LONDON — The first Anglican ordinariate has been canonically established in England. John Broadhurst, Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton, having resigned their positions as bishops in the Church of England and having been received into the Catholic Church on New Year’s Day, were ordained to the Catholic priesthood at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 15.
In a statement, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said, “This is a unique moment, and the Catholic community in England and Wales is privileged to be playing its part in this historic development in the life of the universal Church.”
At the beginning of Lent, at least 35 groups and 50 Anglican clergy will enroll as candidates for the ordinariate and will be received into the Catholic Church at Easter. The clergy will then be ordained around the time of Pentecost.
The ordinariate will be overseen by an “ordinary” who will have, according to a statement issued by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, “similar authority and responsibilities in canon law to a diocesan bishop.” He will be assisted by a governing council of at least six priests, whose consent he will need to admit a candidate to holy orders and erect or suppress an ordinariate parish.
The first ordinary will be appointed from the three “founding” members of the ordinariate. At the time of writing, no date had yet been set for this announcement. However, Father Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said that it could happen at any moment.
The ordinary will become “an ex officio member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales,” the statement said. “As a member of the conference, the ordinary will, like a diocesan bishop, take a full part in its discussions and decisions. The ordinary will exercise collegiate responsibility for implementing the resolutions taken by the conference within the life of the ordinariate in the same way that a diocesan bishop does so within his diocese.”
However, he will not oversee a specific territory or diocese, but only those who are members of the ordinariate. He will be directly appointed by Pope Benedict, although, “a married former Anglican bishop or priest who has been subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest cannot however be ordained as a Catholic bishop whilst their spouse is still living.”
Any Catholic will be able to attend Mass at an ordinariate parish. However, they will not be registered members of the ordinariate and will remain under the ordinary jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop where they are resident. In short, membership of the ordinariate is for former Anglicans: Catholics cannot join it.
Father Stock stressed that members of the ordinariate will be deemed fully Catholic and explained in the statement that the “Anglican patrimony” they are to maintain within the Church may be “difficult to define, but it would include many of the spiritual writings, prayers, hymnody and pastoral practices distinctive to the Anglican tradition, which have sustained the faith and longing of many Anglican faithful for that very unity for which Christ prayed.”
Of course, apart from this more spiritual side, married clergy are also part of the Anglican tradition.
“If an Anglican clergyman wants to become a Catholic priest in the ordinariate and he is not married then, because the rule of celibacy still pertains for the ordinariate, he will remain unmarried,” Father Stock clarified.
“If someone who is not a clergyman enters the ordinariate, there might be a situation in which the ordinary and the governing council of the ordinariate believe it is appropriate to ordain a married man within the ordinariate. But we don’t know what those circumstances are. All we know is that a limited provision has been made for that within the constitution.”
The clergy joining the ordinariate are being ordained especially quickly so that they can continue serving their community. As Father Stock stated, these men “will be looking after their own communities from day one, from the day they are ordained, so they will need continuing assistance in learning many of the distinctive elements of Catholic life.” As such, their training will be “on the job,” through day courses, e-learning and so on.
It is, therefore, clear that while the ordinariate has an understandable communal focus, each case will nevertheless be decided individually. The same is true for lay Anglicans seeking to join the ordinariate: As Father Stock said, “It is an individual decision on the part of each layperson to desire to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.”
Those involved in the establishment of the ordinariate are certainly well aware that interested parties around the world are watching the development of this first ordinariate very closely.
“This is the first ordinariate to be canonically established, but there are other ordinariates that will be established in other places of the world where there are sufficient groups to create the capacity to make an ordinariate,” Father Stock pointed out. “Just two groups of 15 people could not constitute an ordinariate; as a diocese has to reach a certain capacity to make it viable as a canonical entity, so an ordinariate does as well. There are no fixed figures on that, just as there are not for a diocese, but it depends on the individual circumstances of each place. So it will depend on where these groups form in different parts of the world. … For example, you might find that in somewhere like Australia there wouldn’t be just one ordinariate for the whole of the country, but there would be an ordinariate within each of the [geographic] provinces.”
This brings out the other characteristic of the ordinariate: the pioneering nature of Pope Benedict’s effort at true ecumenism, seeking to achieve Christian unity without insisting on uniformity of rites and customs.
Archbishop Nichols summarized this neatly: “Pope Benedict has made clear his own intentions: that the ordinariate can serve the wider cause of visible unity between our two churches by demonstrating in practice the extent to which we have so much to give to each other in our common service of the Lord. With this in mind, he describes this step as ‘a prophetic gesture.’”
In short, it is a gamble, but a very brave and very real effort for unity that could form a blueprint for around the world.
James Kelly, Ph.D., is a columnist for The Universe, the biggest-selling Catholic weekly in Britain and Ireland, and a researcher at the University of London.