Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crossing the Tiber from Canterbury?

A big news story this week has been Rome's announcement of work on a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution to enable a formal and distinct place for dissident Anglican communities within the Roman communion. What this will do will be to formalise a form of Anglican rite within the Roman Catholic church.

There are two aspects to this that have generated some rather heated commentary. The first is that the dissident Anglicans being catered to are those who reject the ordination of women to priesthood and episcopate and the affirmation of LGBTQ people through the blessing of same sex relationships and ordination to the priesthood and episcopate. Indeed, there is a now a world of Independent Anglicanism which somewhat overlaps with that of Independent Catholicism. Whereas the greater number of Independent Catholic jurisdictions affirm and ordain women and LGBTQ people, the Independent Anglicans tend to the reverse. So the concern is that Rome is exploiting Anglican divisions to draw into itself conservative groups who will reinforce Rome's own internal struggle against Catholics who disagree with the Vatican position on ordination of women and affirmation of LGBTQ folks. And lets face it, there has been a long struggle within the Roman Catholic church on these issues too. Large numbers of Catholics, such as myself, disagree with the official Roman stance on these issues and look forward to the day when change will happen. We also do our bit in whatever way we can to help bring on that day, to bring about a change in Church teachings.

The other issue of concern was that Rome was poaching and exploiting division within the Anglican communion to its own advantage. Consequently the many decades of Anglican and Roman Catholic dialogue and ecumenical relations were being put at risk.

I will return to both these points but first what exactly was the Vatican proposing? Austen Ivereigh over at America's In All Things group blog gives this overview:

The new canonical structure has the technical name of a "Personal Ordinariate", which according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) "will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony". The Ordinary -- canonically, that means the one with power of governance -- would normally be "appointed from among former Anglican clergy", the CDF says.

The Apostolic Constitution establishing these Personal Ordinariates offers "a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application", the statement continues. Among its features:

1. The Ordinary can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop;

2. The Ordinariate provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy;

3. The Ordinariate allows seminarians to be trained in separate houses of formation in order "to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony".

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster told journalists this morning that the new Apostolic Constitution was a response to various approaches made in the past three or four years by groups in the United States, Australia and the UK. Some were in communion with Lambeth, while others -- such as the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), which claims 400,000 members worldwide -- were not.

The Personal Ordinariates would allow for the pastoral care of lay people, clergy and religious in a corporate body under an Ordinary, but in collaboration with existing dioceses. Their geographical scope would correspond to the territory of a bishops' conference. It would be a "cumulative jurisdiction", meaning that the jurisdictions would overlap -- insofar as the activity pertained to the wider Church, the authority would rest with the bishop of that diocese; insofar as it pertained to an internal activity, it would be a under the Ordinary of the Ordinariate. The process of reception of married Anglican priests would be unlikely to differ much from the current system, he said. Nor would he expect transfers of church property as part of the process of corporate reception.

Important here is that not only existing married Anglican priests be acccepted in the Roman church, but in this effectively Anglican rite in the Roman church celibacy would not be required of its priests only of its bishops. Furthermore, all current Anglican clergy who come into the Roman communion would have to be re-ordained. No matter what they think of their own priesthood, Rome remains unconvinced that Anglican orders are valid.

John Allen points out that this is not a case of Rome poaching from the Anglican communion. Instead this is Rome's response to a variety of approaches from both within the Church of England and from various Independent Anglican jurisdictions, most notably the Traditional Anglican Communion. Here is the response from their Primate, Archbishop John Hepworth. It's clear that they have approached Rome; it is also clear that they welcome this move and that they are setting in motion a response that could lead to their entry into the Roman communion under these terms. Interestng too is Hepworth's comment that "Other Anglican groups have indicated to the Holy See a similar desire and a similar acceptance of Catholic faith."

Nevertheless, the Traditional Anglican Communion claims worldwide some 400,000 adherents. As to the numbers involved in the other traditionalist groups it's unclear. It should also be remembered that not all traditionalists would want to join Rome. The TAC comes out of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican communion. But there are just as many from the evangelical wing, for whom Rome would be an anathema. Within the official Anglican communion, Anglo-Catholics like Roman Catholics are divided on these issues so not all would want to go to Rome anyway. Furthermore, there are quite a few gay Anglican priests within the ranks of the Anglo-Catholics both in the formal Anglican Communion and in the Independent jurisdictions. Mostly closeted and sadly often misogynist but they certainly don't live lives of abstinence. How many of them would feel comfortable in the Roman fold, especially when Rome is keen to prevent gay men being ordained to the preisthood, is hard to say. I should add that the attractions for Anglican bishops who are married are likewise minimal. They can aspire to be a priest but, being married, they will not be consecrated as bishops.

