Vatican issues guide for dissident Anglicans


JUST THREE weeks after it announced the creation of new ecclesiastical structures to welcome disaffected Anglicans, the Vatican yesterday issued the Apostolic Constitution by which these new structures will be governed.

In some senses, given that the Holy See seems to look favourably on the incorporation of many elements of Anglican tradition into the new structures, called “personal ordinariates”, this is a document that raises as many questions as it answers.

Can you really import and recognise (more) married clergy without undermining Catholic Church teaching on priestly celibacy?

If, as the document states, “the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative expression of the Catholic faith professed by members of the ordinariate”, what room is left for Anglican tradition? Hymns and flower arrangements?

In a brief press release yesterday, the Vatican pointedly touched on some of these issues.

“This Apostolic constitution opens a new avenue for the promotion of Christian unity while, at the same time, granting legitimate diversity in the expression of our common faith.

“It represents not an initiative on the part of the Holy See, but a generous response from the Holy Father to the legitimate aspirations of these Anglican groups.

“The provision of this new structure is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church.

“The possibility envisaged by the Apostolic constitution for some married clergy within the personal ordinariates does not signify any change in the church’s discipline of clerical celibacy.

“According to the second Vatican Council, priestly celibacy is a sign and a stimulus for personal charity and radiantly proclaims the reign of God.”

The Vatican note also explains that the Apostolic constitution, called Anglicanorum Coetibus, establishes personal ordinariates as a new canonical structure for the “corporate reunion” of the dissident Anglicans.

The new ordinariates will allow the Rome-bound Anglicans “to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony”.

These personal ordinariates, led by an “ordinary”, are non-territorial dioceses within the boundaries of a national bishops’ conference but under the control of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The ordinariate has the “faculty” to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and other sacraments “according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See”.

The constitution suggests that the spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican communion represent not only a “precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the ordinariate” but also “a treasure to be shared”.

While there is no change in the Catholic Church’s teaching on clerical celibacy, the constitution does rule that married former Anglican ministers may be ordained Catholic priests and remain married.

Likewise, a former Anglican bishop who belongs to the ordinariate may be invited to take part in bishops’ conference meetings but with the status of a retired bishop.

In an apparent acknowledgement of the economic difficulties that may await the new ordinariates, the constitution also rules that “when necessary, priests may engage in a secular profession compatible with the exercise of priestly ministry”.

In other words, revenue from outside the church may well be welcome if not essential for some of the new priests.

The new constitution also appears to make a concession to Anglican-style Church democracy by decreeing that the new ordinariates must each have a “governing council”, comprising at least six priests.

The ordinary must consult with the governing council when it comes to issues such as the admission of a candidate to Holy Orders or the submission of a terna (three) names for the appointment of the ordinary by Holy See.

So will there be an invasion of Anglican converts to Rome? Sources close to both the Anglican and Catholic churches have suggested that the numbers may be significantly fewer than earlier media reports of half a million faithful and 30 bishops from the worldwide Anglican communion.