VATICAN CITY, OCT. 20, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Groups of Anglicans will now be able to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the Anglican spiritual and liturgical tradition.
This policy has been established in a forthcoming apostolic constitution the Vatican announced today.
It responds to requests from Anglicans who have expressed wishes to become Catholic, particularly as the Anglican Tradition continues to take steps toward opening their priesthood and episcopate to women and active homosexuals, and blessing same-sex unions.
Between 20 and 30 Anglican bishops have made such a request.
The constitution was announced at a press conference at the Vatican today, offered by Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
A statement from the congregation explained that with the apostolic constitution, “the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.”
These groups of Anglicans will be overseen and guided through the personal ordinariate, the leader of which will normally be chosen from among former Anglican clergy.
The statement from the Vatican explained that the constitution “provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy.”
It clarified that “historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.”
Thus, the apostolic constitution stipulates that the leader of the personal ordinariate be “either a priest or an unmarried bishop.”
As to future priests, the statement explained: “The seminarians in the ordinariate are to be prepared alongside other Catholic seminarians, though the ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony. In this way, the apostolic constitution seeks to balance on the one hand the concern to preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony and, on the other hand, the concern that these groups and their clergy will be integrated into the Catholic Church.”
The Vatican statement said the apostolic constitution provides a “reasonable and even necessary response” to what it called a “worldwide phenomenon.”
It offers a “single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application.”
The profile of a “personal ordinariate” is similar in some ways to that of a personal prelature (Opus Dei is the only personal prelature right now) or the military ordinates, wherein a bishop has ecclesiastical authority over people of the armed forces and their families, regardless of their geographical location.
Many individual Anglicans have already entered into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Sometimes there have been groups of Anglicans who have entered while preserving some “corporate” structure, the Vatican statement noted, offering the example of an Anglican diocese in India and some parishes in the United States.
“In these cases, the Catholic Church has frequently dispensed from the requirement of celibacy to allow those married Anglican clergy who desire to continue ministerial service as Catholic priests to be ordained in the Catholic Church,” the statement explained.
According to Cardinal Levada: "It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith.
“Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church. The unity of the Church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows. […]
“Our communion is therefore strengthened by such legitimate diversity, and so we are happy that these men and women bring with them their particular contributions to our common life of faith.”