What were they thinking of?
Anglicans and the Apostolic Constitution – 1Nicholas Lash
- 14 November 2009
Details of the new structures being created by Rome to bring disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church were published this week. Here a leading theologian questions the reasoning behind the plan
“Lead, Kindly Light”, prayed John Henry Newman, “amid the encircling gloom.” In the mists of confusion at present surrounding the announcement of the establishment of “personal ordinariates” in the Catholic Church for certain groups of Anglicans, we could do with illumination.
It has been suggested that the new structures, established by the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, issued in Rome, together with a set of “Complementary Norms”, on 4 November, should be considered as analogous to those of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Aidan Nichols OP proposed something along these lines in 1993, in The Panther and the Hind and, in 2006, in an article in New Blackfriars entitled: “Anglican Uniatism: A Personal View”. I would make two comments on this. The first concerns the need not to speak of “Uniates”.
The schism between Western and Eastern Christianity was not so much a single event as a lengthy process of mutual alienation, culminating in the formal breaking of relations between the patriarchate of Constantinople (drawing the four other, far less powerful, eastern patriarchates in its wake) and the papacy. Over time, many Eastern Churches (of more than 20 types or families) were reconciled into full communion with the Holy See. Their Orthodox brethren, seeing this as betrayal, coined the highly pejorative term “Uniate” to describe them. It is a term that Eastern Catholics therefore find offensive. (And, of course, the term is not only offensive but inaccurate when applied to those Churches, such as the Maronites, which never broke off communion with Rome.) Many British Catholics seem unaware of this, perhaps because there are so few Eastern Catholics in this country to complain. Nevertheless, I am surprised that a scholar normally so meticulously courteous as Aidan Nichols should be unaware of this.
In the second place, the analogy simply does not stand up. Each of the Eastern Catholic Churches is, precisely, a Church: a distinct, episcopally and presbyterally structured body with its own identity, history and character. The proposed ordinariates, however, are not Churches, but groups of disaffected Anglican lay people. That seems the right way to put it because, notwithstanding the admirable fact that, in recent decades, the popes have come to treat Anglican bishops as bishops (to the extent that, in 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury was invited to celebrate the Eucharist at the high altar of Santa Sabina), not only has the judgement of Apostolicae Curae, in 1896 (that Anglican orders were “absolutely null and utterly void”), never been revoked but, as recently as 1998, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger listed it among the definitive and irreversible teachings, failure to give assent to which excludes someone from “full communion with the Catholic Church” (see William Broderick, “Examining the Validity of Anglican Orders”, National Catholic Reporter, 13 August 1999). The constitution makes it quite clear that Anglican bishops and priests who wish to serve as such in the reconciled ordinariates will require re-ordination.
Nevertheless, the inconsistency between theory and practice, where the status of Anglican orders is concerned, endures. A striking illustration of this is Article 11 of the Complementary Norms, concerning “former Anglican bishops”. This article makes four points. First, a “married former Anglican bishop is eligible to be appointed Ordinary. In such a case he is to be ordained a priest in the Catholic Church”. Secondly, a former bishop may be called upon to assist the Ordinary of the ordinariate. So far, so good.
The third provision, however, is that “A former Anglican bishop who belongs to the ordinariate may be invited to participate in the meetings of the Bishops’ Conference of the respective territory, with the equivalent status of a retired bishop.” There is no requirement built in here that he has been ordained a Catholic priest. In terms of sacramental theology, quite what does “equivalent status” mean? The final stipulation is that a former bishop “who has not been ordained as a bishop in the Catholic Church, may request permission from the Holy See to use the insignia of the episcopal office”. On what grounds?
The differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism are not, of course, merely liturgical, but also doctrinal. Article I.5 of the constitution states that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative expression of the Catholic faith professed by members of the ordinariate.” This simply makes no sense. The Catechism is a useful if uneven compendium of Catholic teaching. It has little or no authority in itself (as does, for example, a dogmatic constitution of a general council, such as Lumen Gentium or Dei Verbum), but only in the sources or authorities to which it makes reference. It is not a confession of faith, and should not be used as such.
According to Aidan Nichols in his essay “Anglican Uniatism”, the leadership of the Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith, “having ascertained that, where corporate reconciliation is concerned, no help can be expected from the Catholic bishops in England, determined to look to the Vatican directly”. There is a pattern here.
More than a century ago, Newman prophetically foresaw that another council would be needed to correct the exaggerated ultramontanism which was the mood of the majority at the First Vatican Council. During the twentieth century, that ultramontanism generated an historically unprecedented centralisation of power in Rome. In due time, however, another council was convened and it was generally agreed that its main doctrinal achievement was the spelling out, in Lumen Gentium, of the doctrine of episcopal collegiality – the theoretical component of the long overdue decentralisation of ecclesial power.
We have the theory, but await the practice. The failure of “Rome” to inform the Archbishop of Canterbury until the last minute; the bypassing of the bishops’ conferences most affected by the proposal – this is of a piece with the issuing, in 2007, of the apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, encouraging general use of the unreformed Missal of 1962, in the teeth of a great deal of episcopal objection.
Why the announcement was made before the constitution was complete, I do not know. But, on the whole, it is not what is being done, but the manner in which it is being done, that is objectionable. A major structural innovation in Roman Catholicism is being introduced without consulting the bishops of the Catholic Church. According to the constitution, “Personal ordinariates for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church are erected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith within the confines of the territorial boundaries of a particular Conference of Bishops in consultation with that same conference” (my stress). Too late, as Judi Dench (playing Elizabeth I) said to Sir Walter Raleigh when she stepped into the puddle.
I very much hope that Catholics in this country and elsewhere will warmly welcome into our communion the members of the new ordinariates. Nevertheless, in terms of the relations between Rome and the bishops’ conferences affected, the way in which these ordinariates have been invented is disgraceful.