Some have suggested that the Vatican has its eyes especially on the large African Anglican churches. But somehow or other I can't see any of them being interested. Most of their bishops are married for a start and I would think that as autonomous national churches they have a independence and authority that would be lost by any going over to Rome.

John Allen also raises 6 unanswered questions that could prove quite thorny in this process:

all we can do is list six questions (in truth, more like families of questions) that are obviously looming.

1. What's the deal on married priests?

Will be the personal ordinariates be like the Eastern churches, able to ordain married priests in perpetuity?

Jesuit Fr. Tom Reese has raised two related questions along these lines:

  • Could a married Catholic man join the Anglicans, enter an Anglican seminary and then return to the Catholic Church?
  • Could married Catholic men from the traditional dioceses join the Anglican ordinariate and become seminarians and priests?

Obviously, the question becomes what impact such allowances might have on the broader debate over priestly celibacy. Whatever happens, it seems likely that the Vatican will be concerned that the opening to Anglicans not evolve into a massive loophole that ends up eroding the discipline of celibacy on a wider basis.

2. What happens to the Pastoral Provision?

Back in 1980, the Vatican approved something called the "Pastoral Provision" for ministers and laity of the Episcopal Church who wanted to become Catholics. It authorized the ordination of married Episcopal ministers as Catholic priests, as well as the creation of "personal parishes" for former Episcopalians that retain some elements of Anglican liturgical practice. Over thirty years, around one hundred former Episcopal ministers have become Catholic priests under the Pastoral Provision, and seven personal parishes or worship communities have been created. (Four are in Texas, one in Massachusetts, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Missouri).

So, what's to become of those folks?

3. What's the relationship between an ordinariate and a local church?

The Vatican announcement said that ordinariates will be created "in consultation with local conferences of bishops," and that "their structure will be similar in some ways to that of the military ordinariates which have been established in most countries." That seems to suggest that the ordinariates will be set up along national or regional lines -- perhaps one for the United States, where there are lots of Episcopalians, but maybe just one for all of Latin America, where the Anglican Communion doesn't have a large sociological footprint.

If so, this would be the major difference between a "personal ordinariate" and a "personal prelature," a canonical category currently occupied only by Opus Dei. A personal prelature, by definition, is global, whereas these ordinariates will seemingly have some sort of tie to a local church.

That prospect raises several questions. First of all, what exactly does "in consultation with" local bishops mean? What if, for example, a given bishops' conference doesn't actually want an ordinariate in its territory, feeling that it would rather integrate former Anglicans into existing pastoral structures?

Once they're in business, will the "ordinary" of these new structures, in most cases a bishop, become a member of the national conference of bishops? How would that work if there's only one ordinariate for a whole region? For example, would the ordinary become a member of CELAM, the Latin American bishops' conference, without belonging to the conference of any Latin American country?

For that matter, how will the ball start rolling? Will it be the case, for example, that whichever group of Anglicans in a given country or region crosses the finish line first, putting in its formal request for an ordinariate, will be in a position to dominate the ordinariate in that area, setting the tone for whoever might follow? (If so, are we in for an ecclesiastical equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush, with various groups scrambling to stake their claims first?)

4. Who gets to join?

The target audience, so to speak, for the new ordinariates is obviously Anglicans (and former Anglicans) wishing to become Catholic. Let's suppose, however, that once these structures are up and running, some current Catholics find they prefer the liturgical style in the Anglican ordinariate, and decide that they want to join -- not a completely improbable scenario, since "high church" Anglican liturgies have long held a strong appeal for some Catholics.

Or, suppose a given Catholic gets to know Fr. Geoff of the Anglican ordinariate, or becomes friends with Jim and Suzy who worship in the ordinariate, and decides that he or she would like to become part of their community -- again, hardly a long-shot prospect, given the way Catholic sociology often works.

