strength. After the Pope leaves office, cardinals from around the world will meet in Rome to elect a new pope in a special closed meeting called a conclave. A papal resignation has not occurred in nearly 600 years.
Pope Benedict is known for achieving an ecumenism victory in his 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which provided for ordinariates, or Anglican communities wishing to enter into the Church.
“I think it was unique, and I think it showed his fatherly care; it was a response to requests that were made to him through Vatican channels over a number of years,” Msgr. Newton said.
“It seems to me that the Holy Father’s done something, rather than just talk about things. ... The ordinariates are a small experiment, but are actually doing something about seeing how receptive ecumenism could work.”
The monsignor continued, “You can spend your time talking about these things, and nothing happens, and that’s the been the sad result of a lot of ecumenical dialogue over the years. And it seems to me that the ordinariates were both a result of the ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics. I don’t think it would have happened” without the first two rounds of Catholic-Anglican dialogue.
Anglican ordinariates, he said, show that “the universal Church of Jesus Christ does not have to be monochrome; it can represent lots of diverse traditions, provided that they’re all in communion with one another, and they all share a common faith.”
Pope Benedict’s offer of ordinariates was, for Msgr. Newton, an “incredible gift.”
“The fact we’re all in communion with each other ... I think it’s all because of the Petrine office, which holds the communion together, and that’s an incredible gift. Personally, its made me feel much more spiritually content and happy.”
On the impact of the ordinariates for Pope Benedict’s legacy, Msgr. Newton said that, in “looking back from some years ahead, you’ll be able to see that this was, as he described it himself, ‘a prophetic gesture.’ Now, prophetic gestures, I don’t think you see the realization of them in short-term time.
“So I think it will be something we look back on, and I think it has been an ecumenical gesture. And it will be very interesting to see whether a similar provision could be made for other tradition ... Lutherans for instance, whether that grows from it.”
Msgr. Newton said he had been speaking recently with members of the Walsingham Ordinariate who said “how thankful they were” for Pope Benedict “because they probably wouldn’t have made that step” of converting from Anglicanism, “except they did it together with a group of like-minded people.”
The head of the North American ordinariate echoed the words of Msgr. Newton.
“One of Pope Benedict XVI’s greatest legacies will be the largest reconciliation of Anglican groups with the Catholic Church in 500 years,” Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson wrote Feb. 11.
“The members of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter will be forever grateful to Pope Benedict for his pastoral concern and vision for Catholic unity. In a very personal and significant manner, he has changed our lives as he has welcomed us and our Anglican patrimony into the Catholic faith this past year.”
Msgr. Steenson converted to the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict’s papacy and said he and the members of the American ordinariate have a deep joy “knowing that we are the fruit of his vision for Catholic unity.”
Pope Benedict, he said, “laid a permanent foundation for the ordinariate to be the means to reconcile Anglican groups to the Catholic Church and that the Anglican patrimony might be shared with the Catholic Church.”
“For this, we say: Thank you; thank you for giving us this beautiful gift of communion.”