As the dust settles -- or should that be, 'as the debris clears'? -- on the Pope's momentous offer last week of a new home for Anglicans within the Catholic Church, interpretations of his audacious move are beginning to shift.
I have a piece in the Guardian today arguing that the personal ordinariates proposal has the potential to assist Anglican-Catholic dialogue. It's not a popular argument among mainstream Anglicans, but even the sharpest critics of the manner in which Rome went about it have conceded that it is a daring attempt to advance from the paralysis in relations between the two Churches.
My old boss at The Tablet, John Wilkins, thinks that Pope Benedict had lost patience with the logjam posed by the ordination of women and blessing of same-sex marriages in the Anglican Communion. He writes in the Times:
Benedict and his handful of sappers installed an explosive device under the logjam. On Tuesday they detonated it. The debris is still in full flight and no one can say what new configurations it will adopt when it comes to earth.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, thinks Rome behaved appallingly in not informing his successor until the last moment. Yet he concedes: “This initiative is almost a back-door ecumenical gesture. What we have seen is the failure of the final report of Arcic. Straightforward ecumenism at the theological level is going nowhere. This fresh initiative could have surprising consequences.”
David Gibson's clever and provocative article in the Washington Post contends that, while Benedict XVI's ambitions may be conservative, he is showing a taste for fast-moving change more typical of progressives. His piece in turn links to an article by former America editor Tom Reese which considers some of the revolutionary implications of the move -- not least the possibility of the Catholic Church now moving faster to a married priesthood.
For an insight into the thinking of Anglo-Catholics in reaction to the offer, it is worth (a) reading this report on a traditionalist parish in north London by the Guardian; and (b) listening in full to an address by the Bishop of Chichester, John Hind, one of the leading lights in the main Catholic-Anglican group in the Church of England, Forward in Faith, to its conference last weekend. (Access it here.)
According to the Sunday Telegraph, Bishop Hind is "happy to be reordained in the Catholic Church", but he stresses that this would depend on his "previous ministry being recognized". That may not be so simple.
When you listen to his speech, you understand his reservations. He wants to know if the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution is genuinely an "ecclesial proposal", or simply "an opportunity for individual Anglicans organised in groups"? Is Rome recognizing their "Anglican ecclesial experience", or merely acknowledging Anglican patrimony? The idea that the head of the proposed ordinariate could be a priest, not a bishop, worries him, as does the analogy with military ordinariates. Is "pastoral provision" really an acknowledgement of the rich heritage of Anglicanism?
Cardinal Newman was sceptical about a proposal at the time for a uniate Anglican church and emphasized the importance of individual conversions over group schemes. But he also recognized that increasing secularization would over time cause the differing Christian bodies to move closer together.
Newman foresaw a point where the weakness of non-Catholic Christian traditions, under the assaults of rationalism and unbelief, would signal the moment had arrived for plans to allow bodies of such Christians to enter into communion with the Catholic Church. Newman did not underestimate the possible dangers of this kind of plan. He recognised the great significance of personal conversion, such as his own, and the difficulties there might be in fully integrating the new bodies into the life of the Catholic Church. But still, according to Newman, when the time came for such initiatives it would be right to hope that they would contribute to sharpening and purifying the Christian conscience in a hostile world, and would bring blessings upon both the Catholic Church and upon those who in this way entered into communion with her.