In a Vatican press conference today, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced that an Apostolic Constitution has been prepared in response to “many requests” from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful wanting to enter into full communion with the Church.
The Apostolic Constitution, which Cardinal Levada said “provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon,” will be a “single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application.”
The new canonical structure will allow former Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Church while “preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony,” said Cardinal Levada. Addressing the status of married clergy, the cardinal said that married Anglican clergy would be allowed to be ordained as Catholic priests just as takes place in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Similarly, following the same tradition, those priests will not be allowed to be ordained bishops.
These ‘Personal Ordinariates’ will be formed, “as needed, in consultation with local Conferences of Bishops, and their structure will be similar in some ways to that of the Military Ordinariates which have been established in most countries to provide pastoral care for members of the armed forces and their dependents throughout the world,” the cardinal prefect said.
He added: “The provision of this new structure is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church, particularly through the efforts of the Pontifical Council for Promotion of Christian Unity.”
One large group of breakaway Anglicans which has been requesting a formal structure to be corporately received into the Catholic Church has been the Traditional Anglican Communion, made up of an estimated 400,000 members worldwide.
Cardinal Levada explained that this initiative “has come from a number of different groups of Anglicans.” He went on to say: “They have declared that they 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. For them the time has come to express this implicit unity in the visible form of full communion.”
The prefect of the CDF also shared what Pope Benedict's hopes are for the process.
“It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith. Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church. The unity of the Church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows. Moreover, the many diverse traditions present in the Catholic Church today are all rooted in the principle articulated by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.'”
Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, the former under-secretary at the CDF until recently, who helped draft the new structure, said: “We’ve been praying for unity for 40 years. Prayers are being answered in ways we did not anticipate and the Holy See cannot not respond to this movement of the Holy Spirit for those who wish communion and whose tradition is to be valued.”
He said there has been a “tremendous shift” in the ecumenical movement and “these possibilities weren’t seen as they are now.” He rejected accusations that the new Anglicans be described as dissenters. “Rather they are assenting to the movement of the Holy Spirit to be in union with the See of Peter, with the Catholic Church,” he said.
Technical details still need to be worked out, and these Personal Ordinariates may vary in their final form, Archbishop DiNoia said. Full details of the Apostolic Constitution will be released in a few weeks but today’s press conference went ahead because it had been planned sometime ago.
Cardinal Levada said 20-30 bishops have made requests, but more details will be given at a later date. Members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity were consulted and although they were invited to attend today’s press conference, no representatives were able to attend.
The Traditional Anglican Communion broke from the Anglican Communion in 1991 over the decision of the Church of England to ordain women as priests. The TAC, as well as other breakaway groups of traditionalist Anglicans, have been hoping for such a structure ever since. The TAC formally made a request two years ago, after all its bishops signed their approval of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at a ceremony in England. Discussions were protracted owing to the unique nature of such a structure, in particular over whether Anglicans should have their own rite.