Some background on the new “Personal Ordinariates”

From various sources, information has been pouring in about the recent arrangement made by the Holy See for the new “Personal Ordinariates”. In this article I will try to piece together a few principal points of interest.

This was not an initiative of the Holy See but of over 50 Anglican Bishops, of whom about half are still in the Anglican Communion, and about half have seceded in recent years. There was no specific negotiation with the Traditional Anglican Communion.

The Holy See was concerned that the approaches of Anglican Bishops could not, in all charity, simply be dismissed, as some would have preferred. To reiterate the point, the Holy See did not initiate this process but responded generously to appeals from those who wanted to come into communion, rather than simply insisting that each individual should be received individually.

The Holy See has been working for years on this matter and has always been in favour of generous provision, in accordance with the historic attitude of the Holy See to include those whose traditions are not necessarily entirely Roman. In 1993 (after the ordination of women was approved in the Church of England), it was local Catholic Bishops who opposed any arrangements for corporate reunion, however, the radical liberal agenda at work in the Anglican Communion has so changed the landscape in the intervening period that even the most liberal of Catholic Bishops are no longer a priori opposed to such a corporate provision.

The process leading to the new Apostolic Constitution has been an extraordinarily complex, in-depth study, involving widespread consultation, and including communications with sitting Bishops of the Anglican Communion who were in favour of some such arrangement. The Holy See could not simply refuse to talk to such parties clamouring for full canonical union with the Catholic Church. Naturally the process of consultation involved the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, whose Secretary (Bishop Brian Farrell) is a Consultor of the CDF, and whose President (Cardinal Kasper) is one of the 15 Cardinal Members of the CDF. Some elements within the Pontifical Council were obviously not too happy with the whole notion of corporate reunion, however, in the end they were outvoted.

The arrangement of “Personal Ordinariates” is canonically a new arrangement. It is not the same as a Personal Prelature which canonically only concerns clerics. As was mentioned in the Note from the CDF, a “Personal Ordinariate” is something like the arrangement for the Military, that is, it is like a non-territorial diocese. It includes lay people but they also have a relationship with the local Bishop. The Personal Ordinary has potestas vicaria (vicarious power) which is dependent on the Holy See. However there is also cumulative jurisdiction, in that those in the Personal Ordinariate are subject both to their personal Ordinary and to the local Bishop. Therefore the Personal Ordinariates must necessarily co-operate with the local Bishops. Thus the arrangement is different from the Uniate Churches in that the Personal Ordiariates are canonically within the Western Rite.

For many of the Anglicans who have petitioned for an arrangement whereby they can come into full communion, the primary issue is not the ordination of women or of gays but that of authority. For the Church to function properly in accordance with the will of Christ, there must ultimately be a primatial see with real universal jurisdiction. The arrangements offered by the Holy See are courageous and to be welcomed. They show yet again the determination of Pope Benedict XVI to promote unity within the Church without insisting on uniformity of rites or customs. The Holy See’s provision of the new arrangements is a historic landmark for genuine Christian Unity as envisaged by Vatican II understood genuinely as in continuity with the tradition of the Church.

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