Father Dwight Longenecker is a former Anglican priest who entered the Catholic Church and has been ordained under the Vatican's Pastoral Provision. He is chaplain to St. Joseph's Catholic School in Greenville, S.C. Visit his website and blog at www.dwightlongenecker.com
Q. In the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, published by the Vatican November 2009, Pope Benedict XVI announced a new special provision to accommodate Christians of the Anglican Communion who wish to enter the Catholic Church. What prompted that action?
A. The answer is in the opening sentence of the apostolic constitution announcing the new arrangement: “In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately.”
Since the early 1990s, when the Church of England decided to ordain women as priests, many Anglicans have asked the Vatican for some sort of provision whereby they could come into full communion with the Catholic Church while still retaining some auton-omy and their own Anglican traditions.
As the Anglican Communion moved toward women bishops, homosexual marriage, acceptance of remarriage after divorce and other moral and doctrinal positions contrary to ancient Christian tradition, the calls became more frequent, numerous and insistent. The Holy Father is simply responding to these pleas.
Q. What are the common reasons given by these Anglican Christians for their desire to be in communion with Rome?
A. They profess to hold to a Catholic understanding of the historic Christian faith. They have refrained from simply becoming Catholics in the usual way because they desire to retain the riches of their Anglican patrimony. In other words, they want to be Anglo Catholics within the Catholic Church instead of the Anglican Communion.
Q. How many Anglicans is it likely will take advantage of the new provision?
A. No one knows for sure. The Traditional Anglican Communion is one of the groups that have petitioned Rome. They are made up of a confederation of traditional Anglican Churches that have broken from the mainstream Anglican Communion.
They have a global presence and claim membership of 400,000 souls. If they all accepted the Church’s offer, and there were other groups from the Anglican Communion and other smaller churches in the Anglican tradition, then the numbers could reach 500,000.
However, most observers think this is a very optimistic estimate.
What interests me is not so much how many will come in now, but the possibility that in the future these new “Anglican Catholic” churches might attract significant numbers of non-Anglican Protestants.
I know from my experience of evangelical Christianity that there are many traditional evangelicals who long for a liturgical, historical and traditional Church. They would have problems coming into the Catholic mainstream for various reasons, but they may well find an “Anglican Catholic” congregation a more accessible path into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Time will tell.
Q. The apostolic constitution announcing the new provisions speaks of establishing “personal ordinariates.” What kind of canonical structures are they?
A. The Holy See is granting Anglican converts their own mini-hierarchy that answers di-rectly to Rome. The man in charge will be a former Anglican priest. He is not being consecrated as bishop so that a married man may be asked to fill the role.
Nevertheless, he will have the virtual status of a bishop within the ordinariate. He will be able to erect parishes, appoint clergy and serve as pastor of the Anglicans in his area.
Think of the arrangement of some of the Eastern-rite churches. They have a bishop or archbishop who oversees a large area. They have their own rite and their own traditions, but they are in full communion with the Holy See. For canonical reasons, the Anglican Ordinariate is not quite the same, but it is similar.
Q. How does this arrangement differ from the canonical structure of the Eastern Catholic Churches?
A. The Eastern-rite Churches have more autonomy. Also, they have bishops, who are not married. The Anglican ordinary may be a married man who would not be a bishop.
Most importantly, the Eastern-rite Churches have their own liturgical rite with its own historical integrity. The Anglicans will use an “Anglican-style” liturgy that has been theologically corrected and approved by Rome.
Historically, the Anglican liturgy now in use in some Catholic parishes has been derived from the Latin rite. So it is rightly called an “Anglican Use” liturgy of the Roman rite.
Q. What would be the relationship between these ordinariates and the dioceses with whose territories they overlap?
A. The Anglican Ordinariate will overlap geographically with existing Catholic dioceses. The Anglican ordinary will oversee priests who are incardinated to the ordinariate. The ordinary and his priests are called on to cooperate fully with the Catholic diocesan bishops and their fellow Latin-rite priests for the good of the whole Church.
Q. Individual Anglicans have always been free to join the Catholic Church at any time, and many have in fact done so in recent years. Why are these special arrangements necessary?
