Did Pope Francis Sign on to A Declaration Implicitly Critical of the Ordinariate’s Founding?

As has been widely reported, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia met in Havana, Cuba on February 12 to sign a historic joint declaration.

The topic was Catholic-Orthodox relations, including the relationship between Greek Catholics and Orthodox faithful in Russia and the Ukraine. In all this, I’m pretty sure no one had the Ordinariate (for former members of the Anglican Communion coming into the Roman Catholic Church) in mind.

But wouldn’t the principle stated in no. 25 of the Russian Orthodox-Catholic declaration (emphasis mine) apply also to the Ordinariate ?

25. It is our hope that our meeting may also contribute to reconciliation wherever tensions exist between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. It is today clear that the past method of “uniatism,” understood as the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church, is not the way to re–establish unity. Nonetheless, the ecclesial communities which emerged in these historical circumstances have the right to exist and to undertake all that is necessary to meet the spiritual needs of their faithful, while seeking to live in peace with their neighbors. Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in need of reconciliation and of mutually acceptable forms of co–existence.

Just askin’.







  1. Years ago, I sat in on a discussion about the possibility of the RCC recognizing an Anglican (or perhaps, Sarum) rite. This would be a separate Western rite instead of an accepted use within the Latin rite. As I remember, a reason given for a liturgical use instead of rite was sensitivity to Orthodox concerns about the creation of new “uniate” churches. I assume that this parallels the current policy of not naming a new exarch for (and therefore no ordinations to) the Russian Greek Catholic Church.

  2. No. This is a red herring. The distinction between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Anglicanism is that the Catholic Church recognizes the orders of one, but not the other. Thus the restoration of ecclesial communion (with the mutual recognition of jurisdiction and orders) is possible with one, but not the other. Ecclesial communion is not possible with any community whose ministers and sacraments are not be recognized by the Catholic Church. The rectification of the deficit of valid orders and sacraments would require the positive action of the Catholic Church (as it has, in fact, with the communities of the personal ordinariates), and not simply the mutual recognition of full ecclesial life, which would be the case with, say, the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

    1. @James Bradley:
      Well I hope that restoration of ecclesial communion with Anglicans is possible! In fact, as a Roman Catholic I certainly believe that it is possible, since the teachings of the Second Vatican Council impel me to work toward it. I don’t think that Unitatis Redintegratio admonishes us to work strenuously toward impossibilities.

      I think here of the statement of Cardinal Ratzinger that what we think is not possible at the present time is something we leave to God as a future possibility. Many were uncomfortable with that, since it could take us off the hook and let us stall indefinitely. But in this context, it shows us why the Ordinariate is problematic from an ecumenical standpoint: future generations might find a way for the mutual recognition of orders in ways that we cannot currently conceptualize.


      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        The distinction I sought to make was between the means of restoring ecclesial communion, not its desirability or possibility (once we accept that distinction). It is, however, a fact that it is impossible to restore ecclesial communion with an ecclesial community whose orders are considered invalid. The mutual recognition of orders is an integral part of such reunion.

        Furthermore, Unitatis Redintegratio was written before the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion. Nobody can deny the effect of this action, nor fail to recognize that it has changed the landscape of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue irreversibly. It moves the question on from simply one of the validity of Anglican orders.

        Considering that the entire “College of Bishops” of the Anglican Communion could not ever be received into full communion as bishops (not simply because of the “question” of the validity of Anglican orders, but because some of those who are bishops in the Anglican Communion are women), some other means of achieving that end must be found. This also extends to other Anglican clergy, and even to sacraments dependent on episcopal orders that are received by any member of the faithful (i.e., confirmation).

        As Cardinal Kasper has said:

        “Where mutual recognition and communion between bishops does not exist or no longer exists, where one can therefore no longer concelebrate the eucharist, then no church communion, at least no full church communion and thus no eucharistic communion can exist.”

        That is the rationale for the ordinariates, because despite our best wishes and hopes (and, believe me, I am sincere in those), an integral and mutual recognition of orders between Catholics and Anglicans is irreversibly lost.

