An official jurisdiction for members of the Church of England opting for full communion with the Catholic Church was established just in time to receive its first three priests on Saturday.
On Jan. 15, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed the creation of "The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham." The announcement of the establishment of the ordinariate, a special diocese-like structure, was announced during the Mass at London's Westminster Cathedral to ordain three former Anglican bishops to the Catholic priesthood.
The very name of the personal ordinariate denotes the Catholic-Anglican connection, both Churches have Marian Shrines in the English village of Walsingham. Blessed John Henry Newman, the most well-known Anglican to seek communion with the Catholic Church, was chosen as the jurisdiction's patron.
The ordinariate is a new structure in which "worthy Anglican liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions" will be preserved.The movement of people away from the Anglican Communion is being spurred by a growing acceptance of female bishops, practing homosexual clergy, and disagreements over the primacy of Sacred Scripture within the Church.
The Vatican explained in a Jan. 15 statement, released just after mid-day, that ordinariate members are "fully integrated" into the Catholic fold.
It also stated clearly that married ex-Anglican clergy cannot be ordained as Catholic bishops "for doctrinal reasons" while, "under certain conditions," they can be ordained Catholic priests.
The first three were thus made Catholic priests by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster in London's cathedral. Three former Anglican bishops, Frs. Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton, and John Broadhurst, received the sacrament of Holy Orders as priests in the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Nichols called the day "a unique occasion marking a new step in the life and history of the Catholic Church."
He welcomed the three priests and told them, "you have distinguished pasts, full of real achievements. Now, ahead of you, you have an important and demanding future!"
Fr. Newton has been chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to oversee the new structure.
The priest said he was "humbled" by the appointment. "This is not an honor I have sought or expected but I pray that God will give me the wisdom and grace to live up to the trust the Holy Father has placed in me," he said in a statement transmitted through the English and Welsh Catholic bishops' conference.
He hoped that the ordinariate would be "a gift to the Catholic Church" and that all who join it "will be of service to the whole Church."
Fr. Newton and the two others ordained on Saturday will begin their service by overseeing the formation of the first groups of lay faithful who aim to enter into full communion at Easter. They will also assist other former Anglican clergy as they prepare for their Catholic ordinations around Pentecost.
In its statement, the Vatican underscored its ongoing commitment to ecumenical dialogue.
The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was created at the request of groups of Anglicans who "share the common Catholic faith as it is expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and accept the Petrine ministry as something Christ willed for the Church," stated the Vatican.
"For them," it explained, "the time has now come to express this implicit unity in the visible form of full communion."