Bishops unveil path to ordinariate

The world's first Ordinariate -- a special jurisdiction for Anglicans becoming Catholics who are able to retain some of their traditions -- will be created by the Catholic Church in England and Wales, its bishops announced today. Their statement announced a timetable of ordinations, formation and receptions of Anglican bishops, clergy and lay faithful between New Year and Pentecost next year, but in the press conference this morning they were reluctant to give numbers, saying the only formal applications they have received have been from five Anglican bishops; others have "expressed interest" in joining but have not publicly announced their intention to do so.

Although commentators -- and I am one of them -- have warned against over-blowing the significance of the early stages of the ordinariate, it seems clear from the bishops' language and plans this morning that the Church is in fact getting ready to receive some serious numbers. Bishop Alan Hopes (on the right of the picture), a former Anglican and Westminster auxiliary who is coordinating the process, said he knew of "about 30" groups of Anglicans who had expressed their desire to join, and didn't baulk when he was asked to confirm reports of "about 50" clergy who have expressed interest in applying.


The timetable looks like this:

  • After the Ordinariate is formally created by decree in early January -- by an act of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) --  its leadership will be prepared by five Church of England bishops (who are resigning their Anglican posts on 31 December) entering into communion with the Church early in the New Year. 
  • Pretty much immediately, the three currently serving Anglican bishops will be ordained to the diaconate and priesthood; one of them is almost certain to be the Ordinary -- the leader of the ordinariate -- whose name will be announced at about the same time (the decision is the CDF's). Those three bishops have been receiving "intense instruction", Bishop Hopes said.
  • The two retired bishops will be ordained to the priesthood later, before Lent. That means the Ordinariate will have five priests who can then prepare and pastor the first wave of former Anglican clergy and lay people during Holy Week.
  • Before Lent begins, "those Anglican clergy with groups of faithful who have decided to enter the Ordinariate will then begin a period of intense formation for ordination as Catholic priests". During Lent, Anglican lay people wishing to join the Ordinariate will be enrolled as candidates, and follow a course of formation leading to their reception during Holy Week. Both they and their priests (that is, former Anglican clergy now seeking ordination in the Catholic Church) will continue their instruction until Pentecost, under the supervision of local diocesan priests through the Catholic seminaries. Bishop Hopes revealed that those "contemplating the move" have already begun studying, with their priests, a weekly Evangelium course introducing them to Catholic ethics and doctrine.
  • Around Pentecost, the former Anglican priests whose petitions have been accepted by the CDF will be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, having been ordained to the diaconate at Easter, and incardinated into the Ordinariate. The formation of the Ordinariate clergy will continue for some time, said Bishop Hopes, "to get their feet under the table of the Catholic Church."

    Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster (on the left of the picture) said he didn't "feel guilty" at depriving Anglican parishes of priests, because the Ordinariate is a "response to requests" and has been created out of respect for an "imperative of conscience". Noting that the Archbishop of Canterbury had told Vatican Radio that he did not see it as an "aggressive act" by the Catholic Church, Archbishop Nichols said that in the task of bringing the Gospel to society, Anglicans and Catholics were not rivals or in competition."We believe that mutual strength is very important, because we have a shared mission, a shared task". He said there had been a series of meetings with Anglican bishops to manage the process, and a further one was scheduled for April.

    The Catholic Church "absolutely respects the ownership of property" and was not expecting Anglicans to bring property with them, he went on, adding that the "simpler route" was for "those who are becoming Catholics to use Catholic churches". But decisions on whether to share Anglican churches or make use of Catholic churches will depend on the local situation.

    The Ordinariate is not a "ritual church" in the sense that "the rite does not define the Ordinariate", Archbishop Nichols said. Although some members of the Ordinariate will want to use the Anglican Use liturgy, any Catholic can attend an ordinariate Mass. But Catholics already under the jurisdiction of a diocese cannot switch jurisdictions by joining the Ordinariate.

    The head of the Ordinariate will be a "full participating member" of the bishops' conference, with voting rights, despite not being a bishop ("ordinaries" do not need to be) and could well be a married priest. Was this married bishops through the back door? "There are no back-door bishops; he's not a bishop", said Archbishop Nichols.

    He said the Church sees the Ordinariate as -- in Pope Benedict XVI's words -- a "prophetic gesture", which points the way forward to future Anglican-Catholic unity by increasing each Church's mutual appreciation of each other's riches.

    Among the "riches" which former Anglicans will bring to the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate he mentioned patterns of personal devotion, spiritual reading, and a sense of mission.  "We will learn more about each other and that will serve our wider purpose of full, visible communion".

    He also mentioned "patterns of church governance", noting that the ordinariate norms mentioned consultative bodies which did not currently exist in the Catholic Church. Did that mean that Anglican traditions of church governance might "rub off" on the Catholic Church long-term? "That's what the Pope is open to," Archbishop Nichols said.

    A special course is being put together in collaboration with the CDF in Rome for the existing Anglican clergy seeking to become Catholic priests. Bishop Hopes said all the seminaries in England and Wales were preparing to offer the course.

    Although the Ordinariate is expected to be self-funding, Archbishop Nichols said £250,000 had been assigned from the dioceses to assist the new body get onto its feet. The money is expected mainly to be used for supporting clergy and their families during their period of instruction.

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