Understanding the Pope’s offer

The Rt Revd Peter Elliot, Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, spoke recently to Forward in Faith Australia about the character of an Anglican Ordinariate: this is an edited version of his speech

Anglicans can no longer speak of ‘swimming the Tiber’. Pope Benedict XVI has built a noble bridge, a symbol chosen as the cover illustration for the Catholic Truth Society edition of his Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. Today I want to try to describe where that bridge leads.

I have already summed up the papal offer as ‘united in communion but not absorbed’, words which resonate with the ecumenical vision of the recent past, particularly the era of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey. Now ‘United in communion but not absorbed’ is realized in ‘a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans who wish to enter full communion with the Catholic Church’, to use the Holy Father’s words.

Anglicanorum coetibus establishes a distinct community for Anglicans who choose to return to unity with the Successor of St Peter. But it is not accurate to call this an ‘Anglican Rite Ordinariate’. A better expression would be an ‘Anglican Use Personal Ordinariate’, that is, a structured community maintaining its own traditions, at the same time enjoying distinct liturgical privileges within the Roman Rite.

The proposed Anglican Use Ordinariate may be compared to the Military Ordinariate, set up in many countries. A Military Ordinariate is a kind of diocese covering a whole country but also ‘present’ in places outside the country where military personnel serve, such as Afghanistan or East Timor. The bishop of the armed forces exercises ordinary jurisdiction over military chaplains and Catholic members of the armed forces – wherever they may be. Therefore his ministry relates directly to people and is more personal than territorial.

However, the structure proposed in Anglicanorum coetibis is closer to a territorial diocese. There could be several Ordinariates in one country, which is not the case with the military structure. Therefore to better understand an Anglican Use Ordinariate we look into the venerable ancient Eastern Rites within the Catholic Church, properly called the Eastern Catholic Churches.

These autonomous Churches are in communion with Rome, but their members are not ‘Roman Catholics’, that is, not Catholics of the Roman Rite. I now need to open up something essential that many Anglicans do not understand – that the Catholic Church is not a monolithic structure. She is a communion of Churches, led by bishops who are in communion with the Bishop of Rome and with one another, members of one apostolic college. This unity through a communion of particular or local Churches is set out in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium, 23.

Every diocese is a ‘particular Church’, governed by a successor of the apostles. This is why we talk of the Church of Rome, the Church of Melbourne, the Church of Washington etc. Through a complex history beginning in apostolic times, most of these particular Churches today are grouped together within the Roman Rite. Not only are they in communion with the Church of Rome, the See of Peter, but they also use the liturgy of Rome.

At the same time, many other particular churches are grouped within a series of ancient Eastern Rites, also in communion with Rome, but using liturgies appropriate to their origins: Syrian, Greek, Egyptian, Armenian etc. Their members are Ukrainian Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Coptic Catholics etc. They are not Roman Catholics. This is why it is wrong to lump us all together and call everyone in communion with Rome a ‘Roman Catholic’.

So to sum it up, within the Catholic Church there is a wide range of Catholics and worshipping communities of Christian people.

Looking more closely into these Eastern Catholic Churches, we first find typical territorial dioceses in the home country: Ukraine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, India, Iraq etc. But then we find a second kind of diocese for those members of these Churches who have emigrated and are now scattered across a country such as Canada or Australia. This kind of diocese is usually, not always, called an eparchy.

In an eparchy an Eastern Rite bishop has jurisdiction over all the clergy and lay faithful of his Rite, within a country or region. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic bishop with a fine cathedral in North Melbourne is the bishop of the Eparchy of St Peter and Paul, Australia.

He has ordinary jurisdiction over all Ukrainian Catholics in Australia. His people are also known as ‘Greek Catholics’ because they celebrate the liturgy of Constantinople, the Byzantine Rite.

The Ordinary of an Anglican Use Personal Ordinariate will be like an eparch, having jurisdiction and pastoral care over a series of parishes, juridically comparable to a diocese’. But he will ‘teach, sanctify and govern’ within the Western tradition, the Roman Rite, and that is the interesting and new development in Anglicanorum coetibus. There is also another closer similarity between the proposed Anglican Use Personal Ordinariates and Eastern Catholic eparchies. That may be described as a distinctive ‘ethos’ based on a liturgical tradition and a wide range of customs, history, spiritualities and culture, never forgetting the personal bonds between people and families. In your case this will be the Anglican patrimony. In full communion with the Successor of St Peter, members of each Personal Ordinariate will be gathered in distinctive communities that preserve elements of Anglican worship, spirituality and culture that are compatible with Catholic faith and morals. Members of an Ordinariate will be able to worship according to own liturgical ‘use’, while still being Catholics of the Roman Rite. So in the Ordinariate you will be ‘Roman Catholics’ or ‘Latin Catholics’, part of the largest group in the Universal Church. At the same time, like the Eastern Rite Catholics, you will be the bearers of a distinctive and respected tradition.

When Anglicanorum coetibus was published, an elderly lady went to her vicar and said, ‘Father, are we all Roman Catholics now?’ Of course it is not as simple as that, nor should it be. Entrance into full communion with Rome through an Ordinariate involves a personal decision, and a sacramental process.

