Saturday 24 October 2009

Anglican Ordinariate ... or Catholic "flying bishops"?

I haven't really known what to make of the announcement earlier this week of a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution to allow for "ordinariates" for Anglican converts. In some ways, we cannot be sure of the full implications until we see the details of the Apostolic Constitution itself.

The fullest explanation of the juridical implications as they have emerged so far is, I think, this one. From a canon lawyer, of course. It is an interesting exemplification of the idea that Canon Law is "applied ecclesiology"! Fr Boyle's post also includes links to some of the other coverage on the blogs. There is also some useful comment at Valle Adurni, particularly among the numbered points towards the end of his post.

My own thoughts:

1. I recall a lunch time conversation once with an Anglican priest, who expressed the feeling that he felt very unwelcomed by the Catholic Church's discipline that did not allow non-Catholics to receive Holy Communion if they attended Mass. This contrasts with the Anglican rule which is that, provided you are in good standing with your own denomination, you can recieve at an Anglican service. Taking the opportunity of a mouthful of food to think on my feet, I responded along the lines that, for the Roman Catholic, communion is not just social but about what is believed to be true and right (and, I would want to add with the benefit of hindsight, about a physically visible communion with the Bishop-in-communion-with-the Holy See). The problem with the C of E is that talking to one part of it is not talking to the whole, so the idea of "communion" as in "the Anglican communion" is at root a social idea - no other underpinning idea of "communion" can be held across all its different parts.

2. Another conversation I had some time ago with a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism painted a picture of ideas of "corporate" moves to Rome along the following lines. "Are you going to join?" "No." "Oh, well, I won't then". Or, in reverse: "If you join, I will. Shall we ask Sheila (name made up!) if she is going to join as well?" It was a rather jolly picture of tea and cake in the parish hall; again, rather more to do with the social than with religious conviction. So I ended up not at all convinced by the possibilities of whole Anglican parishes converting and retaining their parish identities in the Roman Catholic Church.

3. Again, some time ago I visited a "high Church" Anglican parish - and, almost physically, felt a sense of "acting" like Rome, but, at heart, remaining totally and utterly Anglican in spirit. It's the very idea that the same Church can contain completely contradictory beliefs with regard to teaching and morals and consider that normal. The "high Church Anglican" / "Anglo-Catholic" is in this sense as thoroughly Anglican as the "broad Church" / "low Church" Anglican.

I know this doesn't sound very welcoming to Anglicans who are looking to make use of the new possibilities created by Anglican Ordinariates. And I know it does not fairly represent those Anglicans who genuinely search for truth, and are more and more coming to see that truth of Christian revelation in the Roman Catholic Church. But I think it does lead me to two conclusions:

4. The process of establishing an Ordinariate is, if I understand it correctly, to be undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church - the Holy See in consultation with the relevant Bishops Conferences. I have not understood it to mean that organisations such as the Traditional Anglican Communion (though they may have more claim to the possibility than other organisations), Forward in Faith or individual Anglican parishes will, in themselves, become Ordinariates. This retains the sense of conversion that I feel is still necessary. An Anglican movement that becomes Roman Catholic, but remains Anglican in spirit in the sense outlined above, will sooner or later evaporate.

5. The Apostolic Constitution allows the possibility of the establishing of Anglican Ordinariates. I still think there needs to be a process of discernment as particular Anglican organisations approach the Roman Catholic Church. In some cases, I would expect that the establishing of an Ordinariate or affiliation to an Ordinariate will not be appropriate; but, where there is a stronger sense of a corporate identity that is theological/spiritual among those approaching the Roman Catholic Church, then the establishing of an Ordinariate becomes more appopriate.

Two postscripts:

6. I think the potential for the ordination as Roman Catholic priests of significant numbers of married ex-Anglican clergy raises a real question about the witness of the Roman Rite Church to the value of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. The testimony of the new movements, rather than being one of reducing the witness to the evangelical counsels, is one of increasing such witness. I think there should be some genuine discernment of priestly vocations, rather than an assumption that a vocation as an Anglican priest is automatically read as being a sign of a vocation to be a Catholic priest; and marital status should be considered here, as it would be for someone who is already a Roman Catholic. This is not to say that I feel married ex-Anglican clergy should not be ordained; but it is to say that I feel some consideration of the witness to the evangelical counsel of virginity needs to be undertaken.

7. Amid the wide ranging comments suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI can be seen as the "Pope of Christian unity" [see here, and here - and see my A Comment on Unity as a complement to these comments - remember, you saw it first on Catholic Commentary!], it is interesting to look at how the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is seeing his role as Primate with regard to the Anglican Communion as a whole. For some time now, and over a range of issues that, frankly, divide the Communion - particularly the ordination of women as priests and bishops, and the disputes surrounding the Anglican communions stance with regard to homosexuality - Archbishop Rowan Williams seems to me to have desperately tried to keep the Communion together. He has tried to keep it together in a very Anglican way - a unity at a social level, a being in "communion" that does not reach much more deeply than the social suggested at point 1, and then at points 2 and 3 above, and which leaves aside divisions in religious belief and morals, and finds almost any kind of construction to avoid a visible split. It has interested me that he seems to see his role as being one of a "ministry of unity" for the Anglican communion, yes in a very Anglican sense, but a ministry of unity nonetheless.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. I think that Fr Boyle's post does make clear that the Anglican Ordinariate will be something quite different than the "oversight", "pastoral care" provision for those unhappy with the ordination of women made by "flying bishops" in the Church of England (though the note from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does use this terminology in its second paragraph, in my view, not very helpfully). It is precisely this discernment that needs to be clear, both for those seeking to become Roman Catholics in an Anglican Ordinariate and those on the Roman Catholic side who are establishing the Ordinariate. I suspect the move will not be quite the rush that some of the media coverage of the last few days suggests.


Anonymous said...

Just come across your blog.
I have been tied up with other things recently so have missed most of the newer info on Anglican's converting as groups.
I have wondered for a long time though,whether these special measures would have been necessary if Latin Rite Catholic parishes were all orthodox and Liturgically strong.
I wish we could clean up our act a bit.

Anonymous said...

Should not our Lord's prayer,’ that they may be one' (St John 17:22), be ever before us? I believe so...