The beginning of the year brings the usual spate of stories in local media on all the new laws and regulations that come into effect. Well, in the religious sphere, we are strangely positioned to be discussing something similar: as of January 1, 2012, the Anglican Ordinariate in the United States will be officially launched. As of this writing (December 31) it has not received its official name; COD is personally guessing it will be something Marian-themed, given that January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary on the Catholic calendar.
To sum up for the few non-religious types who stumble onto Crusty Old Dean's blog while googling the Simpsons' reference: in 2009, the Vatican issued the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetbius" (Latin for "groups of Anglicans"). This announced the Vatican's intent to set up an "ordinariate" for Anglicans wishing to enter in full ecclesial communion with the Roman Catholic Church. These "ordinariates" would be set up, more or less, national entity by national entity -- i.e., one for the UK, one for Canada, one for the USA, one for Australia. The ordinariate would be for Anglicans who wish to join the Roman Catholic Church, with the possibility of permitting married Episcopal/Anglican priests to be received and ordained, and to allow for a different form of the liturgy than used by those in the Latin Rite, retaining some aspects of Anglican liturgical traditions. "Possibility" is here stressed, since the Vatican has stated the norm for ordination is still celibacy, though exceptions would be considered and have, in fact, been given.
The Apostolic Constitution was issued in 2009, and in 2011 the Ordinariate for the UK was launched. Now it is our turn in the USA. Crusty Old Dean just got off the phone with a reporter from the Washington Post writing an article on the situation -- having served from 2001-2011 in the ecumenical relations office of the Episcopal Church, in part coordinating relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, COD had a front-row seat for much of the folderol leading up to and including the issuing of the Apostolic Constitution. So COD does have a few thoughts on the ordinariate.
On the one hand, COD didn't get too bent out of shape about the provisions for allowing married Episcopal/Anglican priests to become Catholic priests and keep their wives, or for congregations being allowed to use a different liturgy -- because this is already possible! Since the 1980s there has been a "pastoral provision" which has made it possible for married Episcopal priests to become Catholic priests and for congregations to use a modified form of the Anglican liturgy. There are about a dozen of these congregations already; there's a listing of these congregations on the website of the Anglican Rite congregation in Boston, which can be found here.
However -- on the other hand -- while this is something which has been happening, we should not underestimate what is actually happening with the Ordinariates. Before 2012, we had the Pastoral Provision. After 2012, we have the Anglican Ordinariate. The language is important. The pastoral provision describes the situation: a pastoral response to individual priests and/or congregations, on a case by case basis. The Ordinariate is a national, organized system for receiving groups of persons, established formally by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (hereafter USCCB) and under the oversight of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican (hereafter CDF). While it is not new for married Episcopal priests to have the chance to become Catholic priests, the Ordinariate is a very different way of going about this, much more formalized, established, and authorized.
The reality is this will not have a measurable impact in the USA. When he first saw the name of the Apostolic Constitution -- Anglicanorum Coetibus, "Groups of Anglicans" -- COD quipped, "It should be called, 'Priorum Anglicanorum Coetibus,'"or, "Groups of Former Anglicans." There will be a small number of people and congregations actually taking advantage of this opportunity; maybe a handful of parishes and thousand people or so. Of those, a majority will probably be groups which are not part of The Episcopal Church and which broke off to form separate Anglican churches in the 1970s and 1980s, or even in the past decade. The Traditional Anglican Communion, one of these non-Episcopal Church bodies calling itself Anglican but not in communion with the official expressions of Anglicanism, adopted the Catechism of the Catholic Church as its official teaching and has indicated its willingness to apply on mass. With over 7,000 congregations and just under 2,000,000 members in the Episcopal Church, a handful of congregations and a few thousand people is a drop in the bucket. This dynamic, however, will be different in other places -- in Australia or the UK, there will be more people from the official Anglican churches seeking to join, though far from a tidal wave in either place. In the USA, those most interested in taking advantage of the Ordinariate already left The Episcopal Church years ago.
COD really isn't sweating the Ordinariate much; a handful of people will join, most of those schismatic Anglicans. Crusty Old Dean's concerns are elsewhere.
One concern is that this is being presented as the fruit of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue. In the USA, the Episcopal Church and Roman Catholic Church have been in dialogue since the 1960s, meeting multiple times yearly to discuss a number of topics. There has been an international dialogue between the Anglican Communion as a whole and the Roman Catholic Church, which has produced several major and landmark ecumenical documents: the Final Report of 1981 being perhaps the most important, but also The Gift of Authority (on the papacy and authority in the church) and Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ in 2005 (on the role of Mary and particular Marian doctrines like the Assumption and Immaculate Conception). In his remarks unveiling the Ordinariate, Cardinal Levada, director of the CDF, specifically spoke of this the fruit of ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics -- indeed, he characterized the Ordinariate as the "logical outcome" of 45 years of dialogue.
It is far from the logical outcome of 45 years of dialogue -- continued dialogue is probably the most logical outcome, not coming up with an Ordinariate and unveiling it without consultation with your ecumenical partner of 45 years. The Vatican could have done any number of things: from continuing the Pastoral Provision to ending dialogue with "official" Anglicans and only talk to conservative Anglicans to continuing official dialogue with official Anglicans but demanding the topics turn to matters such as sexuality, women's ordination, etc. To say this is the logical outcome is absurd. There were many possible outcomes, and this was one specifically chosen.
Which leads to a second concern:
That the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of ecumenism is incorporation into the Catholic Church. As Cardinal Levada has also said, "And when an individual or, indeed, a community, is ready for unity with the church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church, it would be a betrayal of Catholic ecumenical principles and goals to refuse to embrace them, and to embrace them with all the distinctive gifts that enrich the church, that help her approach the world symphonically, sounding together or united." Again: the reality of the church subsists in the Catholic Church; other "churches" are in fact defective ecclesial communities; and ecumenism is the re-incorporation of those communities into the Catholic Church.
For COD, the real concern of the Ordinariate is not that hundreds of thousands of Episcopalians will become Roman Catholics; that simply will not happen. The real concern is elsewhere: that this is indicative of a continued, and troubling, reality of the current leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.
Should we expect anything else from this papacy? Their understanding of ecumenism seems to be bending over backwards to accommodate right wing, schismatic, holocaust-denying bishops from the Society of St Pius X. Their understanding of dialogue with other Christian bodies is incorporating them into the true church.
This papacy made the beatification of John Henry Newman into a way to denigrate and insult Anglicanism. Rather than the date of his birth, or death, the date chosen for his commemoration was the date of his conversion to Catholicism, as the Vatican lamely said the calendar was too full for the other dates -- poppycock, the occasion was chosen to drive home the message that it was Newman's conversion from his defective ecclesial community to the fullness of the Catholic Church which mattered. At the ceremony of canonization, Pope Benedict wore a stole of Leo XIII -- the Pope who rejected the initial mixed results and demanded the the committee investigating Anglican orders come back with a decision nullifying and invalidating the ministry of the Church of England and all Anglicans. Newman's beatification itself was fast-tracked; many have asked questions about the miracle that was the basis for the beatification. Newman, himself an object of suspicion in his own lifetime, has been recast as the ideal for how Anglicans should relate to the Catholic Church. By joining it and renouncing their past, like Newman did.
Cardinal Kasper, the head of the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Unity, said in 2009 that the establishment of ordinariates is not "fishing in an Anglican lake."
This is partly true; they are not fishing in the Anglican lake. They want to drain it.
This is the real concern here, not the handful of schismatics who will join the Ordinariate. It is the profoundly un-ecumenical direction the Roman Catholic Church seems to be taking.