Posted by: Titus Presler | November 19, 2009

Anglicanorum Coetibus gets some official Anglican pushback

It is good to see that, at length, an official spokesperson for one Anglican province has pushed back against the Vatican’s move to incorporate disaffected Anglicans through the “ordinariates” authorized by Pope Benedict XVI’s Nov. 4 promulgation of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.  And it is good to see that it is the Episcopal Church USA that is pointing out how out of step the Vatican’s new policy is not only with ecumenical ideals but with the long history of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue and collaboration.

In a Nov. 16 statement, Bp. Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church’s deputy to the Presiding Bishop for ecumenical and interreligious relations had this to say, in part:

[I]t is clear that what is being touted by some as an “ecumenical gesture” may be understood as “pastoral” but is not necessarily very ecumenical. Even though Cardinal Walter Kasper has now given one newspaper interview, there has otherwise been a noticeable silence on the part of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on this matter. This appears to be a unilateral action on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which flies in the face of the slow, but steady progress made in the real ecumenical dialogue of over forty years.

This is “come home to Rome” with absolute clarity. Any former Anglican who has been ordained will not only have to be re-ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, not only re-ordained as a transitional deacon, but even re-confirmed as an adult member of the Body of Christ! Any one who does make this move is not an Anglican, nor an Anglo-Catholic, but a Roman Catholic convert.

Bp. Epting has said that his statement had the concurrence of Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, who herself was Roman Catholic until age 8, when her parents joined the Episcopal Church.

The incredulity and indignation that Epting expresses is heartening, even as he then goes on appropriately to express continuing Episcopal commitment to dialogue with the Romans.  Earlier responses by many Anglican bishops, beginning with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, were startlingly mild and essentially abdicated episcopal responsibility for articulating the dignity and integrity of Anglican identity, as pointed out in an Oct. 31 posting on this blog, “Rome luring Anglicans offends mission as well as ecumenism.”

Mission in Anglicanorum Coetibus

In the area of mission, Anglicanorum Coetibus makes provision for mission societies and religious orders to be received into the Roman Church on a corporate basis similar to that provided for congregations and, presumably, dioceses.  “The Ordinariate is composed,” it says, “of lay faithful, clerics and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, originally belonging to the Anglican Communion and now in full communion with the Catholic Church, or those who receive the Sacraments of Initiation within the jurisdiction of the Ordinariate” (1.4).

“Societies of Apostolic Life” are groups of people who join together in dedication to a particular mission but do not take the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience required of orders.  An outstanding Roman example is the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, commonly known as the Maryknolls.  While the Anglican Communion has many religious orders, it does not have anything comparable to what the Romans mean by a society of apostolic life, a non-monastic group of people whose primary identification is their common bond and community life in carrying out a particular mission in the world.  It is technically conceivable that a particular freestanding mission agency might seek reception into the Roman Church as such a society.  Whether Rome would recognize such an agency as a society of apostolic life is a question, but there is no existing agency for which going to Rome is remotely likely.

Kasper interview confirms Vatican attitudes

Meanwhile, L’Osservatore Romano‘s Nov. 15 interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, originally thought to be an innocent and embarrassed bystander in the drama, actually confirms the natural inferences about Vatican attitudes that may drawn from this unfortunate episode in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, as related by Sandro Magister:

– “And he [Kasper] says that [Abp. of Canterbury Rowan] Williams called him in the middle of the night, to ask him for an explanation. Kasper says in the interview: ‘We talked about the significance of the new apostolic constitution, and I reassured him about the continuation of our direct talks, as indicated to us by Vatican Council II and as the pope desires. He replied to me that for him, this confirmation is a very important message.'”  It is disgraceful that Williams was reduced by Vatican conduct to seeking clarification in the middle of the night.

– “In Kasper’s view, both the desire of some Anglican groups to change to Catholicism and the obstacles to a more general reconciliation between Rome and Canterbury arise not from the desire of the Catholic Church to ‘expand its empire’ (‘a ridiculous comment,’ the cardinal snaps), but from causes entirely internal to the Anglican Communion,” namely the affirmation of the full ministries of women and homosexual persons.  As I noted on Oct. 31, the missional charges of proselytism and sheep-stealing are natural, widespread and accurate, and therefore will be hard to shake.

– I hope, perhaps in vain, that during his Nov. 19-22 visit to Rome, Williams will protest both the content of Anglicanorum Coetibus and the manner in which it was promulgated.  Kasper is airily optimistic that the new constitution will not affect continuing cordiality between Canterbury and Rome.  Said he: “His [Williams’] upcoming visit to the Vatican demonstrates that there has not been any rupture, and reiterates the shared desire to talk together at an historically important moment. It is in this spirit that the archbishop of Canterbury will meet with members of the Roman curia, and on November 21 will talk with the pope. We have the opportunity to open a new phase of ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church and for the pontificate of Benedict XVI.”

Clearly Rome interprets Williams’ visit as a sign that all is well and all will be well in the relationship with Canterbury.  This is unfortunate, arrogant – and probably true.

Update: Williams’ lecture on Nov. 19 in Rome on the occasion of the centenary of Cardinal Willebrands’ birth continued the tone of mild rather than robust response.  Speaking of Anglicanorum Coetibus, Williams said, “It is an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground.”  Williams clearly preferred to see the Willebrands observance as an opportunity for scholarly analysis – though even in this respect his discussion of the constitution does not contribute much – rather than for church leadership, which is his primary responsibility.  Links: Text of Williams’ addressEpiscopal Life Online story hereNew York Times stories, “Anglican leader defends faith as Vatican welcomes his members” and “Anglican leader and Pope hold ‘cordial’ talks.”

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