      2. @James Bradley:
        Maybe it is “irreversibly lost.” I hope not. I don’t think we know that it is.

        I guess I’m less sure of being able to speak for all future generations than you seem to be. Christians have a long history of say that “such and such” will never happen and can never happen, and then… see church history! I make no claims or predictions, nor do I express my favored outcomes, for what the future could hold. The future could hold things that I can’t imagine, in ways that blow apart my categories for thinking about the question.


      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        We’ve moved quite a long way from your initial question. I think we can safely say that the ordinariates were not on the Holy Father’s mind, and that this paragraph of the Declaration cannot be implied to relate to the situation of the ordinariates.

        On the point of “we never know what’s round the corner,” I think you have enunciated a very common problem. Ecumenism is, as you rightly pointed out, a mandate that comes to us from the Church (cf. UR), because it comes from Christ himself. However, the mandate is that all may be one, not that all may simply discuss the jolly good idea of being one. Thus, when dialogue becomes so loosely connected to the reality of a given situation that it cannot, in any conceivable or practical way, move forward toward actual communion (the “we never know what’s round the corner” school), it has ceased to be authentic ecumenical dialogue, and drifted from the gospel imperative. It’s just being Christian *to* each other, not *with* each other.

        The mandate we are given demands action (Pope Benedict called them “concrete gestures”) – dialogue to begin, of course, but dialogue that is always moving forward toward the goal of all ecumenical activity, which is the restoration of full ecclesial communion.

        That has sadly ceased to be the case in the official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, and the documents of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (see ARCIC III) make that abundantly clear. The ordinariate, I would suggest, points toward the ecumenical vision to which you seem to hold, but which is no longer the reality of the official dialogue.

  3. Slam dunk!! Add the story that Francis and his very good friend (now deceased), Buenos Aries Anglican bishop discussed his possible transition and Francis suggesting that he needed to stay and minister with his church.
    Really – has this initiative gone much beyond US, UK, Australia? Appears to be very limited; small effort; etc. – almost a one time deal.

  4. Thanks be to God for the Anglican Ordinariate!

    The Church of Rome does not go “poaching” congregations, but when congregations come to her for full reconciliation, she accepts them with open arms. That is what happened with the Traditional Anglican Communion. If there are readers of PT who actually think it doesn’t matter whether one is in full communion with the Catholic Church and the See of Rome, then I guess we belong to a different religion. But if that’s your perspective, it would be strange if you had any objections to the ministry and growth of the SSPX. They’re just another Christian group, after all…

    The Ukrainian Catholics at this time are rightly incensed by what Pope Francis did. It’s a mercy these joint declarations don’t have much (if any) doctrinal or canonical weight.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Peter K’s comment seems to me to be in tune with CCC 816 and 836 – 838. It matters to be united with one’s bishop and in turn the Pope. The Anglicans seem to move further away from this in one way and the SSPX in another. To reject this would seem to me to be denying this part of the faith.
        I suppose there is an implicit challenge to a reader to argue to the contrary, that one can be Catholic without the Pope. I think that Henry VIII tried that.

      2. @Peter Haydon:
        No, I didn’t claim that unity with ones bishop and pope does not matter.
        My issue is PK escalating this to the claim that there are people (fellow Catholics, I gather) who believe this and thus they hold to a different religion. This is needlessly inflammatory.

  5. as an Episcopalian, I can only say that from out point of view, it’s the Catholics who have to defend a position of consigning women to 2/3 Christian status. I had a more well thought out response earlier but frankly the smug dismissal of our Church (‘despite our best wishes…a mutual recognition..is irretrievably (i.e. for all eternity) lost…” (because we so stipulate)… makes me throw up my hands and not bother. This is pure legalistic bad faith.

    I’m just one of many that the Catholic church has refused. And no, I’m not a murderer, thief, abortionist, or worst yet, in your eyes, gay.

