Celebrating All Saints' Day today, Pope Benedict XVI noted that it was the tenth anniversary of a historic agreement between Lutherans and Catholics which he hoped "will help bring forward the path towards the full visible unity of all the disciples of Christ".
Oddly, the Times headlines this "Pope offers olive branch after move to 'poach' traditionalist Anglicans". Not much of an olive branch. But then, not much poaching going on either -- not unless you think Rome is bending so far backwards to accommodate Catholic Anglicans in its forthcoming Apostolic Constitution that it can be accused of double standards.
That's what yesterday's "clarification" by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) was about. It was an attempt to quash the notion that a future "ordinariate" for ex-Anglicans, complete with separate houses of formation, could become a Uniate-style niche in which married priesthood is the norm.
The first canon -- "Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfill the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church" -- means that, say, divorced or invalidly married Anglican priests, or former Catholic priests who are now Anglican priests, would all face special scrutiny. Being an Anglican priest now will not be enough, per se, to make you a married Catholic priest in the new ordinariates; as happens now, each candidate would be screened for the normal canonical impediments.
The second canon upholds the principle that the Latin Church only admits celibate men to the priesthood, and that admission of married men is a derogation from the norm which can only be considered case by case. Cardinal Levada comments on this canon that it is "purely speculative" whether this could apply to future priests, meaning that this is a bridge that will need to be crossed at the moment when negotiations are under way between those petitioning for an ordinariate and the relevant bishops of that area. At that point, the norms can be agreed -- subject, of course, to Rome's approval.
That seems to leave the door open to a married priesthood in perpetuity (within the ordinariates). But Cardinal Levada gives the example of "married seminarians already in preparation", rather than "future seminarians", giving the impression that Rome would be flexible about the first, but less so about the second.
The message seems to be: don't think that married priesthood will be the norm in ordinariates in the future. For a time, dispensations will be given fairly liberally, but they will gradually decrease and then virtually disappear altogether.
The canonical reasoning seems to be that Anglicans priests and seminarians who are already married or who expect to be married (ie, are in a relationship leading to marriage) should not be deterred by that fact from presenting themselves for ordination or re-ordination in the Catholic priesthood. But once the ordinariates are in place, the principle of clerical celibacy will be gradually re-imposed. Men will need to choose between priestly and married vocations like all other young men in the Latin Church.
This gives Anglicans thinking of "poping" something important to add to their discernment. If they object in principle to compulsory celibacy, or regard a married priesthood as something intended by Christ for His Church as at least as an option, they will have extra reasons to hesitate.
But I wonder if the ordinariate experiment might not have the reverse effect. A generation or two of married priests and seminarians could help advance the argument that the reasons for a married priesthood have begun to outweigh those in favour of compulsory celibacy in the Latin Church. The fast-falling ratio of clergy to faithful in parts of Europe and the US -- let alone the developing world -- and the sharply increasing number of married permanent deacons (who are first in line to be ordained if the rule ever changes), seem to point in one direction only. And the Anglican ordinariate experiment may take the Church faster towards it.