Ecumenical Problem or Pastoral Solution?

On Wednesday, November 4, 2009, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the Apostolic ConstitutionAnglicanorum Coetibus, Providing for Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans entering into Full Communion with the Catholic Church.” The Constitution became available to the English-speaking world the following Monday, November 9, 2009, together with a second document, “Complimentary Norms for the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.” The appearance of the Constitution itself was noted in passing in the secular press as the real thunder had come some days before with the release of a note from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith announcing that the apostolic constitution was forthcoming. Rumors circulated among Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike: would Anglicanorum Coetibus would repeal the claims of Pope Leo XIII’s Apostolicae Curae — or at least recognize the orders of male Anglican priests in all-male lines of succession? Was there to be the creation of an “Anglican Rite Body” within the structures of the Catholic Church? (The likelihood of the former seemed — to this observer at least — about as good as Anglican orders seemed to Pope Leo: “absolutely null and utterly void.”) Neither rumor proved true, and perhaps for the best: partial or wholesale recognition of Anglican orders or the creation of an Anglican Rite would have created a tremendous amount of confusion and ecumenical difficulty.

Now that the dust of the rumor mill has settled, and the occasion has dropped out of the headlines, it’s worth taking a look at what actually happened. The principal outcome of Anglicanorum Coetibus will be the erection of “Personal Ordinariates” within national or regional Catholic bishops’ conferences, for the pastoral care of former Anglicans/Episcopalians who have sought reception into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. (An Ordinariate is a juridical structure within Roman Catholic Canon Law, and functions as such similar to a diocese.) In 1980, Pope John Paul II established a “Pastoral Provision” that allowed for the reception of Episcopal Clergy and Episcopal Congregations into the Roman Catholic Church without requiring them to abandon certain aspects of their Anglican heritage. Priests who were married could be (re-)ordained without prejudice to their married state, though they were debarred from assuming the role of a parish pastor; and a Book of Divine Worship was created, incorporating certain non-negotiable elements of the Roman Catholic liturgy into the framework of the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer. Under the terms of this Pastoral Provision, episcopal oversight was exercised by both the local Roman Catholic bishop and another bishop who served as Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The terms of the Pastoral Provision were operative only in the United States, and under them seven parishes were received or created and about seventy-five priests were ordained.

Anglicanorum Coetibus expands the scope of the Pastoral Provision to an international level, while creating more immediate structures for the exercise of episcopal oversight. While the cooperation of local Roman Catholic bishops will still be necessary, the role of the Ecclesiastical Delegate will be eliminated, and an Ordinary (one with the juridical authority of a bishop — though, the ordinary in fact may be simply a priest) will exercise immediate oversight within each national or regional Bishops’ Conference for those affected by the terms of the Apostolic Constitution. In addition, a Governing Council and a Pastoral Council will be established, to provide for consultation with both clergy and laity (thereby preserving some elements of Anglican synodal polity.)

The underlying intent of Anglicanorum Coetibus is to create a unique place within Roman Catholicism where “the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion” may be maintained “as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared” (par. III). According to Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, employing the structure of a Personal Ordinariate allows the responsible authorities  to be “better able to ensure that those faithful are not simply assimilated into the local Dioceses in a way which would lead to the loss of the richness of their Anglican tradition — which would be an entire [sic] impoverishment of the entire Church.”

Official Roman Catholic recognition of the catholic character of Anglican tradition has increased dramatically in the years since the Second Vatican Council’s 1964 Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio stated that “[a]mong those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place” (n. 13). In no small part the increased recognition since the Council has been due to the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and various bi-lateral ecumenical dialogues between individual Anglican provinces and the Roman church. By seeking to preserve elements of Anglican liturgy and spirituality not only for those being received into the Personal Ordinariate, but also as “a treasure to be shared” for the whole Roman Catholic church, Anglicanorum Coetibus takes such recognition to a new level.

This recognition on the part of Rome (which I in fact welcome) still sadly falls short of how Anglicans understand the catholicity of their tradition. We believe that we share the deposit of the catholic faith (1) as it is revealed in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible; (2) as it was defined by the first ecumenical councils of the undivided church and articulated in the Apostles’, Niceano-Constantinopolitan and Athanasian Creeds; (3) as it is realized in the celebration of the Dominical sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist; and (4) as it is maintained and handed-on through the three-fold ministries of bishops, priests and deacons. Where we find these things — so we agreed among ourselves at the 1888 Lambeth Conference — we believe we find the church catholic and its treasury of faith.