The decision to be reconciled through an Ordinariate can only be made through following personal conscience, that is, after prayer, study and reflection. This is a step of faith in Jesus Christ and his Church. It involves accepting all the teachings of the Church on faith and morals.

Such a personal assent of faith needs to be formed and informed. To use an Anglican expression, please ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ the Catechism of the Catholic Church, described in Anglicanorum coetibus as ‘the authoritative expression of the Catholic Faith professed by members of the Ordinariate’. This official resource summarises the Faith ‘once given’, embodied in one Word of God that comes to us, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, through Scripture and Tradition.

Unity in Faith is preserved and animated by unity with the Vicar of Christ on earth, and with the bishops of the apostolic college gathered around him. However, we need to consider the practical dimension of unity, the discipline of the Church and her laws. These are set out for Catholics of the Roman Rite, including members of the Ordinariates, in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Some Anglicans may be alarmed at the prospect of coming under Canon Law, but the code is also a detailed charter of the rights of clergy and laity. However, I need to be frank about one relevant area of the code, marriage.

In this area the Code is precise, maintaining what was once upheld within Anglicanism, Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Therefore, married people, clergy and laity, who intend to enter the Ordinariate need to be aware that they cannot be reconciled to the Church as members of the Ordinariate until any irregular marriage situations are cleared up through diocesan tribunals. Unity in Christ for married people involves unity in his sacrament of Marriage.

Alongside the Code of Canon Law internal laws and statutes will regulate the sacramental, pastoral and administrative life of the Ordinariate. The required administrative structures are already set out in the Complementary Norms that accompany the Constitution. Some critics of Anglicanorum coetibus have perceived the similarity between the Ordinariates and Eastern Catholic Churches. Then they dismiss the Pope’s generous offer as ‘Uniatism’, that is, a ‘unity’ imposed by submission to papal imperialism. Catholics avoid the polemical term ‘Uniate’. Eastern Rite Catholics find it very offensive. It suggests that all their Churches broke away from ancient Churches and returned to the jurisdiction of the Pope for opportunistic political or economic reasons. Maronite Catholics in particular resent this rhetoric because they were never separated from Rome. But Eastern Catholics know that the freedom, autonomy and traditions they value are protected by unity with Rome.

In studying the interesting history of past projects to reunite Rome and Canterbury, some forgotten or hushed up, we find proposals that are now included in Anglicanorum coetibus, summed up in the phrase dear to Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey, ‘united but not absorbed’. This is why, in a recent article, I said: ‘Yet you do not come to the Ordinariates with empty hands. As I learnt forty-two years ago, you will lose nothing – but you will regain an inheritance stolen from us four centuries ago. That heritage was largely recovered by the giants of the Oxford Movement. I believe they smile on us now.’

What precisely is this ‘inheritance stolen from us four centuries ago’? It is the distinctive ethos of the whole tradition of English Catholicism, from the Romano-British and Irish Christians up to the Reformation. Then we see it continuing in two directions.

First there was the subsequent development of Catholicism in light of the Councils of Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II, first maintained secretly by recusants and then by English Catholics of the Roman Rite who received emancipation in 1829. The Venerable John Henry Newman joined these faithful people in 1845. Their heroic story is marked by continuity. They bravely maintained what would have been part of Christian life had not communion with the Successor of St Peter been severed at the Reformation.

At the same time, we look to the parallel development, your heritage which Anglicanorum coetibus recognises, honours and seeks to maintain. Within the diverse structure of the Anglican Settlement, Anglicans with Catholic convictions sought to maintain, enrich or restore continuity, often at great cost. We think of the Caroline divines, Scottish Episcopalians, the Wesleys, and the scholars and heroes of the Oxford Movement: men like Keble and Pusey, priests of the Society of the Holy Cross, valiant men and women who formed religious communities, clergy selflessly committed to serve the poor, bringing them social justice and a vision of the Kingdom through beautiful Catholic worship.

Nor let us forget the brilliance of Dom Gregory Dix, Michael Ramsey, C.S. Lewis, Eric Mascall, T.S. Eliot and Dorothy Sayers. All of this heritage can enrich a unity of faith shared by all English-speaking Catholics. I would suggest that, at the end of the day, the only significant communities with an authentic Oxford Movement tradition left on earth will be found in the Personal Ordinariates within the Catholic Church.

At this time we are aware that many Evangelical Anglicans are also following their consciences and making decisions under the Word of God in Scripture. We honour their fidelity to the Bible, to Gospel truths and to the ethics of Jesus Christ. Some Evangelicals are sending messages of encouragement to Anglo-Catholics considering the Ordinariate. Do not imagine that because of greater numbers in some places that they are exempt from feelings of sorrow, hurt, scandal and rejection that you have suffered.

The difficult problem at present is surely resolving a tense relationship with mainstream Anglicans. Yes, I have heard unkind comments against those considering the Ordinariate, but I have also heard words of good-will and understanding. Let us hope and pray that kindness and mutual respect may prevail.

If you choose the Ordinariate, the challenge will be to keep the doors open, not to set up clubs or cliques. Through established Ordinariates you can reach out with the love of Christ to another group, that unknown number of drifting and bewildered traditional Anglicans. But let us also respect those traditional Anglicans who choose to continue in their own circles. Pray for them as you pray for all who consider making that short but decisive journey across the bridge. ND