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Anglican-Catholic Personal Ordinariates

Two days ago,  Rome announced a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution establishing Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church.

As the Constitution itself has not been actually published, there’s a great deal more speculation on the blogs and newswires that real information, but a few things were made clear in the news conference.

Unfortunately, my presence on Vatican property and proximity to the halls of power has not really increased my access to information about the decisions made there. We did have dinner tonight with an official from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, however, which probably would not have been possible in Seattle – so there are some advantages!

So, some immediate observations:

The “note” and press conference was delivered by two of the highest ranking Americans in the Holy See, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Augustin DiNoia, secretary (#2) in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Why two Americans? Why no Brits? Probably because of the offices they hold, but Romans seem to be skeptical of coincidences. I’m merely curious.

Conspicuous by absence is any representative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Indeed, Cardinal Kasper, president of the council, is not even in Rome, but in Cyprus for the 11th meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

Personal Ordinariates are not exactly like a Personal Prelature (which is what Opus Dei is), but are basically what the Military Ordinariates are – essentially a diocese serving people of a certain characteristic rather than a geographic structure. Instead of members of the armed forces, the membership will be former Anglicans.

Something like this, or the establishment of a new Church sui iuris with its own patriarch or major archbishop, has been discussed as a structural option for the future full communion between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. I think that may still be seen as an eventual option, because the Personal Ordinariates are not fully autonomous churches in that sense, but particular churches like a diocese, still within the context of the Roman church and its national conferences.

Nevertheless, the specter of “uniatism” will no doubt be raised again in the Eastern Orthodox world, and possibly, in the Anglican and Protestant world too. This move could be seen from those corners as proof that Rome really is just interested in co-opting non-Roman liturgical and theological patrimony just for the sake of proselytism. While such an accusation has some historical bases, especially concerning the Latinization of Eastern Catholic Churches, it is clearly not the reality of the current Eastern Catholic Churches, and I do not think it is the reality for these Personal Ordinariates, either. Still, the perception itself could be damaging to the ongoing reception of ecumenical advances with the apostolic chuches in the East.

 There is one line that I found particularly interesting, even though it seemed to be made almost off-hand: When explaining that the ordinary of these Ordinariates (read: diocesan bishop) may be either a (celibate) bishop or a (celibate or married) priest, the note states, “Historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.”

Really? that’s new…

Historically, the Latin Church has had married bishops, at least when we also had married presbyters and deacons as a rule (that is, most of the first 1200 years). If we do not have a requirement of celibacy for either deacons or presbyters, as would be the case in these Ordinariates, there is no historical reason for requiring it of bishops (in Western practice).

Ecumenically, as far as I am aware, to restore this discipline would not pose a challenge to the Orthodox, as they see no objection to the Western Church having married bishops even while the Eastern Church does not. The difference in custom is based on the practice of selecting bishops from the diocesan clergy (as in the West) rather than from the monastic clergy (as is most common in the East). So while there is historic precedent for a celibate episcopate in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, it does not hold for the Western churches, except inasmuch as we currently have a (mostly) celibate presbyterate and have discontinued the ancient practice of selecting bishops from the diaconate.

I would really like to see the ecumenical and historical rationale behind this piece of the note; presumably it is in the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution. Either way, it has got my curiosity piqued; I’ll look into it and follow up!


1 Comment

  1. […] this week, he found himself wishing that he had been invited to preach last week – before the press conference that has made such an impression on Anglican-Catholic relations. Without ignoring the challenges […]

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