The Roman church disagrees, as is its prerogative, and I cannot begrudge that fact so long as dialogue between the two traditions continues in a spirit of charity and “faith seeking understanding.” Bishop Christopher Epting, Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations of The Episcopal Church, remarked of Anglicanorum Coetibus that it “appears to be a unilateral action on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which flies in the face of the slow, but steady progress made in the real ecumenical dialogue of over forty years. . . . This is ‘come home to Rome’ with absolute clarity.” While it’s no secret that Roman Catholicism, although engaging in sincere ecumenical dialogue, still practices an “ecumenism of return,” I’m afraid that Bishop Epting sees in the Apostolic Constitution a new ecumenical problem. But such does not seem to have been the intent of the Pope in promulgating it. As Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, have stated together:

The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Con-stitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

Just as Roman Catholicism on the whole, while recognizing many catholic elements within the Anglican tradition, fails to recognize what seems so clear to those of us within it, so also many of our former coreligionists no longer recognize that catholicity. It is to those — individuals and groups — who are no longer able to walk with us, yet still wish to preserve their Anglican heritage, that Anglicanorum Coetibus is addressed. In seeking to preserve for them something of the heritage which they have loved, but with which they can no longer maintain communion in good conscience, while also fully incorporating them into the Roman Catholic Church, it responds to a real pastoral need. As Archbishops Williams and Nichols noted together, “The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church.”

Perhaps most interesting for our readers here will be the liturgical fallout from the Apostolic Constitution. With the publication of the new ICEL translations of the Missale Romanum, the prayers at the Preparation of the Altar and Gifts, and Eucharistic Prayers of Rite II in the Book of Divine Worship will become obsolete. Further, it seems that the great majority of those whose petitioning for full communion with Rome occasioned the promulgation of Anglicanorum Coetibus come from parts of the Anglican Communion that did not use the American Prayer Book, but the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer. It is not clear what liturgy or liturgies will be compiled for those being received into the Personal Ordinariates provided for in the Constitution. Wait and see, I guess.

On November 21, 2009, Vatican Information Service reported of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s audience with the Pope that day:

In the course of. . . cordial discussions attention turned to the challenges facing all Christian communities at the beginning of this millennium, and to the need to promote forms of collaboration and shared witness in facing these challenges. . . . The discussions also focused on recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, reiterating the shared will to continue and to consolidate the ecumenical relationship between Catholics and Anglicans….

A charitable reading of Anglicanorum Coetibus, one that seeks to understand it not as the creation of a new ecumenical problem but as the pastoral solution it is intended to be, will allow us all — Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike — to press ahead with the “collaboration” and “shared witness” and pursuit of deepened ecumenical relations with one another to which the Archbishop and the Pope are both committed.


  1. In this part of the world, it appears that a significant proportion of those likely to come across are actually using the Roman Missal in its current ICEL translation, and have been for many years. They have always prided themselves on being “more Roman than Rome”. It may be possible for them to argue that these texts, far from being imminently obsolete, are actually an integral part of their Anglo-Catholic heritage and spirituality, and that they wish to continue using them. If that happens, one can imagine the amusing scenario of Catholics out of sympathy with the forthcoming re-translation preferring to worship in churches in an Anglican Ordinariate . . .

    1. Paul, where I see this getting really interesting is in the whole debate over hymnody versus the Propers. Both the BCP and the Book of Divine Worship specify in places (particularly the entrance rite) that “a hymn, psalm or anthem may be sung” — and the intervention between the readings may be a “psalm, hymn or anthem”, and in both cases the ordering indicates preference. As the BDW is approved by the USSCB and confirmed by the Holy See, there is at least one instance in a use of the Roman Rite where hymns are to be preferred over psalms (i.e., Propers) in the Mass, and where the responsorial psalm may be omitted altogether in favor of a hymn (and not one necessarily a strophic setting of the psalm).

      Now, if the push for the Propers over against (and not alongside) hymnody really takes off (which I don’t think it will, being the pet project of a small but vocal minority), I could see hymn-friendly Catholics cramming the Anglican Ordinariate parishes for familiar hymns that they can sing with ease.

  2. What would a Pastoral Solution for Catholics swimming the Thames (or Rhine) look like? What about personal jurisdictions for such persons with Anglicanism or Lutheranism, for example?

    1. Bishop Epting’s statement, quoted above, included the comment that “The Vatican may rest assured that we will never create ‘Roman Catholic Ordinariates’ within the Anglican Communion for former, disaffected Roman Catholic converts. We will continue to welcome individuals, from the Roman Catholic Church or any other Christian communion, who desire to be in full communion with the See of Canterbury, and therefore with the Anglican Communion.” I found this to be a rather blunt assessment. Our agreements of Full Communion with many Christian churches make such provisions as the Apostolic Constitution affords unnecessary within many churches of the Anglican Communion. For example, the ELCA and the Episcopal Church enjoy a relationship of full communion (as does Canterbury with the Nordic Lutheran churches). In the American case, Episcopal and Lutheran clergy may celebrate in each others’ parishes, and use each others’ liturgies. (But note, this situation is not everywhere appreciated, nor its provisions employed.)

