Monday, 26 October 2009

Catholic Anglicans

There are big things afoot and it would be remiss if I didn't offer at least some small comment. I and many others have been paying close attention to the talk of an Anglican personal ordinariate whereby disaffected Anglicans will be able to be reconciled with the Catholic Church while maintaining their liturgies and Anglican traditions including, importantly, married priests. This was all brought to light last week at a joint press conference attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Westminster.

However big this turns out to be (and it may be bigger than many expect), it is a huge thing for ecumenism. Quite possibly the most significant since the Union of Brest. The head of the Traditional Anglican Communion, whose requests for reconciliation with the Church were in large part the catalyst for what is being proposed, talks about it here (and I have to say, 'divine divide diminishes' is a sweet turn of phrase). Having just gotten back from Egypt, seeing at close quarters the vibrancy of a persecuted church which has been separated from us for over 1500 years (and having also, as it happens, assisted at my first Greek Orthodox Mass- at the foot of Mt Sinai, no less), I am very interested in the implications for broader Church unity, particularly with the East. I'm not as confident that things are as far advanced as John Hepworth seems to think (the Russians still have huge reservations, their new Patriarch notwithstanding, and the Uniate situation in the Ukraine still leaves a bad taste in their mouths).

Nonetheless, this is a significant move. It opens the Western church up to the possibility of liturgical and cultural (and even to some extent disciplinary) diversity while still maintaining corporate unity. If the Anglican ordinariate is taken up and Anglican Catholic churches in English-speaking countries (not to mention Africa) become, not some odd and rare curiosity but a not entirely uncommon and culturally influential presence- something on the radar of the laity- then the identification of the Latin rite with the Catholic Church will be to some extent diminished. This is so even though, technically, the Anglican personal ordinariate will be operating as part of the Latin rite. The same is true of Summorum Pontificum. This is also in spite of the fact that there are Eastern rite Catholic churches around. Most of those don't figure much on the radar of your common Catholic, nor, I strongly suspect, on that of much of the clergy. But one effect that I hope this initiative contributes to is the changing of that.

This is how I hope and pray this plays out on a broad scale. More legitimate liturgical diversity is introduced. A certain mental break follows. The Catholic Church and a totally uniform Latin rite are not coterminous, it is realised. Cultural uniformity is not necessary for the Catholic Church to be what it is. Therefore, the way lies open for reunion of the other apostolic churches whose traditions and culture and whole theological mentality are totally different from the Western Church. Give it another 500 years and we might at last see something that we have not seen in 1500 years- the apostolic churches corporately reunited again and something that actually looks like the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Granted, a long way down the track. But that is what I'm hoping and praying for. And, unless I'm very much mistaken, that's the ball Pope Benedict has his eye on. John 17 is quite clear. Church unity is about evangelism, and ultimately effective evangelism requires one united Church. If we hope to truly bear witness to the gospel, we need to get the churches back together.

In the meantime, the Anglican personal ordinariate has other implications of lesser import but which are nonetheless significant and worthwhile. It means the glories of Cranmerian English set free from Cranmer's theological errors, and that on a wide scale (it has already been accomplished to a very small extent in the States- this promises to broaden it). It means disciplinary diversity- Western Catholics will be able to experience both celibate pastors and married pastors, and appreciate the strengths (and inevitably, the weaknesses) of each vocation. And, who knows, as the Anglican Communion disintegrates and disestablishment looms, this initiative might even do something towards saving Christianity in England and England for Christianity. And I'm all for that.

There is ambition here on the part of the Pope. The practicalities and the response begin to take shape but are not completely clear yet. So, with high hopes and hopeful prayers, we wait for the details to emerge and concrete responses to be made.

UPDATE: The talk of married clergy as a norm and widespread phenomenon within the Anglican Ordinariate seems to have been premature. According to Cardinal Levada, it looks like that at least will not change substantially, with celibacy being the norm for all clergy in the Latin rite, Anglican Catholics included, while the possibility of case-specific exceptions remains. I think it a pity, though understandable. Having two norms in the one rite could have been a nightmare. One can imagine a regular priest beginning a relationship with a woman and transferring to the Anglican Ordinariate simply so he could marry her. I can see why possibilities like that would cause headaches higher up. On the other hand, I don't doubt there are many Anglicans who would see a married clergy as part of their Anglican patrimony, a patrimony which it is the intention of the Ordinariate to preserve, and so they might feel somewhat betrayed by the clarification. Of course, there are exceptions and then there are exceptions, and it is perfectly possible that this is simply a way of avoiding the prospect of Roman clergy transferring to the Ordinariate for ulterior motives while leaving open the possibility of married clergy for those in the Ordinariate for whom this is part of their patrimony. At any rate, it will be revealing to see the wording of the Apostolic Constitution when it is finally released, and thereafter to see how its terms are implemented practically.

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