Winter 2010, Vol. 12, No. 3

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Table of Contents

An Army of One

From the Editor:
The End of the Christian Right

The Open and Affirming Lutherans

Angling for Anglicans

The Fighting Atheists

Not in My Canton

China's Lama Obsession

Scientology's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

Letter to the Editor


New books

Angling For Anglicans
by William L. Portier

On October 20, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), held a news conference to announce a special deal for Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic church. In response to “many requests” that had “in recent years” come to Rome from “groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world,” the Vatican would, Levada said, offer the newcomers personal ordinariates, under terms to be specified in a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution.

In canon law, “ordinary” is the term used to refer to the prelate—usually but not always a bishop—who exercises “ordinary” jurisdiction over a diocese or group. A personal ordinariate is a kind of non-geographical diocese, on the order of the military ordinariates that exist alongside conventional dioceses around the world. In this case, former Anglicans would be allowed to preserve “elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony” under an ordinary appointed from among former Anglican clergy. 

Levada explained that seminarians of the new ordinariates, while training with other Catholic seminarians, would be able to have their own houses of formation. What drew the most attention, however, was his  announcement that  provision would be made for the ordination of married Anglican clergy to the Catholic priesthood.

Levada, who worked for Pope Benedict when he ran the CDF, declared that the arrangement was not only consistent with the church’s continuing commitment to ecumenical dialogue, but would promote “full visible union in the Church of Christ”—one of the ecumenical movement’s chief goals. In this regard, he mentioned the special role of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity headed by Cardinal Walter Kasper. But neither Kasper nor anyone else from the Pontifical Council was present at this news conference.

Indeed, Levada’s announcement took most Anglican and Catholic leaders by surprise.

In London, Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, and Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, sitting side by side, held a same-day news conference at Nichols’ headquarters at Westminster Cathedral. In a “Joint Statement,” they emphasized their intention to stay the course of ecumenical dialogue and cooperation and to leave “personal ordinariates” to Rome and the particular Anglican groups that had petitioned the Vatican in hopes of “new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church.”

Writing in Deutsche Welle on October 20, Ben Knight seemed dubious of Levada’s “claim” that the announced Apostolic Constitution was simply a response to requests from Anglican groups. In his view, the move revealed a “power struggle between the Catholic and Anglican Churches.” Many, he noted, saw it as an attempt “to entice conservative Anglicans disaffected with the more liberal policies of the Anglican Church, including the ordination of women and homosexuals as priests and bishops.”

The question-and-answer session at the London news conference made it clear that Williams had only learned of the proposed Constitution two weeks earlier, Knight wrote. “They put the Archbishop of Canterbury in quite a humiliating position,” Colin Blakely, editor of the Church of England’s newspaper, Church of England, told him. 

Toby Cohen, who covered the joint news conference for the paper, described it to Knight as beginning “with a heavy atmosphere,”—Williams sitting there “with a slightly bruised expression.” Cohen concluded that the Vatican had “changed the power balance in the Church of England,” but Williams himself insisted to reporters that the initiative would not be seen “as in any sense a commentary on Anglican problems offered by the Vatican.”

Knight deemed talk of a mass exodus of “thousands of reactionary Protestants” as “mainly sensationalist.” Married Anglican clergy, he pointed out, would be looking at a stiff pay cut. “Some Catholic priests earn about a tenth of Anglican vicars,” Cohen told him.

In an October 21 post on the conservative “Catholic Culture” website, Phil Lawler implausibly credited the Vatican with “a rare and welcome display of media savvy.” Levada’s decision to hold a news conference prior to release of the Apostolic Constitution, he wrote, “seized control of the story,” preventing the confusion and criticism associated with leaks.

Among the Anglican groups petitioning Rome, Lawler identified the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), an independent denomination with a reported 400,000 members headed by Australian Archbishop John Hepworth of Adelaide. Frustrated in their dealings with Kasper, TAC had approached Levada, and through him the pope, with their petition for some form of corporate union. 

In an October 31 interview with Elena Curti and Christopher Lamb of the London Tablet, Hepworth detailed 25 years of continuous negotiation with the Vatican. According to Lawler, Hepworth, unlike Williams, was briefed in advance about the forthcoming Constitution. 

On October 25, newly minted New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat warned against interpreting the pope’s Anglican overture exclusively in terms of Western “culture-war politics” about female bishops and gay marriage. Rather, he suggested, “Benedict’s Gambit” was directed toward Africa and Christianity’s global encounter with Islam, and might be remembered as the beginning of a “united Anglican-Catholic front” in Africa against resurgent Islam, “Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.” 

Following up in a post on the National Catholic Reporter website November 23, the NCR’s eminent Vatican watcher, John Allen, looked at what an African Anglican-Catholic front, based on “practical” rather than European-style ecumenism, might look like.