      Former Roman Catholics joining the Episcopal Church find enough similarity with what they have known as to be very much at home (including, in some places, the use of either the current ICEL Roman Missal — as Paul Inwood mentions above — or the Missal of the Council of Trent), and also enough latitude to practice the spirituality they have previously imbued without much difficulty.

      As for Lutherans joining the Roman Catholic Church, they are usually received into communion as Latin Rite Catholics without special provision for their heritage. I am aware, however, of at least one Lutheran minister who was ordained a Roman Catholic priest under the Anglican Pastoral Provision.

  3. Well, two main groups seem to be directly in the path of this statement: The Traditional Anglican Communion and the English Forward in Faith movement. As Paul Inwood said above, the grand majority of FiF already use the current Ordianry Form. The TAC, however, does not. No Catholic Anglicans can use the 1662 Prayer Book without supplements–its prayer of consecration is simply inadequate. As a result, the TAC tends to use the Anglican or English Missal (two different books, there). Both of these are largely the 1662 with interpolations, generally Coverdale’s translation of the Tridentine Mass. Both books also contain the Minor Propers.

    Word on the street is that Msgr. Peter Elliott (yes, that Peter Elliott) who will oversee Australian’s Provision has indicated a leaning towards one of these two–the English Missal IIRC.

    So–contra Fr. Unterseher’s comment–the Anglican Use place will likely use *both* hymns and the Minor Propers.

    1. So the question then becomes whether or not the BDW will survive in the United States. It’s already a liturgical book of the Latin Rite… different books for different parts of the English speaking world… hmmm….

      If that degree of local variety is part of the Anglican patrimony being appropriated by Rome, well, I’m all for it!

    1. Derek, I think that would be a real shame for the church in the US. The 1662 BCP was not the basis of the American Episcopal liturgy, nor has the English/Anglican/American Missal phenomenon been particularly important in the history of the Pastoral Provision parishes.

  4. All the talk (quite literally everywhere, ALL the talk) has been about former Anglicans becoming part of the Personal Ordinariates.

    What about the Catholics who want part of the Anglican Patrimony to be found in the new Ordinariates? Anglicanorum Coetibus specifically states that ROMAN Catholics cannot be part of the new Ordinariates.

    That puts me in something of a bind.

    Born Catholic, I was weaned on ICEL English and awful guitar music. I have worshipped in a High Episcopalian parish for years, because I find it a liturgy closer to Truth (lex orandi lex credendi), and it’s much easier to stomach the Book of Common Prayer and the grand hymns.

    When my parish swims the Tiber, which it will, do I become ex-communicate?

    1. Keith, the question you raise is a serious canonical issue, one that I don’t think Rome has thoroughly thought through.

      There is a general prohibition on Latin Rite Catholics migrating to other Rites within the Communion of the Roman Catholic Church, and I think that’s the model that has been adopted here: you entered as one of us, you will return as one of us. What that approach fails to recognize is the human dimension: some people find “elsewhere” to be a real home.

      Canonical issues have to do with relationships (pastors to parishes; individual layfolk to the diocese, etc.), and relationships are evolutionary and negotiable. Canon Law exists to provide structure and order for the life of the institution, thus it lays down norms. Within those norms there is usually room for allowances — dispensation and the like.

      Although this Episcopalian professes a fair amount of knowledge when it comes to Roman Catholic liturgy, he must refrain from further comment — I’m not a canonist. I would suggest that you wait patiently and see how things unfold, and when the time is right, work with and through your pastor or rector for a positive resolution — and don’t worry about things until then. There are canonists who will be working through these difficulties, as I’m sure there are others in your situation: remember, the Apostolic Constitution creates a universal pastoral provision, and I think the Roman authorities will want to make it work for anyone whose intentions are genuinely good.

    2. Well, from the Catholic perspective, you never stopped being a Catholic (formal defection is extremely difficult to establish). So, your attendance at your current parish would not be much different than that of a Roman Catholic who normally receives sacraments in one of the Eastern rite churches; you are free to do so, but you remain juridically part of the Latin church (I’ve not read anything that suggests the apostolic constitution was intended to bar Latin rite Catholics from attending liturgy and receiving Communion or penance or the sacrament of the sick in Anglican Ordinariate churches – sacraments of initiation, matrimony and orders would be handled differently, I would expect). Since the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, this has fewer implications than it formerly did, though not none.

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