Rome today has announced a legal means for disaffected Anglicans to become Roman Catholic while hanging on to their liturgies and rites. It is a major move by Pope Benedict XVI, the potential negative impact of which on relations between the two Churches was vigorously played down by the Archbishops of Westminster and Canterbury at a joint press conference this morning in London, where Dr Rowan Williams described relations between the Catholic and Anglican Churches as "business as usual".
The announcement was made simultaneously in Rome -- see AP here.
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.
The new structure allows for the safeguarding of Anglican traditions of liturgy and rites -- but approval of the Holy See would be needed for separate liturgical texts and rites that differed from the Roman norm. Archbishop Nichols said the Constitution was an attempt to achieve a "balance between a corporate identity and the need to be embedded locally", but stressed that the details of this could only be worked out once an Ordinariate were established. In the event of an application being made to establish such an Ordinariate in England and Wales, he said, "we will work very closely with colleagues in the Church of England. It is important that we do this together".
Dr Williams said the fact that he was appearing with Archbishop Nichols this morning "tells its own story". There was nothing to be gained, he said, by working separately on the matter, and stressed that the fact that they were able to cooperate was the fruit of the many years of Anglican-Catholic dialogue.
He said the Apostolic Constitution was entirely a response by the Holy See to requests by specific groups. He had had no input into it, and first knew of it two weeks ago. It would have no negative impact on the Anglican Communion worldwide, he stressed, adding that for more than 150 years Anglicans had entered the Catholic Church in varying numbers, sometimes responding to crises and sometimes not, and meeting a variety of responses from Rome; in this sense, he said, there was "nothing new" in today's announcement, which should not be seen as "a commentary on the Anglican Communion by Rome" -- a remark that met with hearty agreement by Archbishop Nichols.
I asked Dr Williams if the timing of the announcement was related to last year's crisis-plagued Lambeth Conference, when Cardinal Levada, CDF prefect, wrote to Archbishop John Hepworth, TAC primate, to tell him that the timing was not right for a response to Hepworth's request for corporate unity with Rome. Dr Williams would only say that he didn't think today's announcement was "time-sensitive".
Despite this morning's efforts by both church leaders, today's announcement is of potentially huge significance. It is the first time a universal canonical structure has been created that allows for the gradual absorption into the Catholic Church of huge numbers of Anglicans in any part of the world. The impact of this will be highly significant. Many are highly educated, conservative in their theology and liturgy. By creating a parallel jurisdiction which helps to safeguard their identity as Anglicans, Pope Benedict has dealt with many of their key fears -- and allowed for a corridor to Rome which thousands will go through over the next few years, leading to a gradual diminution of the Anglo-Catholic element in worldwide Anglicanism.
The experience of the new emigres will be closely watched by other Anglicans -- and will strongly affect the prospects of long-term Anglican-Catholic unification. History is being made.