Cardinal Wuerl on Religious Freedom, Threats to Marriage, and Welcoming Anglicans Into the Church

U.S. Anglican ordinariate will be official on Jan. 1.

I caught up with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington after lunch today.

Cardinal Wuerl wears several hats at the USCCB. He is a member of the new Committee on Religious Liberty, he is leading the effort to establish the new ordinariate for Anglicans, and he is also chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, where he has been extremely active.

I asked Cardinal Wuerl to move from the macro to the micro level of the discussion on emerging threats to religious freedom. The Archdiocese of Washington has already been forced to end spousal health-care benefits for new hires at Catholic Charities in the District, following the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” Now the local Church is facing a renewed effort to legalize same-sex “marriage” in Maryland in early 2012.

Cardinal Wuerl says that the faithful and the larger community need to be educated about the new challenges to the First Amendment, and he welcomes the USCCB’s stronger focus on the issue.

“The increasing erosion of religious liberty is moving so insistently, but often subtly. We have to help our people and society to recognize there is a major shift taking place from how we once respected religious freedom,” he said. The USCCB is in the position to provide information on these developments across the whole country.

“But this is just the beginning. When more people realize what is at stake, I hope that more people will be able to share their knowledge about this threat and get involved.”

He expressed gratitude that Catholic University of America’s president, John Garvey, and Kevin Baine, a lawyer with church-state issues expertise, had already rolled up their sleeves to develop a legal and legislative strategy on this issue.

Regarding the Church’s response to the expected campaign to legalize same-sex “marriage” in Maryland, Cardinal Wuerl emphasized that he would push for a strong religious exemption if and when any legislation was introduced.

“In Maryland, we are going to be looking for an adequate religious exemption built into whatever may be passed. I don’t buy the idea that you don’t include religious protections upfront because it might discourage opposition to an attempt to legalize same-sex ‘marriage.’ We need to have this exemption, even as we fight any attempt to change marriage.”

At the end of our conversation, I asked Cardinal Wuerl about unconfirmed reports that the advancement of the Anglican-use ordinate has encountered some resistance. I asked him if there was any truth to these reports. The cardinal noted that he would be speaking about this issue during the afternoon, and it would be clear from his presentation “where all this is going. What you will see is substantial movement in the future.”


True to his word, Cardinal Wuerl soon appeared at the podium before his brother bishops to announce some exciting new developments for the Anglican-use ordinariate

He reported that 35 Anglican clergy have already received approval by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and have moved on to the second stage of the process, which includes a criminal background check, a psychological evaluation and obtaining a votum from the Catholic bishop where they reside.

His address confirmed that two Anglican communities have come into full communion wit the Church in anticipation of the new ordinariate.

Finally, he announced that on Oct. 29,  the Holy Father “approved the erection of an ordinariate in the U.S. The canonical erection will take place on Jan. 1, 2012, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. At that time, I assume, an ordinary will be named.”

The cardinal announced a number of other initiatives that will help support those who wish to join: They will have to complete a program of catechesis, made available through the ordinariate once it is functioning. A formation program for those seeking ordination as Catholic priests has also been approved, he said. That program is currently based at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and can be completed either on campus or through a distance learning program. St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston will provide on-site and distance catechetical training. St. Luke’s Institute will complete psychological evaluations at a reduced rate.

“I remain convinced that this ordinariate will remain a true expression of the Catholic Church,” said the cardinal. “Your involvement is one of the guarantees of that.”

Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, Texas, has been nominated the Pastoral Provision delegate for the United States.

The flurry of questions that followed the cardinal’s report suggested that many bishops are still somewhat uncertain about what this will mean and how it will all be implemented.

Indeed, responding to questions, the cardinal noted that parishes that are already a part of a particular diocese will require permission of the bishop to shift to the new ordinariate: “Each congregation will have to apply to the local bishop first before applying to the ordinariate.”

Concerns were raised about the financial viability of the ordinariate, and the cardinal acknowledged, “This ordinariate is starting from zero. ... Any help you can give would be welcome.”

But he also suggested that his brother bishops would soon see the benefit of this landmark action, noting that the Archdiocese for the Military Services would soon welcome Episcopalian priests to expand the ranks of Catholic chaplains.

I ran into Archbishop Charles Chaput after Cardinal Wuerl’s press conference and asked him whether I was correct in noticing a measure of anxiety and confusion on the part of his brother bishops.

“There’s uncertainty,”  he said. “Not all questions have been asked, and when they are, it will take time to figure this out.”