But in fact, Africa’s Anglican bishops expressed little interest in corporate union with Rome, instead seizing the moment to issue a “Pastoral Exhortation to the Faithful of the Anglican Communion.” In it, they welcomed the pope’s stand on human sexuality and his continuing commitment to ecumenism, but affirmed their own commitment to historic Anglicanism and their intention to work within the Anglican Communion for adoption of a proposed Anglican Covenant.  

In an interview with the Kenyan Daily Nation October 21,  Archbishop Eliud Wabukhala of the Anglican Church of Kenya warned Anglican priests tempted to “cross over” to Catholicism of the major differences between them on ministry and sacraments. Anglicans were, he said, “more evangelical” than Catholics. 

In the United States, meanwhile, Bishop Martyn Minns, a leader of the traditionalist Episcopalians who organized the Anglican Church in North America in 2008, welcomed the Vatican initiative as a demonstration of the pope’s conviction that Anglican divisions are “very serious.” But both Minns and Archbishop Robert Duncan, the church’s Primate, emphasized the theological differences that would keep conservative Anglicans in the U.S. from union with Rome. 

“I don’t want to be a Roman Catholic,” Minns told the New York Times October 21. “There was a Reformation, you remember.”

“Misogynist?  Homophobic? We’ve Got the Church For You!” ran the headline on Jamie Manson’s October 22 piece on the NCR website, nicely capturing the reaction of some progressive Roman Catholics in the U.S. to news reports of the forthcoming Constitution.  Others seemed most taken with the possibilities it held out for married priests.

Jesuit Tom Reese, playing the irreverent casuist on the Washington Post’s On Faith website, wryly hinted that the Vatican initiative could have “unforeseen consequences.” Personal ordinariates “may in fact provide the Catholic Church with a steady stream of married priests,” wrote Reese. Why couldn’t married Catholic men simply join one of them and become priests? This would solve the priest shortage and eventually the “Anglican ordinariates” would be home to a majority of Roman Catholics. 

On America magazine’s blog In All Things, fellow Jesuit James Martin drew attention to Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli’s claim in Il Giornale October 29 that publication of the promised Constitution was being held up by canonical disagreements over provisions for ordaining married Anglican priests. Although Levada had not made this clear at his original news conference, future seminarians in the personal ordinariates would have to be celibate. Tornielli also suggested that Pope Benedict was displeased with Levada’s handling of this issue at the news conference.

Within two days, Vatican press officer Frederico Lombardi, S.J. issued a “Clarification” on the “celibacy issue.” Referring to Tornielli’s story, Lombardi described the delay as “purely technical” rather than substantive. The Latin discipline of celibacy would remain the norm. Future ordinaries in the new personal ordinariates would be free to petition the Holy See for the ordination of married men “on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.”

It took until November 4 for the Vatican to issue the promised Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus (“To groups of Anglicans”), along with a set of Complementary Norms, and until November 9 to publish it in authorized English and Italian versions. With the official Latin text (except for the title) still in preparation, revisions to the vernacular texts may become necessary. 

By November 5, however, English members of TAC had voted to “take the steps necessary to implement this constitution,” including nominating Bishop Robert Mercer as a candidate for ordinary. The London Times Ruth Gledhill deemed the Constitution “everything that Catholic Anglicans were expecting and more.” 

“I had thought the original notice from Rome was extremely generous,” said John Broadhurst, Anglican Bishop of Fulham in the London diocese and head of the traditionalist group Forward in Faith (FiF). “Today all the accompanying papers have been published and they are extremely impressive.”

Some English Catholics were puzzled at the pope’s concessions to what one Tablet letter writer, referring to the conservative schismatic Society of St. Pius X, termed “Lefebvrist-lite Anglicans.” Amid accusations of opportunism and aggression from an Anglican majority far less enthusiastic than FiF, the Constitution begins with the claim that the Holy Spirit had “driven” some Anglicans to approach Rome.

Pope Benedict himself is quoted as calling the Anglican patrimony the Constitution seeks to preserve “a precious gift.” According to the provisions of the Constitution, the designated ordinaries will ordain their own priests, some of whom will be married. Members of personal ordinariates will worship according to a slightly revised version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. (For example, the pope would replace the queen.) And, in a gesture toward Anglican synodal tradition, an Ordinary’s Governing Council will have a consultative role unlike any in contemporary Roman Catholicism.

“It looks like an Anglican rite,” TAC’s Hepworth told the Tablet October 31, “even if Rome isn’t using the word yet.”

But in contrast to Rome’s recognition of the validity of holy orders in such long established rites as those for Maronite (Levantine) and Melkite (Greek) Catholics, the Constitution underlines longstanding Catholic non-recognition of Anglican orders by referring to Apostolicae curae (1896), Pope Leo XIII’s famous rejection of them as “absolutely null and utterly void.”  

According to the Constitution, re-ordination of Anglican clergy will be “absolute” rather than conditional—which would have implied Catholic recognition of at least the possible validity of Anglican orders. Many Anglo-Catholic clergy who understand themselves to be validly ordained in the apostolic succession will be stung by the reference to Apostolicae curae and offended by the Constitution’s insistence on “absolute” re-ordination.

