The Apostolic Constitution — an Anglican View

Pope Benedict XVI’s historic, momentous decision Oct. 20 to create structures for groups of Anglicans to be received into the Catholic Church deserves an Anglican perspective.

Rev. R. William Franklin, an Episcopal priest, is an academic fellow of the Anglican Center in Rome and associate director of the American Academy there. He is also a pastor at St. Paul’s Inside the Walls, the Episcopal church in Rome, and teaches theology at the Pontifical Angelicum University. He spoke about the announcement and its implications.

Did news of the apostolic constitution come as a surprise?

This does not come as a surprise, because we have heard rumors of the preparation of such a document for at least a year.

Certainly, we as Anglicans will be very interested to hear the response of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) of the Holy See to this announcement that such an apostolic constitution will be issued. The statement of the PCPCU will be very important for us. Certainly, the ecumenical conversations will proceed as usual, but an apostolic constitution such as this one is a new departure, and it will obviously create inevitably a different context for the ongoing dialogue between our two Churches, as developments within Anglicanism have changed the context of our progress toward full communion at moments in the past.

What implications do you see for Anglican-Catholic dialogue and ecumenism?

To answer this question we first have to have further information. Most importantly, how does the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the highest ecumenical consistory of the Roman Catholic Church, understand the implications of the apostolic constitution for our ongoing relationship? So the response of this body of the Holy See to the forthcoming apostolic constitution will be very important for us.

Second, we need to be able to read the full text of the apostolic constitution itself.

Third, we need to know the identity of formerly Anglican groups that are seeking reconciliation with the Holy See to evaluate fully the ecumenical implications of this new canonical structure for the Roman Catholic Church, its ecumenical relations with the Anglican Communion and those with other Christian bodies.

Fourth, we need to know the reaction of both Anglicans and Roman Catholics who have been committed to the classical pattern of ecumenical dialogue as the sure road to the full communion of our two Churches. What will their reaction to the forthcoming text of the apostolic constitution be?

The response of the people of God to such a document will be an important factor in shaping the ecumenical future.

But there are some positive things to this development. You could say that if, in fact, these dismantled Anglicans want to be in the Catholic Church, this creates a clarity in one sense from those people who don’t want to be in communion with the Holy See. But why is there this new corporate dimension, and what does this do to the old goal of full communion of the two Churches carried out through a public theological dialogue?

Does it strike you as the Catholic Church giving up on that form of dialogue, that perhaps it realizes there won’t ever be that unity with the Anglican Communion?

I can’t really say that, because as long as the dialogue goes on and the Catholic Church is committed to its ecumenical projects of the Second Vatican Council, I don’t think it gives up on church unity because it believes that’s Christ’s will. But I think along the way it has had to make provision for people who, at certain stages of the evolution of churches, no longer feel at home in the other church. So I am seeing it as pastoral provision. Having said that though, what happens to the dialogue when you have such developments? It obviously changes the picture. So that’s the question that needs to be answered, and it needs to be answered first by the Pontifical Council. They need to guide us on this.

This also raises other questions: How will this new group relate to local dioceses, and what will be the authority of the ordinary, appointed to be in charge of the ordinariate? What will be the ordinary’s relationship to the local bishop and the Catholic diocese? That needs to be spelled out and perhaps will be spelled out in this forthcoming document.