Will such Catholics, without any connection to the Anglican tradition, still be able to join? In other words, will prospective members of the ordinariate be required to establish some sort of Anglican bona fides, or will they eventually be opened up to all comers?

A related question: At present, when a given Anglican (or Episcopalian) wishes to become Catholic, he or she generally goes through some sort of catechetical process, which among other things is designed to assess readiness for entry into full communion. Will the Anglicans who form the nucleus of these new ordinariates be asked to go through a similar sort of one-on-one scrutiny, or will their preparation be established on a more collective basis?

5. Which Vatican office will be in charge?

When the Pastoral Provision was created, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was placed in charge, appointing a delegate in the United States to run the show (currently, it's Archbishop John Myers of Newark.) The CDF is also the office that's prepared the new apostolic constitution.

Typically, however, dioceses and other ecclesiastical jurisdictions (such as apostolic administrations, or, for that matter, Opus Dei as a personal prelature) report to the Congregation for Bishops. At this stage, the safe bet seems that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be in charge, but again it's not clear whether that will be styled as a transitional measure until the ordinariates are "normalized," or whether they'll always remain an exception to the usual lines of authority.

6. Will the ordinaries become a kind of bishops' conference?

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that what the dust finally settles, ten personal ordinariates for former Anglicans are established around the world, and that each has a bishop. Will those ten prelates come to think of themselves as forming a bishops' conference? Would they be recognized as such by the Vatican, doing at least some of the things that bishops' conferences usually do -- such as approving translations of liturgical texts, or hammering out policies on sexual abuse and child protection?

Should things develop in that direction, such a conference could become an important force in English-speaking Catholicism -- perhaps especially on liturgical questions, which tends to be a particular preoccupation of Anglicans who come into communion with the Catholic church.

* * *

Overall, I'm not particularly perturbed by this move and I certainly don't think it's going to add large numbers of conservatives to the Roman Catholic church. Indeed if there are relatively large numbers it could put considerable strain on the mandatory celibacy rule in the Roman rite. Mandatory celibacy is actually generating a crisis in the Latin rite priesthood, as the numbers of priests progressively diminish. And if the Vatican is successful in preventing gay men being ordained then that will only exacerbate the crisis further.

On the plus side, the establishment of an effective Anglican rite within the Roman communion could be quite exciting in the long term especially in the English speaking churches. The other rites of the Roman church tend to be more locally based in specific regions, mostly eastern Europe, Middle East and India. But an Anglican rite would have a much greater spread and would give interesting possibilities for us Latin rite folk to move beyond our own terrain, so to speak. Rome maintains some rather silly rules, in my opinion, designed to prevent people from one rite from getting involved in the life of another, presumably designed to sustain Latin prerogatives.

But in the long term, the only real ecumenical possibility will be the establishment of full communion between the Roman and Anglican communions. I would like to think it can happen this century even if not in my lifetime. With the exception of the evangelical wing, world Anglicanism is really not that much different to Roman Catholicism. From where I sit, the main issues pertain to Eucharistic and sacramental theologies plus the matter of the validity of Anglican orders. I think agreement on the former will resolve the question of the latter.

The really big issue remains the Papal office and that is also a question for Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy too. I think if Rome and the East can resolve this then it should have a happy consequences for both the Anglican and Old Catholic communions. By then I will hope that the ordination of women and affirmation of LGBT people will no longer be an issue - the ordained female diaconate, for example is being restored in a number of Eastern churches, inlcuding that of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In which case the Orthodox are leading Rome.

Ultimately it's at the grassroots level that any real work can take place, Catholics, Anglicans and Orthodox. I'm a strong believer in intercommunion. I take communion in Anglican churches and welcome Anglicans to share communion with me in Catholic churches. I would love to see the same apply with Eastern Orthodox. Indeed I would have taken communion in an Orthodox setting but their communion practice is so very different to what I'm used to and I don't want to do anything that might cause offence. But one day...

Here is another take on the issue and one that highlights the hypocrisies and injustices in Rome's treatment of women and LGBTQ people.

Update: A good piece by Margaret O'Brien Steinfels in the Washington Post, Catholics and Anglicans: Related but can they live together

And also a news story about a senior Church of England bishop who has publicly announced he is considering taking up Rome's offer. Mind you the details of Rome's offer are still being ironed out so he may well change his mind next year.

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