Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Personal Ordinariates and Catholic identity.

A week ago, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, William Cardinal Levada, announced Pope Benedict XVI's decision to allow the establishment of new juridical structures that would allow Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while maintaining a distinctive corporate identity retaining aspects of the Anglican liturgical and spiritual heritage. Though the Holy See already provides special procedures for the reception of Anglican clergy and laypeople under the auspices of the Pastoral Provision established in 1980 by Pope John Paul II, the present Holy Father aims to establish Personal Ordinariates embracing those who wish to "preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony" in communion with Rome. In effect, the Personal Ordinariates would be quasi-dioceses giving former Anglicans in the Catholic Church a more coherent sense of corporate identity and practical unity than they have been able to achieve under the Pastoral Provision. The Pope's openness to the fostering of such an identity within the Church is what interests me most about this proposal, as I will explain later in this post.

Unsurprisingly, the secular and religious news media and certain sectors of the blogosphere have shown a great deal of interest in the Pope's response to Anglicans seeking communion with Rome. Many have speculated about what this will mean for the Roman Catholic Church, for the Anglican Communion, and for ecumenical relations between Catholics and Anglicans. I'll refrain from comment on the more widely-discussed (and perforce more neuralgic) aspects of this issue. I will, however, direct interested readers to a Zenit interview with Monsignor William Stetson, an administrator of the Pastoral Provision in the United States. Monsignor Stetson speaks very clearly about some of the practical concerns that will likely be involved in setting up the Personal Ordinariates. For example, here is his answer to a question on "the possibility of marriage for . . . Anglican seminarians" who seek ordination as Catholic priests:
The specifics have not yet been made known on this question. At the very least I should assume that the seminarians would have to be both married and studying in an Anglican seminary at the time they sought to enter into full communion, and then continue studying for the priesthood in a Catholic seminary. They would have to be dispensed from the norm of celibacy on a case-by-case basis by the Holy See. Future seminarians would have to be celibate.
In other words, Monsignor Stetson seems to say, one shouldn't interpret this initiative as a step toward a broader change in the Latin Church's discipline regarding priestly celibacy. Whatever views you may hold on this precise question, you may find it helpful to read a somewhat "official" statement on an aspect of the Personal Ordinariate issue that has inspired a lot of speculation. In a more general sense, the Stetson interview should prove quite illuminating to anyone seeking a straightforward, "just the facts" account of what's going on.

As I wrote above, what interests me most about the Pope's pastoral initiative is its possible implications for conceptions of Catholic identity. The establishment of Personal Ordinariates would not mean the creation of an 'Anglican Rite' or an autonomous 'Anglican Church in Communion with Rome' on a par with the Eastern Catholic Churches. Given the Latin heritage of the Church of England, the Holy See emphatically regards "the Anglican patrimony" as not simply Catholic but Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, as Monsignor Stetson points out, Roman Catholics in the Anglican tradition are inheritors of a "rich tradition of liturgical expression (language, music, vestments, space, etc.) in English, dating back to the 16th century" as well as "a great tradition of the use of sacred Scripture in preaching, love for the Fathers of the Church and theological expression beyond Roman Catholic scholasticism." In a basic way, then, "the Anglican patrimony" constitutes a distinctive expression of the Catholic faith.

The Holy See's recognition of the distinctiveness of Anglicanism is reflected in the juridical structures currently under consideration. The fact that communities of former Anglicans who have become Roman Catholic will henceforth be removed from the jurisdiction of local Latin ordinaries and placed under the care of Personal Ordinaries places them in a different situation than, say, Hungarian or Italian or Polish or Portuguese Roman Catholics who have often retained a distinctive sense of identity in 'national' or 'personal' parishes subject to local Latin bishops. Many bishops have tended to see personal parishes as a temporary expedient that should fade away as immigrants assimilate to the broader culture; I find this perspective wrongheaded in many respects, but that's an argument for another day. For now, I'd simply like to note that the establishment of the Personal Ordinariates means that former Anglicans who seek corporate union with the Catholic Church will not have to depend on the good will of territorial Latin bishops as personal parishes have had to do (and as the handful of Anglican Use parishes have also had to do until now). Instead, they will enjoy their own unique (and apparently permanent) place in the hierarchical structure of the Church.

By sanctioning the establishment of Personal Ordinariates and by recognizing the value of a distinctive "Anglican patrimony," the Holy See may be seen as making a positive statement about the value of distinctive national traditions and heritages within the Latin West. The significance of this statement should be recognized, even if it has received relatively little attention compared with other questions about the theological and practical implications of this move and its timing. I'm curious about what this will mean in practice, but I also wonder whether it will lead to more explicit recognition and appreciation for other liturgical and spiritual traditions in the Western Church. I suppose that time will tell. AMDG.


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