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ANGLICANS/Personal Ordinariates as an Expression of Vatican II Ecumenism

ANGLICANS/Personal Ordinariates as an Expression of Vatican II Ecumenism

by Fred Kaffenberger
lunedì 30 novembre 2009

The recent apostolic constitution on Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church, Anglicanorum Coetibus, has stirred up a wide range of reactions among Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, and the Orthodox churches. As the Bishop of Rome, the Pope has an apostolic responsibility to all baptized Christians, even if their ecclesial communion does not accept Roman primacy. And so, when groups of Anglicans approached the Vatican seeking union, Pope Benedict XVI responded with a pastoral gesture to enable groups to be admitted corporately — even retaining as much as possible their historical character and pastoral structures. This corporate provision is thus a practical expression of Vatican II documents: Lumen Gentium (the dogmatic constitution on the Church) and Unitatis Redintegratio (the decree on Christian ecumenism).

Anglican Internal Tensions

Anglicanism began as a political break between Henry VIII of England and the Catholic Church. In the years after the break, various groups have contended within Anglicanism, from low church congregationalists, to high church sacramentalists, from Evangelical Anglicans to Anglo-Catholics.

Over time, Anglicanism has described itself as a via media - a middle way in which the baptized can hold contradictory opinions regarding the efficacy of the sacraments and understanding of creedal doctrines. In the nineteeth century, Anglicans in the Oxford Movement articulated a branch theory, which looked to the bishops as bearers of apostolic tradition. This view implies a sacramental view of the episcopacy, which is internally problematic for current Anglicanism. When Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams recently criticized the Catholic practice of ordaining only men (at an ecumenical conference in Rome), his primary argument appealed to baptismal theology and not to any sacramental theology of Holy Orders.

Apostolicae Curae

As the culmination of ecumenical discussions between Catholics and Anglicans in the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church investigated Anglican claims in favor of a valid Anglican episcopacy. Leo XIII issued Apostolicae Curae in 1896, which definitively denied the validity of Anglican orders. Although Anglicans have priests and bishops, they are not priests and bishops in the way that Catholics understand them. With certain exceptions, Apostolicae Curae closed the door to a corporate answer to Anglicans seeking union with Rome.

Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council expressed a profound respect for other Christians, and a growing awareness that sacramental rituals have a vitality even outside the parameters of apostolic succession and communion with Rome. Lumen Gentium 8 says that: "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity." The Vatican II decree Unitatis Redintegratio, on ecumenism among Christians, explores the principles of Christian unity in more depth, but notes that "there is no opposition" between individuals seeking union with Rome and ecumenical actions - because they are both inspired by God.

The new constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, builds on this recognition of "elements of sanctification of truth" in Anglicanism: the pastoral role of Anglican leaders as well as the value of Anglican liturgical forms. Personal Ordinariates allow Anglican groups to enter into communion with the Catholic Church in a way that preserves the pastoral relationship and the ritual practices which are impelling these Anglicans toward Catholic unity. In many cases, the pastoral role of once-Anglican bishops in the Catholic Church will be (as Rowan Williams criticizes) more of a chaplaincy, but for others will be fully episcopal. A married Anglican man who served as an Anglican bishop would be ordained as a priest and not a bishop, but he could be appointed Ordinariate and even retain the insignia of bishop (with the status of a retired bishop). This gesture is not merely symbolic, but is an affirmation of the pastoral relationship which the ordinariate had with his people, and a way of continuing the relationship in the Catholic Church.

The constitution has been met with a surge of positive reactions from Anglicans seeking corporate union with Rome. Now, it's a matter of waiting for the groups to make their requests, and for the local bishops to make a place for them.


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