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Thursday, 22 October 2009

Apostolic Constitution: Ecumenical Reflections

The announcement that Pope Benedict XVI has approved, by Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure, “Personal Ordinariates”, to allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, has been received by some Anglicans with a degree of surprise. Cardinal William Levada, of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has explained that this provision is in response to requests which have come from Anglicans and Anglican groups in different parts of the world. The text of the Apostolic Constitution itself has not been made public as yet, so it not possible to comment on the details of this provision. However, as the former Anglican co-secretary of our international bilateral dialogue, ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) as well as a consultant to the more recent IARCCUM Commission (International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Mission and Unity) I offer below some initial reflections on the ecumenical implications of the announcement on 20 October from the Vatican. 

1. The provision appears to be directed to those of Anglican tradition who have left the Anglican Communion, (such as the members of the Traditional Anglican Communion, TAC) as well as those who are presently still part of the Anglican Communion.

2. It is clear that the significant convergence which has emerged over 40 years of international official dialogue – ARCIC – on matters thought to divide Anglicans and Roman Catholics, has permitted the consideration of such a pastoral provision.

3. It is important to understand that this recent development is not the primary goal of the international dialogue nor is it the principal way in which the Roman Catholic Church is responding to our dialogue. While the ARCIC agreements may have created a climate for serious consideration of a response to requests from individual or groups of Anglicans or former Anglicans to be received into the Roman Catholic Church, the Apostolic Constitution in establishing Personal Ordinariates is a pastoral response to some particular requests made to the Holy See, and not the completion of the articulated goal of our international dialogue.

4. It is interesting that a Personal Ordinariate will allow the expression of continuing Anglican heritage. This seems to echo what Pope Paul VI stated back in 1970 concerning the re-establishment of full communion: “There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church – this humble “Servant of the Servants of God” – is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ”.

5. The goal of the ecumenical dialogue, first articulated by Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey in 1966, and reiterated in subsequent common declarations between Popes and Archbishops, is to lead Anglicans and Roman Catholics to “a restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life”. I note that the preparation of the pastoral provisions contained in the Apostolic Constitution was the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and not the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, which has primary responsibility for our ecumenical dialogue.

6. In November there will be official meetings in Rome to prepare for the third phase of ARCIC. The official international ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion still continues, with the goal of unity as first articulated in 1966.

Bishop Geoffrey and I have prepared a statement (based on the above reflection) for the clergy and people of the Diocese in Europe which can be found here.

The joint statement from the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster is here.

You Tube has a clip of Archbishop Rowan Williams at the press conference last Tuesday.

Bishop Christopher Hill, Chairman of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, has produced a detailed note on the Apostolic Constitution which can be found here.


  1. Could you explain point 5 a little more?

    On the face of it, an offer to members in good standing of another Church that they may join the Roman Catholic Church on special terms is either (a) a move towards unity, at least with part of the other Church or (b) a threat to the unity of the other Church, by offering more tempting terms than heretofore for those who might split from that Church.

    Either way, I cannot see that it is right not to involve the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

    Involving only the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had the effect, apparently deliberate, of keeping the Church directly affected (the Church of England and the Anglican Communion) in the dark.

    In my view, that was inappropriate. On any view, it was discourteous. Whatever your view, it was inimical to ecumenical dialogue.

    A moderate, calm and eirenic response to bad behaviour is one thing. But no good comes from pretending that bad behaviour is good behaviour.


  2. I am not wanting to comment on any behaviour, good or bad! My intent was to clarify that this pastoral provision is not part of our official international ecumenical dialogue. As for a fuller explanation of point 5, the ARCIC agreed statement "Church as Communion" (1990) in para 43 is a help:
    "For all the local churches to be together in communion, the one visible communion which God wills, it is required that all the essential constitutive elements of ecclesial communion are present and mutually recognized in each of them. Thus the visible communion between these churches is complete adn their ministers are in communion with each other. Para 45 says further:
    " is now possible to describe what constitutes ecclesial communion. It is rooted in the confession of the one apostolic faith, revealed in the scriptures and set forth in the creeds. It is founded upon one baptism. The one celebration of the eucharist is its pre-eminent expression and focus. It necessarily finds expression in shared commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his church....the episcopate...holds bleievers together in the communion of the local church and in the wider communion of all the churches.
    So the goal envisaged is a restoration of communion of local churches, as opposed to an absorption into another Church. I do grant that absorption is one way of restoring communion, however!

  3. This is why the CoE, de facto, still deems women unworthy of equal access to all orders of church ministry.

    Because of eocumenical patience.

    Which iss why Williams was assumed to be patient enough as to only find out about this back stabbing political maneuvre -meant to distract short attention spanned people from the upcoming RC sex abuse and cover up scandal in Ireland- one day before the rest of the world did.

  4. How is it a good idea to leave a church that permits opinions ,including catholic beliefs,and participation in its governance, to join one completely controlled by an 'infallible' human with the unrestrained power.