November 4, 2009, was the occasion when three documents were released together from the Holy See. These were (1) the papal document itself, known as Anglicanorum Coetibus, described in Vatican parlance as an “Apostolic Constitution; (2) a slightly longer and more detailed paper entitled “Complementary Norms for the Apostolic Constitution” signed by Cardinal William Levada; and finally (3) a much longer essay authored by Fr Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, entitled “The Significance of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.” These documents not only escalate in length but also change markedly in tone. Those in our world of Anglicanism (either Canterburian or Continuing) who are interested or affected by the documents should carefully note that progression.
Even the most cautious observers (among whom I must surely be counted) of the whole movement within Anglicanism toward Rome must be impressed by the truly pastoral and affectionate tone of the first document. That is undeniable, but it does not tell the entire story. As almost everyone knows by now, the Holy Father authorized the creation of something called “Ordinariates,” these being trans-jurisdictional jurisdictions for Anglicans who desire to become Roman Catholics but do not wish to follow the usual and familiar procedures.
The second document, the “Complementary Norms,” is written crisply in the form of 14 Articles. One does not have to squint to see a certain tension emerging between the normal geographical dioceses of the Roman Catholic world and the non-geographical entities soon to come into existence. Art. 2 tells us that “the Ordinary [head of an Ordinariate, possibly a mere priest] follows the directives of the national Episcopal Conference,” followed by Art. 3 declaring that he “must maintain close ties of communion with the Bishop of the Diocese in which the Ordinariate is present.” Other articles make it clear that the formerly Anglican “Ordinaries” and even “lay faithful originally of the Anglican tradition” are to be kept on a short leash by Diocesan bishops and even local Pastors.
It is also amply clear that these Ordinariates may not include “those baptized as Catholics, unless they are members of a family belonging to an Ordinariate.” The Norms rather plainly anticipate a shrinking population, as those baptized in Anglican churches die off or scatter in today's mobile society. It is hard go see how this system could possibly survive more than a generation.
It is also emphasized (why was this necessary?) that “those who have been previously ordained in the Catholic Church and subsequently have become Anglicans, may not exercise sacred ministry in the Ordinariate.” Presumably clerics in this situation (which includes at least one of international prominence) would have to return to the regular diocesan obedience. But how would this work for a man who has become married? Rather pointed (do they have someone in mind?), it is declared that “Anglican clergy who are in irregular marriage situations may not be accepted for Holy Orders in the Ordinariate.”
Article 10 (one of the longer articles) is devoted to priestly formation. It emphasizes that candidates “will receive their theological [emphasis added] formation with other seminarians, i. e., seminarians not of Anglican background. However, “other aspects of priestly formation” may be received in a house of formation “established expressly for the purpose of transmitting Anglican patrimony.”
Here a distinction is laid down which has looming importance: whatever the Anglican patrimony is taken to be (and it is never defined, even vaguely), it is clearly not theological. The Australian Roman Catholic Bishop Peter J. Elliott spells this out with disarming honesty: “you will be gathered in distinctive communities that preserve elements of Anglican worship, spirituality, and culture that are compatible with Catholic faith and morals.” Plainly this is not Anglican faith and morals with Roman worship, spirituality and culture. You are welcome to pray in the language of Cranmer, sing the hymns of Charles Wesley, but the doctrines of Trent (filtered gently through the Catechism of the Catholic Church) firmly replaces the theology of Jewel, Whitgift, Hooker and Andrewes.
But the third and longest document makes everything even more clear. Its author, Fr Ghirlinda, is a distinguished canon lawyer whose responses back in 2002 to the pederasty crisis aroused the hackles of the New York Times and were firmly rebuffed by the American Roman Catholic bishops. He is now the head of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Lest anyone should try to plead that his opinions are only his (unlike the balmy spinnings of Bishop Elliott), it should be noted that his essay was released together with the Apostolic Constitution and the Complementary Norms. The three are presented together, with continuous pagination, on the Vatican website. That gives it a more than semi-official character. This is a document to be taken seriously and read at face value.
After a long introduction, the Canon Lawyer makes his points, dividing them into two balanced categories: On the one hand, “the safeguarding and nourishing of the Anglican tradition is guaranteed,” while on the other hand, “the integration of the Ordinariate into the life of the Catholic Church is assured.” (We might play on the distinction between guarantee and assurance. A Used Car Dealer gives me a “guarantee” that the car will run, but demands “assurance” that I will pay the full price.)
Seven guarantees are listed. The first is that some form of Anglican worship (this is far from clear) will be permitted, but only as a “concession.” Then we have a number of things, such as programs of formation for seminarians, the possibility of married Anglican “ministers” becoming Catholic priests (no such possibility for married Anglican laymen), the possibility of “personal parishes.” But in all these things, the operative verb is “may.” (Your car may run 500,000 miles, but then again, it might not.)
Then we come to the assurances, of which there are twelve. Nine of these stress the close working relationship between the Ordinariate and local Diocese. If this be autonomy, what would total submission look like?
The clincher comes in Assurance No. 4 (printed on page 15 of the 16 pages of the three documents). In the plainest and baldest language possible for a Canon Lawyer, we are told:
The ordination of ministers coming from Anglicanism will be absolute, on the basis of the Bull Apostolicae Curae of Leo XIII.
While we have been treated to the honeyed language concerning the lovely treasures of the Anglican patrimony (whatever they may be), finally near the end the kid glove comes off and the iron fist is made visible. This might have been the perfect moment in history for Rome to bury Apostolicae Curae, along with the Inquisition, the Syllabus of Errors, and many other skeletons in the Vatican closet. In recent years Rome has almost rehabilitated the character of Martin Luther and has praised the Augsburg Confession as a Catholic document. Pope John Paul II managed to pray with Buddhists at Assisi and publicly kissed the Koran. Pope Benedict XVI has publicly apologized to Muslims. But instead of burying Apostolicae Curae, it is trotted out on the Vatican website almost as part of the fixed deposit of faith.
The Holy Father is no slouch as a theologian. He could surely have wriggled out of this embarrassment by passing over the entire thing. Any scruples (some of which are indeed meritorious) could have been cured by Ordinations sub conditione. Many of those tempted and enticed by this generous offer may not have the sophistication to make the distinction between an “absolute” and a “conditional” ordination. The Former Anglicans who live in the vicinity of Disney World have labored mightily to convince themselves that the distinction is moot, at least for them. Evidently they had not read all the way to page 15 or else they do not understand blunt speech.
But Rome and the Jesuit Canon Lawyers who make the rules there know exactly what they mean when they say “absolute.” As far as they are concerned the wound of 1896 must not be allowed to heal. Anglicans not accepting the generous offer must remain on notice that their “orders” are forever invalid.
So we have a guarantee on paper that the used car will run, but the car dealer is assured that he will be paid in full regardless.