The news from Rome about the establishment of special ordinariates for disaffected Anglicans should not be seen as a re-lighting of the fires at Tyburn. Indeed, Archbishop Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Rowan of Canterbury held a joint press conference to put the announcement in the context of the successful ecumenical discussions of the past 40 years, rather than as a threat to that dialogue.
The most important point to stress is that the Vatican is responding to a request from others who wish to join the Catholic Church. They are not merely going out to pick some low-hanging Anglican fruit or, as Cardinal Walter Kasper put it, "We are not fishing in the Anglican lake." There are members of the Anglican Church who have come to question the catholicity of their communion, and like John Henry Newman before them, their questioning is leading them to turn to Rome.
It is a fair question – and one that I worry these new structures are designed to obfuscate – why now? Were they not disturbed by their communion’s indifference to papal primacy all these years? When John Paul II sought some way to establish the validity of Anglican orders, but came up empty because the apostolic succession was clearly broken, why did they not seek incorporation into the Church of Rome then? I am sure that many of those who are now motivated to seek communion with Rome do so now primarily because the fractured nature of their own communion has become so manifest.
But, I worry, too, that some of these newcomers will also be nostalgists, anti-feminists, and anti-gay bigots. The ordaining of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire is not something I would have advised, but after all these centuries of schism, I am not sure why that should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The first email I received this morning was from a Jewish friend who saw this aspect of the development when he wrote: "Do you think Pope B- might set up a Jewish rite if we asked him? We could call it Judaism. He could call it unity with church. Everyone's happy."
The other important point is that the Vatican is making pastoral provision for these Anglicans, it is not mandating anything. An ordinariate, similar to the personal prelature status given to Opus Dei, or to the Archdiocese of the military, recognizes an anomaly is present that calls for a specific remedy. The local bishops’ conferences will be able, or not, to establish these ordinariates for former Anglicans. A pastoral judgment will be made by those closest to the scene and Rome is merely changing the canons to permit facilitate that pastoral judgment.
It is a big church and there is room for everybody as I never tire of saying. And, at the risk of re-opening another can of worms, I suggest that we re-visit the liturgical translations of the Missal and borrow heavily from the Book of Common Prayer in devising our prayers, especially the Rite of Commendation which is so wonderful in their liturgy ("Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world…") while ours is so banal ("As we prepare to take leave of our brother…") Seriously, I think the presser by the two archbishops in England is measure of the statement in Rome. It would have been unthinkable 40 years ago that such a step would be taken. It would be unthinkable 60 years ago that Anglican and Catholic archbishops would hold a joint press conference. These new ordinariates may even advance the cause of ecumenical dialogue as they may provide a more intimate experience of the differences and similarities of the two faith traditions.