Apostolic Constitution: What is the Personal Ordinariate
Bishop Christopher Hill
The special provision for those ‘originally belonging to the Anglican Communion’ (as they are termed) was announced on 20th October 2009 with not much notice to either the Archbishop of Canterbury or to the Archbishop of Westminster.
This did not mean it was intended to ‘poach’ priests and people from Anglican Churches. While there are questions about a lack of communication, it was well known that both former Anglicans – such as members of the Traditional Anglican Communion – and some still belonging to Anglican Communion had approached the Vatican to consider some group recognition as a way of retaining an Anglican identity in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican has responded to their
requests with Anglicanorum Coetibus (Latin: Groups of Anglicans).
What does the Apostolic Constitution entail? What is a Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans? A Personal Ordinariate is a pastoral provision in juridical form which will allow some continuing Anglican heritage to be expressed. But it is ‘personal,’ that is to say, for a network of individuals and groups, rather than the norm of a territorial diocese. The Note first issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes this quite clear in saying that the structure of a Personal Ordinariate ‘will be similar in some ways to that of Military Ordinariates’, that is to say, the distinct jurisdiction of military chaplains. The model is that of a society. Yet this will not be entirely separate from the Roman Catholic territorial dioceses, and there has to be consultation with the local Roman Catholic bishops before an Ordinariate can be established.
All who choose to avail themselves of this provision will have to conform in doctrine to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Ordinary who has jurisdiction over the Ordinariate, if a bishop, must be celibate. Though celibate clergy will be the norm, married men who were previously Anglican clergy may be ordained on an individual basis – as is already the case for a number of former Anglicans. The ordinariate must be self-financing.
A Continuing Anglican Patrimony
It is not yet clear how a continuing Anglican ‘Patrimony’ - liturgical, pastoral and spiritual - is to be expressed. In fact many priests who might wish to explore this option are precisely those who for many years have adopted the Roman rather than authorised Anglican Rites.
What is clear from the Note from the Vatican itself, as well as the Joint Statement of the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, is that this is not at all an alternative to the long-term vision of unity and full visible communion between the two churches to which both are committed. Any former Anglicans who take the route of Anglicanorum Coetibus will be required to be ordained if they are to serve as priests. Thus this provision is not a short cut to the longer term Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenical agenda.
On the other hand, as a pastoral response it is a positive acknowledgement of the Anglican tradition in that it seeks to recognize what can continue to be celebrated of Anglicanism within the communion of the Roman Catholic Church, even before the more distant full communion of our Churches to which both Churches remain committed. Nor would this recognition have been possible without the achievements of the Anglican- Roman Catholic International Commission over many years.
The timing of this announcement in terms of Church of England debates on the ordination of women to the episcopate may have been unfortunate but it was not deliberate. The provision may help some. It is also a recognition of the partial but painful communion Anglicans and Roman Catholics already share.
The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is Bishop of Guildford and Chairman of the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity.