Vatican Opens the Door to Anglican Converts

New canonical structure will allow union with Rome while preserving Anglican identity.

According to the CDF statement, personal ordinariates will operate under the jurisdiction of an ordinary, who will be appointed from among former Anglican clergy. Ordinariates will be established in cooperation with local Catholic episcopal conferences, and their structure “will be similar in some ways to that of the Military Ordinariates which have been established in most countries to provide pastoral care for the members of the armed forces and their dependents throughout the world.”

While the details of how a personal ordinariate will operate were not disclosed, Vatican expert John Allen has described the new structure as “tantamount to a non-territorial diocese” and likened it to a personal prelature, of which Opus Dei is the Catholic Church’s only current example.

With the establishment of personal ordinariates for Anglicans who wish to convert, the Holy See will permit the ordination of married former Anglican clergy as Catholic priests. It will also allow the institution of houses of priestly formation “to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony,” although seminarians in the ordinariates will be educated with other Catholic seminarians.

It is expected that the apostolic constitution will allow for the continuation of traditional Anglican liturgical practices for clergy and laity, and it will also specify that the ordinary “can be either a priest or an unmarried bishop.”

In addition to the announcement from the CDF, the Vatican also released a joint statement from the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the world-wide Anglican Communion. The statement said that the apostolic constitution will “end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church” and represents “further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine, and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition.”

Damian Thompson, editor of the UK’s Catholic Herald and religion blogger for the Daily Telegraph, reported on his blog that Williams was informed of the Vatican’s move only one day before the official announcement, when Levada paid him a visit at his residence at Lambeth Palace in London.

In a letter addressed to Anglican bishops, Williams lamented the fact that he was “informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage,” but stated that “this new possibility is in no sense at all intended to undermine existing relations between our two communions or to be an act of proselytism or aggression.”

Bishop Christopher Epting, deputy for ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Episcopal Church in the United States, issued a statement saying that the Vatican announcement “reflects what the Roman Catholic Church, through its acceptance of Anglican rite parishes, has been doing for some years more informally.” Epting is referring to the “pastoral provision” approved by Pope John Paul II in the early 1980s, whereby several Anglican parishes in the United States entered the Catholic Church while continuing to observe Anglican liturgical and spiritual practices. Married Anglican clergymen were also admitted to the Catholic priesthood under the same provision.

According to its website, the Anglican Communion consists of more than 80 million members around the world, including the 2.4 million members of the Episcopal Church in the US. Controversies over the role of the clergy and sexual ethics have rocked the Anglican Communion in recent decades; the ordination of women and of open homosexuals, as well as the blessing of homosexual relationships, were specifically mentioned in the CDF statement as departures from traditional Christian practice and teaching that have prompted faithful Anglicans to seek unity with the Catholic Church.

The statement from the CDF said that the forthcoming constitution was prepared in response to requests from Anglicans throughout the world “who wish to enter into full visible communion” with the Holy See; the statement was released almost two years to the day after bishops from an association of orthodox Anglican communities known as the Traditional Anglican Communion submitted a request to Rome for full, sacramental unity with the Catholic Church.

Archbishop John Hepworth, primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion—which claims to have more than 400,000 members world-wide—expressed his joy at the Vatican’s announcement.

“We are profoundly moved by the generosity of the Holy Father,” Hepworth said. “He has dedicated his pontificate to the cause of unity. It more than matches the dreams we dared to include in our petition of two years ago. It more than matches our prayers.”

Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement emphasizing the USCCB’s willingness to cooperate with the implementation of the apostolic constitution, as well as the American bishops’ continued dedication to ecumenical dialogue.

“This provision, at the service of the unity of the Church, calls us as well to join our voices to the Priestly Prayer of Jesus that ‘all may be one’ (John 17:21) as we seek a greater communion with all our brothers and sisters with whom we share baptism,” George said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States remain committed to seeking deeper unity with the members of the Episcopal Church by means of theological dialogue and collaboration in activities that advance the mission of Christ and the welfare of society.”

Catherine Harmon is managing editor of CWR.

In an unexpected statement issued October 20, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI will soon release an apostolic constitution establishing a formal structure through which former Anglicans can enter full communion with the Catholic Church.

The apostolic constitution—a formal document reserved by the pope for the most important declarations concerning canon law and Catholic practice—will allow the institution of “personal ordinariates,” according to the statement released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This new canonical structure will enable former Anglicans to join the Catholic Church “while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.”

The announcement was made at a press conference held in Rome with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the CDF, and Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Notably absent from the press conference were any members of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, the council chiefly responsible for dialogue with other Christian denominations. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of that council, had previous commitments elsewhere, Levada said; Kasper was scheduled to be in Cyprus attending a meeting of the International Joint Commission for Orthodox-Catholic Theological Dialogue.


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About Catherine Harmon 574 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.