In the Fall of 2009, the See of Rome issued what they call an “Apostolic Constitution” entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus. In the words of the constitution:
"…this Apostolic Constitution provides the general normative structure for regulating the institution and life of Personal Ordinariates for those Anglican faithful who desire to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church in a corporate manner."
Among Anglicans who want alternatives, various structures have been created even in recent years, such as the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) led by Bishop (now Archbishop) Robert Duncan. This followed an existing pattern of realignment within the Anglican Communion whereby North American Anglicans in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada had left their respective jurisdictions to be under the Archbishop of the Southern Cone (Abp. Gregory Venables), or, in some cases, the Archbishop of Nigeria (Abp. Peter Akinola).
A bit of background
The Vatican response of Anglicanorum Coetibus was not intended for any of these Evangelical groups, but rather was created in response primarily to two. One was Forward in Faith, specifically Forward in Faith United Kingdom (FiF/UK); The other, a long-standing request from the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), the American branch of which is called the Anglican Church in America (ACA). Both of these are Anglo-Catholic groups. What the TAC had requested amounted to various options ranging form "uniate" status to "inter-communion," none of which are provided for in the new constitution. It spells out something different, a "no" with a counter offer.
The second of these, the TAC/ACA is headed by Archbishop John Hepworth who resides in Adelaide, Australia, a former Roman Catholic priest who claims to have converted to Anglicanism long ago. For inexplicable reasons, the numbers of the TAC have been reported in the press to be about 400,000 strong, an estimate that was, perhaps, slightly more than ten times their actual world wide numbers; perhaps the count was around 50,000. That is, as it was before they started losing not only members, but several parishes formerly associated with them. In some cases the losses in their numbers have been significant, as in South Africa and the Congo (which have joined the Anglican Catholic Church, Original Province, ACC-OP).
The irony is that the TAC/ACA do not need, and never did need, an alternative to the apostasy in the Anglican Communion. Over the last several years they have constituted one of the two major groupings known as the Continuing Church, an Anglican association of jurisdictions that was formed almost immediately after women’s ordination began to be practiced in certain Anglican churches. In 1977 The Affirmation of St Louis was written in the city of the same name, and in January 1978, in Denver Colorado, four bishops were consecrated in accord with all the provisions of the Anglican Ordinal including full Apostolic Succession, with Rt. Rev. Albert Chambers as the chief consecrator. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Donald Coggan, refused to accept them; so the Continuing Anglicans have been separate from the Anglican Communion all along, with no regrets.
The TAC/ACA separated and formed as a distinct jurisdiction several years later. At the time the new constitution was issued by Rome, the Continuing Church had many unaccounted for jurisdictions, and some imitators, claiming to belong to it, but existed most visibly and surely in the TAC/ACA, and in a unified group of three jurisdictions, unified by a concordat that has proved to be practical and quite genuine. The largest is the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), with two Provinces: The Original Province (OP) headquartered in the United States, and the second Province headquartered in India, led by the original Church of India that was formerly of the Anglican Communion. The two jurisdictions also in the concordat are strictly in North America, unlike the world wide ACC. These are the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) and the United Episcopal Church, North America (UECNA). Related is the Anglican Province in America (APA) which dates back to the 1960s, but later also adopted The Affirmation of St. Louis.
When the Apostolic Constitution was offered by Rome, the idea of reunifying the jurisdiction with the other major group of Continuing Anglicans died in one sense, because the bishops of the TAC/ACA have mostly endorsed Rome’s offer (though not all: The Rt. Rev. Rocco Florenza, formerly of the ACA, was received into the ACC-OP in his episcopal orders during the Fall of 2009). On the other hand, this whole episode has revitalized some efforts toward unity because of the large number of people who simply will not join the Roman Catholic Church, and who are not persuaded to do so by the new constitution.
The simple irony is, however, that the TAC/ACA, by virtue of The Affirmation of St. Louis, and the principles it defends, was not in crisis like the Anglicans in the Anglican Communion. There were no women among the clergy, nor could there be. No heresies were tolerated, no apostasy, no same-sex blessings. In short, they had nothing compelling them to look for answers from the outside, no need to flee the dangers of the Anglican Communion, for they had escaped it in 1978.