A. The special arrangements allow Anglicans to maintain and promote their special “Anglican patrimony,” as the apostolic constitution calls it. They can have their own identity and not simply be absorbed into the modern Catholic Church.
This patrimony is precious, historical and beautiful. It includes the splendid language of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, Anglican hymns, its sacred choral tradition, its spirituality and its particularly English ethos. The Holy See considers all this worth keeping and believes it will enrich the modern Catholic Church.
Q. Anglican clergymen, including both priests and bishops, have petitioned for this provision. Will married Anglican clergy be able to receive ordination as Catholic priests or bishops?
A. Married men who are presently Anglican clergy may be presented for ordination once they have been received into the Church and have been properly selected and trained. This is already what happens under the Pastoral Provision.
The Pastoral Provision is a measure established by Pope John Paul II in 1980. It allows bishops to apply for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy for certain married former Anglican priests who have entered the Catholic Church, allowing them to be ordained as Catholic priests. I myself was ordained in the Catholic Church under this Pastoral Provision.
People should be clear, however, that the norm for men applying for ordination within the Anglican Ordinariate will be the discipline of celibacy. Nevertheless, there is provision for the Anglican Ordinary to ask for married men who are not already Anglican priests to be ordained. This situation will be considered on a case-by-case basis according to “objective criteria” approved by the Holy See. These “objective criteria” have not yet been published.
Q. Could an influx of married priests into the Catholic Church through the Anglican personal ordinariates exert pressure on the Church to modify celibacy as the priestly norm?
A. I don’t think so. The married Anglican clergy will operate pretty much within the Anglican Ordinariate, and although they may help out in Latin-rite parishes, they will typically not be ministering widely within the wider Catholic community. Also, given time, the celibacy rule for the new generation of Anglican Ordinariate priests will take effect, and married priests will become the exception, not the rule.
Q. Will non-Anglican Catholics who are attracted to the distinctive liturgy and spirituality of the Anglican tradition be allowed to join parishes within the personal ordinariates?
A. Anyone with a link to Anglicanism may join the ordinariate. This includes Anglicans who convert, but it also includes those who have already converted to the Catholic faith and wish to nurture and enjoy their Anglican heritage. Other members of the ordinariate will be those converted through the evangelistic enterprise of the ordinariate parishes.
I doubt whether anyone will stop a Latin-rite Catholic from attending worship at an ordinariate parish. But the rules just published prohibit them from joining formally.
Q. What consequences might this new arrangement have for the Catholic Church’s ecumenical relations with the Anglican Communion?
A. It will change the old-fashioned style of ecumenical discussions radically. I think ecumenical discussions with the Anglicans will continue, but they will increasingly be between two parties that are on divergent paths.
This new provision has really altered the course of the old-style ecumenism in a major way. One could almost say that Pope Benedict has totally rewritten the playbook.
He’s basically said: “Time for discussion is over. Now we can move forward toward visible reunion, and here is a plan for this to happen.”
Many people thought all the ecumenical discussions were an end in themselves. They were not. They were only the planning stages. They laid a foundation for the sort of steps we are now seeing.
Q. Is there any evidence that Christians from other traditions with a desire to enter the Catholic Church might be seeking similar accommodations?
A. Not that I’m aware of. Instead, I believe, we will see that the new Anglican Ordinariate will provide a bridge for other Protestant Christians. Once it is established, liturgically and traditionally minded Lutherans and Methodists may very well find that the most accessible path into full communion with the Catholic Church is through the Anglican Ordinariate.
Also, if some of the ordinariate parishes are “broad church” in their worship styles (in other words, less formal), many evangelicals who are heading toward a liturgical and traditional church may find their way “home to Rome.”
For More Information
For the text of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus , go to www.vatican.va/holyfather/benedictxvi/apostconstitutions/documents/hfben-xviapc20091104anglicanorum-coetibusen.html.
For interviews and information about developments related to the apostolic constitution, visit Father Longenecker’s blog at gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/2009/11/breaking-news.html.
Forward in Faith is the leading Anglo Catholic group; visit their website at www.forwardinfaith.com/default.htm.
Visit the Traditional Anglican Communion website at acahomeorg0.web701.discountasp.net/.