Most surprising in view of this rejection of Anglican orders (and in tension with it) is the deference the Constitution shows to former Anglican bishops. Though married Anglican bishops cannot be ordained as Catholic bishops, they may be ordained priests and can serve as ordinaries.

Those who become Catholic priests will, moreover, have the status of retired bishops and be able to attend meetings of the local bishops’ conference. Despite the seeming theological incoherence (pointed out by numerous Catholic commentators), they will also be able to petition Rome to use the insignia of the bishop’s office—presumably the pectoral cross, miter and crosier, and bishop’s ring. In short, as Gledhill drily remarked, they will be “married bishops in all but name.”

At the same time, the Constitution draws tight boundaries on the personal ordinariates.

They are just for Anglicans. Membership in them must be individually requested and Catholics coming from outside Anglican communities, unless family members, will not ordinarily be eligible. (So much for the fanciful situation imagined by Tom Reese.)

On the question of the Constitution’s impact on the Latin discipline of celibacy, married Anglican priests who are former Catholic priests are explicitly excluded. In this connection, the Tablet noted on November 14 that TAC’s Hepworth is a former Catholic priest who is irregularly married (i.e., remarried after a divorce).

As is now the case with non-stipendiary Anglican ministers, the Constitution places responsibility for the salaries of married priests on their congregations. It also makes allowance for priests to work in secular professions compatible with the priesthood, including medicine, teaching, and social work.

One remaining difficulty concerns the places where members of personal ordinariates will worship.

In England at present, Anglican traditionalists worship on property devoted to the mission of the Church of England. Anglicans do have a surplus of churches in England and “church sharing” with congregations belonging to personal ordinariates represents one possible solution. The Tablet reported October 31 that, Geoffrey Kirk, an Anglican vicar in southeast London who has announced his intention to take advantage of the Constitution’s invitation, had urged his FiF colleagues to try to hold on to their “beautiful churches.”

Following the path he mapped out with Williams at their press conference, Archbishop Nichols announced in late November that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales had formed a commission to prepare for requests to establish personal ordinariates. Yet, according to the Constitution, such requests are first supposed to go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

In moving forward their own vision and agenda, popes are notoriously stymied by curial intransigence and resistance out in the provinces. The case of Anglicanorum coetibus clearly illustrates Pope Benedict’s strategy of bypassing relevant curial offices and local church authorities in favor of his former congregation, headed by one of his former assistants.

For his part, Rowan Williams seized the occasion of a long-planned visit to Rome to issue his riposte to Anglicanorum coetibus (The Times of London called it a “showdown.”) 

Delivering an address in honor of the late noted ecumenist Cardinal Jan Willebrands at the Gregorian University November 19, Williams smacked the Constitution for not “build[ing] in any formal recognition of existing ministries or units of oversight or methods of independent decision making.” While deeming it “an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some,” he called it limited to the level “spiritual and liturgical culture.” It failed, he declared, to “break any fresh ecclesiological ground.”

Williams then went on to cite the Constitution’s recognition of diversity within the common faith in order to challenge Catholics to show how their prohibition against ordaining women so contributes to the church’s “life of communion” that disagreement with it constitutes a church-dividing issue. How far, he asked, can “continuing disunion and non-recognition” be justified by Catholic arguments concerning “the ‘essence’ of male and female vocations and capacities,” given an agreed-upon ecclesial vision?

The next day, Williams met with Cardinal Kasper and preached at an ecumenical vespers at which Kasper presided. The service took place at the oratory of St. Francis Xavier of Caravita, located in central Rome and well-known for its ecumenical activity. A reception followed at Rome’s Anglican Center.

Wrapping up his trip November 21, Williams met with Pope Benedict for about 20 minutes. In a personal gesture—again, unintelligible in terms of Rome’s non-recognition of Anglican orders—the pope gave him a pectoral cross.

“I needed to share some of my concerns with the Pope,” Williams told Vatican Radio afterwards. “I think those were expressed and heard in a very friendly spirit.” The Apostolic Constitution had “put many Anglicans, including myself … in an awkward position.” Later, he told the BBC that he was “disappointed” at Rome’s handling of events surrounding the Constitution.

Two months later, in a speech at a special plenary session of the CDF, the pope insisted that the plan “is not in any way contrary to the ecumenical movement, but shows, instead, its ultimate purpose which consists in reaching full and visible communion of the disciples of the Lord.”

After all the fuss, Anglicanorum coetibus does appear to be, as the Vatican claimed at the outset, nothing more than a response to traditionalist Anglican groups such as TAC and FiF. Their acceptance or rejection of it will likely be the extent of the Constitution’s direct effects.

Indirectly, it may have caused some damage to ecumenical relations between Anglicans and Catholics, especially in England. At the same time, it gave Rowan Williams the opportunity for a potentially fruitful ecumenical intervention that he might not otherwise have made.


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