One fact to be stated upfront should be obvious, and yet apparently comes as a surprise to many: Unresolved theological differences remain between Roman Catholicism and classic Anglicanism. Granted, these differences are fewer than differences between Rome and each of the other Protestant traditions, and in some ways not as obvious. But, they are real.
For, even though none of the Reformation churches ever dropped the word “catholic” from its self-understanding, Anglicans alone maintained a continuity of identity with the Church that dated from Antiquity through the Medieval period, so that what was the Church of England before the Reformation, was the same Church of England after it, with that continuity affecting the entire family of churches that would grow from it. This mind, with the same old adherence to such things as Apostolic Succession of Bishops, has been protected and maintained in the Continuing Anglican Church that dates to The Affirmation of St. Louis and the Denver consecrations.
Nonetheless, close as Anglicanism is, both in appearance and substance, to Roman Catholicism, we have a few differences that practical and honest ecumenical efforts would treat as subjects for discussion. But, the approach of the TAC/ACA bishops has been to ignore theological differences altogether. This, however, does not make those differences go away. Meanwhile, many of their members have not ignored those theological differences, and this simple fact has been splitting the TAC/ACA, and shows every sign of continuing to do so.
Is this unity?
Anglicanorum Coetibus opens by appealing to the whole idea of unity, and this theme has been taken up by bishops of the TAC/ACA, alluding to “Christ’s prayer that they all may be one.” (John 17:21). Aside from the fact that we have a theological problem presented to us by the notion that we, mere mortals, are in a position to answer the prayer of God (the Son), we need to be clear as to what Rome means by “unity.” The answer is in the opening of the Apostolic Constitution, but the words are by no means new:
What this means is that they believe that what they offer is not unity within the generally understood ecumenical paradigm, but an offer to enter into the unity of the Catholic Church, as they define it. The difference may be subtle at first, but it is clear. Nonetheless, the TAC/ACA bishops, along with others who regard Anglicanorum Coetibus as a generous offer and historical milestone, do not concentrate on what the constitution says after the opening. They have made promises to their people, mostly on church websites, that the constitution has been created to preserve the patrimony of Anglicanism itself, with its many treasures.
In fact, what Anglicanorum Coetibus really proceeds to do is lay down the law about how people will be able to enter into unity with the See of Rome under the new Ordinariates, and that is all. If read carefully, it merely extends to every country and every diocese the existing Pastoral Provisions that have been since the time of Pope John Paul II. The Pastoral Provisions made a way for former Anglican clergy to be candidates for ordination, even if they are married men. No provision is made, in Anglicanorum Coetibus, for any married clergy in the future except by the same old terms of the Pastoral Provisions; that is, they must have been married and ordained before converting to Roman Catholicism. They cannot, at any time in the future, arise from within the ranks of those under an Ordinariate, but must come only from without. All other candidates must embrace lifelong celibacy.
Also, the constitution offers the potential to create something like the “Anglican Use” liturgies and maybe even parishes. It puts some kind of Ordinariate in charge of these two matters, removing from diocesan bishops the option not to participate. How this is to be established, and what it means, is not spelled out. The “Anglican” in Anglicanorum is not, if we examine the conditions, capable of self-perpetuation.
As far as any treasures of the Anglican patrimony are concerned, there is not one guarantee, not one mention, of any specific thing at all. In fact, the purpose of the whole document is obvious: It is a way for groups of Anglicans to become former Anglicans. And, that is all it claims to be. Look at the opening paragraph, stated in terms consistent with the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church:
In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately… Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches, could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization.
Rome has not been guilty of false advertising; but their document has been severely misrepresented.
In short, a few thousand people finding some slightly different way to enter the Roman Catholic Church is not eschatological in its significance, does not establish the kind of unity that has been invoked with advertising hype, and will not make all Christians one. Christians will remain visibly divided into Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant “rooms” (as C.S. Lewis put it).
Anglicanorum Coetibus is a perfectly responsible and compassionate response by Pope Benedict XVI for those who either need it or want it. For Anglicans of my persuasion, it is not needed or wanted, but I am perfectly happy for those who consider it the answer to their prayers, to find our One Lord at Roman Catholic altars. But, the hype and enthusiasm is much ado about, well, something, but not a whole lot.