    My best wishes to Catholic women in their ‘conversation’ with the Church.

  6. Let’s clarify a misunderstanding about “uniatism”. Fr. Robert Taft, SJ, in his lecture “Anamnesis, not amnesia” (available on-line), points out some Orthodox myths about the Eastern Catholic Churches.

    In one passage, he notes that the Union of Brest, which ultimately led to the formation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was undertaken not at the initiative of Rome, but of the respective Orthodox bishops who desired to restore the Union achieved at Florence.

    Pope Francis’ criticism of “uniatism” in the Havana document, like the Catholic criticism of “proselytism”, is aimed against unworthy efforts at making converts. It doesn’t apply to the voluntary initiative of the Orthodox bishops at Brest. Nor does it apply to former Anglicans who sought full communion at their own prompting.

    Anglicanorum coetibus (2009) was not a unilateral outreach by Pope Benedict to poach Anglicans. It followed after the “Portsmouth Petition” made in 2007 by bishops of several Anglican traditionalist denominations. They signed a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and asked for a path to full communion. After 2009, many of them backed down, but some of their members followed through and joined the new Ordinariates, and even more, so did some Anglicans who did not belong to the traditionalist bodies but took inspiration from the move toward unity.

    1. @Richard Chonak:
      Richard, This is a helpful clarification about “Uniatism.”

      But if the question is Pope Francis’s views of the Ordinariate, I think this quotation from an Anglican bishop in Argentina gives us an indication:

      “Bp. Venables added that in a conversation with Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, the latter made it clear that he values the place of Anglicans in the Church universal.

      “’He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the Church needs us as Anglicans’.”

      I believe there was some official clarification, when this breakfast conversation became public, that Pope Francis does not oppose the Ordinariate. But I came away with the impression that his comments to Bp. Venables might well have given his true feelings.

      One other point: the Declaration does not distinguish, as you do, between “poaching” and the group from the other community coming of its own accord. The Declaration simply says that it is wrong to bring a group in as a group, separating them from their previous church – however it comes about.


    2. @Richard Chonak:
      Oh MUCH thanks for the link to robert Taft’s anamnesis, not amnesia. He is the invaluable scholar-pastor for the Eastern-Western Christians still lamenting the split and the mutual loss that the division has caused us theologically and liturgically.

  7. The joint declaration defines uniatism as “the union of one community to the other, separating it from its Church.” “Church” with a capital “C”: compare the 2000 declaration _Dominus Iesus_ para. 17:

    “Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches [ . . . ] On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, (Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 22) are not Churches in the proper sense”

    Two years prior to _Dominus Jesus_, the CDF’s Doctrinal Commentary on the profession of faith embodying the norms of John Paul II’s _Ad Tuendam Fidem_”, made clear that Leo XIII’s declaration concerning Anglican ordinations is still a doctrine to be held definitively.

    There is therefore no conflict between the Havana declaration and _Anglicanorum coetibus_.

    1. @Robert Bruce:
      So the strength (or arrogance) with which we think the Ordinariate is not an example of Uniatism (because we’re really a church but some other group is not) depends on the weight we give to Dominus Iesus and the CDF Doctrinal Commentary. The former is a bit weighter, but the latter is very low indeed in its doctrinal authority.

      I’m sure theological discussion of all these issues will continue among Roman Catholic and Anglican theologians who are far more trained in the complexities of these issue than I am.


      1. The text quoted in the OP seems to be a re-wording of items 2 and 3 of the communique issued at Balamand way back in 1993.


        I’m not an expert in these things, but probably looking at more direct evidence of Pope Francis’ opinion like the statements he made in private when he was an archbishop or the recent ordination of an ordinariate’s first bishop would be more illuminating than the repetition of a long-ago agreed-on formula from a different ecumenical context.

  8. I understand that Leo XIII declared Anglican Orders invalid. What I do not understand are the actions of popes over the past fifty years of giving Anglican bishops episcopal rings, episcopal crosses, chalices and joining in prayer with pope and Canterbury both in full episcopal regalia. Papal practice doesn’t encourage agreement with Leo.

