Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For Canterbury Exiles, Rome Builds a Bridge

Responding to a rising tide of requests in recent years for full communion from conservative Anglicans who've sought refuge under Rome's umbrella following their Communion's global troubles, this morning the Holy See preemptively announced a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution establishing a "single canonical model" for the intake of large numbers of Anglicans, fulfilling a century-old desire to integrate disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church "while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony."

In token of the measure's significance -- and, indeed, its sensitivity on the ecumenical front -- the move was revealed at a Vatican press conference by the church's lead doctrinal overseer, US Cardinal William Levada, joined by American Archbishop Gus DiNoia OP, the newly-installed #2 at the global church's "worship office" who served until June as the #3 official at Levada's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which laid the groundwork for the arrangement.

According to an unusually well-crafted CDF statement detailing the plans, the unnamed Constitution -- to be signed by Pope Benedict -- will see "pastoral oversight and guidance [being] provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy."

While the ordination of married former Anglican clergy has become relatively commonplace since the Pastoral Provision was instituted in 1980, the Vatican note re-drew the line at the prospect of married bishops; "historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches," the release said. "The Constitution therefore stipulates that the Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop."

What's more, though the Holy See aimed to compare the new ordinariates to the national diocesan structures overseeing a country's military forces, the case at hand appears to hearken more closely to the Eastern churches in full communion in light of the arrangement's maintenance of a distinct liturgical custom and the provision for its oversight by a free-standing ecclesial authority drawn from said community. In other words, though the terminology was likely chosen to keep ecumenical headaches at a minimum, the de facto result of the move is an Anglican Rite within the Roman Communion. Like the military churches, however, the structures will ostensibly be nation-wide, established after consultation with the episcopal conferences.

Though the journey from Canterbury to Rome is nothing new -- one of its more celebrated travelers, who became Cardinal John Henry Newman, will be beatified next year -- recent years have seen an uptick of Anglican defections as the Communion's internal life has been roiled by the increasing embrace of the ordination of women and openly gay clerics by many of the Communion's 44 provinces, along with what the Vatican today termed a departure "from the common biblical teaching on human sexuality" in the decision of several provinces to bless same-sex unions.

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Underscoring the move's potential impact on both churches -- and showing an unusual degree of coordination, both in terms of rollout strategy and ecumenical cooperation -- a joint statement on the new protocol from Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and the Anglican Communion's head, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, was included in this morning's Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office.

In their message, the twin primates saw the development as a fruit "of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion."

"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. "Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured."

Nichols and Williams likewise held a joint press conference following the Roman briefing.

While the most prominent Tiber-crossing push has come from the 400,000-member Traditional Anglican Communion, and several clergy of the Episcopal diocese of Fort Worth investigated the possibility as their Texas fold voted to secede from the Communion's US branch last year, no mention of any group was made in this morning's announcement. In addition, no timetable was given for the release of the Apostolic Constitution on the formation of the new structures.