Vatican publishes plan for full communion with disaffected Anglicans

Published November 13, 2009

The Vatican has offered more details about how it plans to accommodate disaffected Anglican clergy and lay people who want to join the Roman Catholic Church but still retain some of their Anglican traditions. The Vatican published its Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus on Nov. 9, introducing a canonical structure that would establish “personal ordinariates,” similar to dioceses within existing Catholic dioceses. These jurisdictions would be in full communion with the Catholic Church but could observe some Anglican services and traditions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church would, however, be the “authoritative expression” professed by those in the ordinariates.According to the document, former Anglican bishops, including those who are married, could be ordained as priests within the Catholic Church and are eligible to be appointed as ordinary (bishop) and exercise pastoral and sacramental ministry within the ordinariate with full jurisdictional authority. But all exceptions to the Catholic Church’s rule that priests should be celibate would be decided on a case-by-case basis. Former Anglican bishops could also be asked to assist ordinaries. They may be invited to participate in meetings of the Bishop’s Conference in that territory with status equivalent to a retired bishop. Anglican clergy could be accepted by the ordinary as candidates for ordination as Catholic priests. Married priests would also be eligible on a case-by-case basis, but unmarried priests would be required to remain celibate. The constitution also stated that Anglican clergy who are in “irregular marriage situations” would not be accepted for ordination.Pope Benedict XVI first announced his intention to respond to what he described as groups of Anglicans who have petitioned “repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately” on October 20. The Anglican groups making the requests have not been officially identified. But in response to the Apostolic Constitution, the Primates Council of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON/FCA) described the Pope’s offer as a gracious one for which they were grateful. They said, however, that they are convinced that “this is not the time to abandon the Anglican Communion.” (GAFCON has accused The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada of abandoning biblical faith and practice over issues such as the blessing of same-sex marriages and the ordination of a bishop in a same-sex relationship.) In a statement issued after news of the Vatican’s offer broke, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said “From a Canadian perspective I do not foresee a groundswell of response to these provisions. I say this knowing that even among those who have separated themselves from the Anglican Church of Canada, there is an abiding desire to remain in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to maintain a place within the family of churches we know as the Anglican Communion.” The primate’s office declined comment on the Apostolic Constitution saying it reflected the “internal rules of the Roman Catholic Church.”Bishop Dennis Drainville of the diocese of Quebec is currently co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Bishops’ Dialogue. He does not expect the Vatican’s offer will appeal to many Anglicans in Canada. “It is essentially going to attract those individuals and groups that began leaving the Anglican Church of Canada… in the 70s and 80s over the ordination of women,” he said, noting that such groups who might describe themselves as Anglo-Catholics and who seek a return to Rome represent a small number of Canadian Anglicans. He added that it might affect larger numbers in England “because they are just going through their crisis about women in Episcopal orders.”When asked what obstacles there might be for Anglicans wanting to be a part of the Roman Catholic Church in this way, Bishop Drainville said, “Bottom line here is, we’re talking about how Anglicans can be made acceptable to the Catholic Church. What we’re not talking about is Anglicans essentially being Anglicans within the Catholic Church…,” he said. “So if Anglicans are going to truly be part of this then there are a number of things they are going to have to accept, the Catholic Church’s dogma on trans-substantiation is still there, the Petrine doctrine of the supremacy of the Pope and infallibility are central… Whoever is going to make this move is going to have to move accepting all of that. “Bishop Drainville said he did not expect that official dialogue between the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops in Canada would see a negative impact. “I think the good will that has been built up over 40 years will continue,” he said. “There will be questions from many people about ‘What does this mean? Why has this come now? Why has there been no consultation on the part of the Vatican with the Anglican Communion?'” he said. “All of these things bear questioning and analysis, but in the final story, I think what you will see is that we will continue to do what we’ve been doing for the past 40 years and that is ask questions, engage in dialogue, and to the best of our ability come to a greater and more profound understanding of each other.”Bishop John Pazak of Eparchy of Saints Cyril and Methodius of Toronto (Slovakian) is a Catholic member of the dialogue. Asked how this development would affect the dialogue and ecumenism in general, he said he thought it would affect Roman Catholic bishops in the dialogue more than it would himself as a member of the Eastern Catholic Church, but he said he did expect it would be talked about and would create some tension. “A little tension, for sure,” he said. But he added that he was impressed by the way the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, spoke together on the issue. The Anglican and Catholic archbishops issued a joint statement following the Pope’s announcement in October that said that it would be “up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution.” They committed to close co-operation and said that the Apostolic Constitution “is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition.” They also suggested that the Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue that would not have been possible in the past.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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