  9. Excellent discussion. Though I don’t have much knowledge about this topic, I do have some familiarity. In this case I am inclined to favor the position of Anthony Ruff, OSB for the simple fact that the RC church has & will continue to evolve. Consider the clerical hierarchy from pope down & the laity; have they remained unchanged since Christ’s ascension? No!

    What is happening today? Francis is emphasizing his role as Bishop of Rome. Additionally, he is more fully implementing VII’s call for synodality at all levels. His emphasis on beginning the journey by “walking together” adds another dimension to the process along with his emphasis on mutually held core Gospel themes.

    Francis seems to be holding out the offer of most everything being negotiable regarding clerical offices. Using history as the template this makes sense. It may be necessary to unravel what has been built-up over time regarding the powers of clerical offices. For example, the pedestals upon which some clerics stand have cracked no longer supporting their weight. Francis has gently encouraged clerics to look at their title vs. Gospel job description being more Christ-like by being with and smelling like their sheep i.e. Prince of the Church does not mean act and live like a Renaissance prince.

    Reformer Pope Francis seems to be encouraging the RC church to look back to the core Gospel messages where the truth can be found. The kernel of truth has been incrementally added to over the centuries so that it is no longer identifiable! Was Peter, in fact, the first pope? Based on Sacred Scripture it would be difficult to make the case that his contemporaries saw him as such (Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles). This may be the form of overall Church structure Pope Francis has in mind. If so, this brings us much closer to our separated brethren.

  10. From what I understand (i.e. what was taught to me), the Union of Brest was a political move by the Latin-rite Poles to keep ethnic Byzantine churches within their political sphere. Brest (and “Uniatism”, though I am loathe to use that term) was not a question of liturgy or theology. Rather, Brest signaled the power of one kingdom to dominate others.

  11. Last summer I attended a summer secession for Old Catholic Theology. You will recall that the Old Catholic Church is recognized by Rome as a valid ecclesial body though not in union with Rome. In a conversation with Archbishop Joris Vercammen, Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht, my understanding is that he did not think Old Catholic ordination of women constituted an irreversible break with Rome. He had a meeting with Pope Francis only a short time prior to our conversation.
    The Holy Father issued a statement welcoming Old Catholic bishops.
    I think is is worth quoting, in part:
    “The theological and ecclesiological questions that arose during our separation are now more difficult to overcome due to the increasing distance between us on matters of ministry and ethical discernment.”
    …The challenge for Catholics and Old Catholics, then, is to persevere in substantive theological dialogue and to walk together, to pray together and to work together in a deeper spirit of conversion towards all that Christ intends for his Church. In this separation there have been, on the part of both sides, grave sins and human faults. In a spirit of mutual forgiveness and humble repentance, we need now to strengthen our desire for reconciliation and peace. The path towards unity begins with a change of heart, an interior conversion (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 4). It is a spiritual journey from encounter to friendship, from friendship to brotherhood, from brotherhood to communion. Along the way, change is inevitable. We must always be willing to listen to and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth (cf. Jn 16:13).
    “The path toward unity begins with a change of heart.” I believe this pertains to both communions. Yes, change is inevitable.


  12. The issue of Anglican Orders, in this context, is the red herring. Ecumenical discussions can be disrupted by a part of one community coming into communion with a different community, as happened in the Ukraine and as may be happening with the Ordinariates. The Patriarch of Moscow, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or Pastor Michael of Streetside church may feel slighted by such a movement, and that in turn can affect the relations between the original and receiving communities. (It can even happen with individuals, eg JH Newman)

    Anglican Orders, with the issue of ordaining women, is certainly a part of the ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and RCs. I am interested to see how members of he Ordinariates participate in that dialogue. I hope their presence and experience helps.

    But I can certainly see why the Pope and the Patriarch would agree that such shifts are disruptive. How many patriarchs and major archbishops etc. exist in the Ukraine now?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *