Special Report: Five Myths about the Pope’s Anglican Ordinariates
As a former Anglican priest myself, I am profoundly grateful for our Holy Father’s generous proposal toward Anglicans, ‘that they all might be one’ (Jn 17:21).
DALLAS, TX (Catholic Online) – On October 20, 2009, the Holy See made an unexpected announcement: the Holy Father will be issuing an Apostolic Constitution (the highest form of papal document) through which he will erect personal ordinariates for Anglican clergy and laity wishing to enter the Catholic Church. While rumors about this have been stirring since 2007, the recent decision came as a surprise to most Catholics and Anglicans.
Those who remember their high school history might recall that Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries to England in the late sixth century to establish the Catholic Church in England. In A.D. 598, Pope Gregory the Great designated the township of Canterbury as the nation’s principal see. There were hiccups along the way (Norman conquest), but England remained under the pastoral oversight of the Pope until 1534 when King Henry VIII declared himself caput ecclesiae anglicanae “Head of the English Church.” Henry VIII never shook his devotion to the old rites. He demanded priestly celibacy, Latin Masses, and prayers for the dead. He did however have an appetite for the wealth of the monasteries. When Henry VIII died in 1547, he left his son Edward VI as king. As a Protestant, Edward approved a Protestantized English ritual which became known as the Book of Common Prayer in 1549.
The liturgies found in the Book of Common Prayer and subsequent editions reveal a careful blend of medieval Catholic piety mixed with subtle Protestantism. Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth fully realized this compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism-perhaps the cleverest grab for political power in history. As England colonized the world, she spread her national Anglican church. In America, she became the Episcopal Church. The new worldwide conglomerate of national churches became known as the Anglican Communion. Since those days, the Anglican Communion has been divided into roughly three camps: High Church (more Catholic), Low Church (more Protestant), and Broad Church (liberals who bless the political and cultural mores of society-something going all the way back to Henry’s desire for a second marriage, and then a third marriage, and then a fourth…you know the story).
In the last twenty years, the Broad Churchmen emerged as victors in the Anglican Communion as they secured the ordination of women in the 1980s and 1990s. The past decade has been embroiled in debates about homosexuality as it touches on marriage and clerical ordination. The disaffected conservatives (High Church and Low Church) are looking for options. Clearly, the High Church movement is open to the Catholic Church and many bishops, priests, and lay people have appealed to the Pope for help. The Pope has now provided an an answer: “Come home! Rome opens its doors to you!”
The New York Times, the London Times and almost every known newspaper has printed articles about this new announcement. The blogs are ablaze. However, there is a lot of misinformation churning around out there. I have collected five common misconceptions about the Holy See’s announcement. Each myth merits an informed and measured response.
Myth #1 The Pope is sheep-stealing
The Pope’s alleged “sheep-stealing” been the most popular subject within the secular media. To them, the Holy Father has launched a media campaign to kick the Anglican Communion while it’s down. The poor Archbishop of Canterbury is struggling to keep things together and then “Bamm!” the Pope surprises everyone with a bid for Anglican souls. However, we must remember that it was Anglicans who pursued the matter with the Holy Father-and we’re not talking about just one or two Anglicans. We are talking about thousands and thousands of Anglicans: bishops, priests, deacons, and laity. Anglican bishops from several nations have sent private letters to the Holy See. Much of this is confidential. They want a way out. They want to become Catholic. The Pope is responding to souls looking to him for guidance. The pope is not stealing sheep-He is holding out his pastoral staff to those sheep looking for protection.
Myth #2 Rome is preparing the world for a general married priesthood
The media also sunk its teeth into the fact that the new Anglican ordinariates would preserve the already recognized discipline of allowing married former-Anglican priests to be ordained as married Catholic priests. This is nothing new. Pope John Paul II approved this measure in 1980 as the “Pastoral Provision.” The new personal ordinariate structure does not change anything. In this regard, nothing is new. I have seen with my own eyes the CDF document from the mid-1980s penned by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger himself. The document clearly states that the Pastoral Provision is approved so long as it does not undermine the Roman discipline of clerical celibacy. Since the man who wrote that statement is now the Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church, I doubt that he is prepping everyone for a change in clerical celibacy. Moreover, convert clergy from Anglicanism will be re-ordained, since Rome does not accept the validity of Anglican ordination.
Myth #3 Rome has reconciled itself to the Protestant Reformation
This myth is based on the liturgical norms accepted by Rome for use by Anglican converts. It goes like this: the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is a book of Protestant worship. Rome is now allowing use of its liturgies; therefore, Rome has capitulated to Protestantism. This argument fails to mention that then-Cardinal Ratzinger heavily oversaw the production of the Book of Divine Worship-the approved set of liturgies for Anglican convert parishes. Protestant elements were expunged (e.g. Thomas Cranmer’s consecration prayer), and good elements were retained. The Book of Divine Worship is a “sanitized” version of the Book of Common Prayer, and I suspect that future revisions will be even more traditional in their formulas.
Myth #4 The Anglican Personal Ordinariates will be like Opus Dei (or it will be like the Eastern Catholic Churches)
In canon law, Opus Dei is constituted as a personal prelature. A personal prelature is headed by a prelate (Bishop Javier Echevarria in the case of Opus Dei) and it does not have geographic limits (unlike a local diocese which does have geographic limits), but includes persons who are associated-this is why it’s called “personal.” Moreover, it envelops both clergy and laity. It’s not a religious “order” because it has a lay element.
A personal ordinariate, on the other hand, is similar but different. It is headed by an ordinary (who can be either a bishop or priest). It too is “personal” meaning that it does not have geographic boundaries like a diocese does. It can also include both clergy and laity like a personal prelature. A personal ordinariate differs from a personal prelature in that an ordinariate is reckoned as a “particular church.” This means that these Anglican ordinariates will not be a ritual churches like the Eastern Catholic Churches (e.g. Maronite or Melkite). The Anglican personal ordinariates will remain under the Roman Rite as expression of its liturgical diversity.
Myth #5 We already know everything about the Anglican personal ordinariates
We do not know much at all about the Anglican personal ordinarates. All we have is the press release from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here’s really all we know at this juncture: 1) The Pope wants this to happen fast; 2) The Pope is issuing an Apostolic Constitution soon; 3) The Apostolic Constitution will establish the canonical structure of personal ordinariates; 4) The Pope wishes to continue to allow married convert-clergy to serve as priests; 5) The Pope values the “Anglican patrimony” of music, liturgy, reverence, and architecture. This sums up about all we can know at this point.
Here is what we do not know. First, is this a permanent or temporary solution to an ecumenical problem. Will the ordinariates be a ten year, twenty year, or one hundred year project? Related to this question is the concern for how future clergy would be educated and ordained. Would the seminarians training for the ordinariate attend a designated seminary? Moreover, who will serve as the “ordinaries” of the ordinariates if married priests cannot be bishops? Will former Anglican bishops be the first ones considered by the Holy See? What will happen to the current Anglican Use Catholic parishes? Will they be rolled into the new arrangement? And of particular interest to Anglicans, what will the liturgical norms look like? Can the current Book of Divine Worship be revised? The answers to these and other questions await the publication of the actual Apostolic Constitution.
This move by the Holy Father is simply a continuation of his work with Anglicans in the 1980s and 1990s. He understands them, and he is responding to them. We do not even know how many Anglicans will respond to the ordinariate proposal. It could be giant wave of world-wide conversions…or a trickle. Let us pray for the tidal wave.
As a former Anglican priest myself, I am profoundly grateful for our Holy Father’s generous proposal toward Anglicans, “that they all might be one” (Jn 17:21). My journey form Anglicanism to Catholicism has been difficult but it was at the same time a via mirabilis-a miraculous way, as John Henry Cardinal Newman described it. I know many Anglican friends who will take up the Holy Father on his offer. Sadly, I know that others who will not. Regardless of how the cards fall, Catholics should recognize that the Holy Father’s announcement stands in full agreement with the ecumenical agenda that he articulated when he became Pope. In conformity to the Sacred Heart of Christ, he seeks to reconcile all who call on the name of Christ. Let us continue to pray with the Holy Father and encourage those Anglicans who seek a new home.
Taylor Marshall is a former Anglican priest and the author of The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. He is currently a Doctoral Student and Instructor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas.