It took exactly one year, but now the first fruits are beginning to be seen. On the 8th of November, in fact, five Anglican bishops have announced their decision to enter into communion with the Catholic Church in the manner prescribed by the Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI one year ago. On Sunday, September 19, meeting the British bishops in the chapel of Oscott College in Birmingham, the Pope referred to the Constitution, calling it “a prophetic act that can contribute positively to the development of relations between Anglicans and Catholics. It helps us to turn our gaze to the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activities: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual heritages, serves to enrich us all. ”
A few weeks later that became a reality. The five Anglican bishops are the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnham, the Bishop of Richborough, Keith Newton (whose diocese is suffragan of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams), and the Auxiliary Bishop of Fulham John Broadhurst of London, as well as the retired bishops Edwin Barnes and David Silk, currently honorary assistant bishops of Winchester and Exeter. Together they intend to enter into communion with the Catholic Church along with about five hundred believers.
The reasons for the decision are the same as those which, in recent years, have raised tensions and divisions within the Anglican Communion, putting more and more uncomfortable pressure on the wing more faithful to the tradition: namely, the “liberalization” of the Anglican Communion, the most recent stage of which is the decision to open the episcopate to women.
The formal transfer, with the establishment of a new Anglo-Catholic Ordinariate, happens in early 2011. The five Anglican bishops, being all married, cannot be re-consecrated bishops in the Catholic Church, and will instead be ordained priests. As you know, the Holy See has doubts about the continuity of apostolic succession in the Anglican Church and therefore the validity of Anglican orders: this is why priests and bishops who, in the past, have approached Catholicism individually, as well as those who will now form an Ordinariate, must be re-ordained. One of the five former Anglican bishops will act as ordinary. So, despite being only a Catholic priest and not bishop, because of being married, he will exercise many of the functions with regard to episcopal jurisdiction: he will be in effect at the head of the Ordinariate, he will be part of the English Catholic bishops’ conference, he will be the authority in contact with the Holy See.
The most significant part is this: for the first time, there will be as part of a bishops’ conference of the Latin Rite Catholic Church an Ordinary who is married. As you know, married clergy already exists in the Catholic Church in Eastern communities in communion with Rome. In the Latin Rite Catholic Church, there are individual cases of former pastors or former Anglican priests who came to Catholicism and who were ordained priests without being celibate. Now for the first time it will happen that an ordinary priest, not being a bishop, will have some of the powers of bishops. This should not be construed as a waiver of the Church’s the law of celibacy, the validity of which Benedict XVI has recently reaffirmed, and which will be relied upon for future Anglo-Catholic priests.
Several other Anglican communities in the world are moving to create an Ordinariate, as stated in a document by the Primate of the TAC, the Traditional Anglican Communion, which announces the call for one in Australia. In the document, as well as a call to pray for the Pope, the Primate of the TAC, John Hepworth, said a new ordinariate was coming into being in the United States, where 51 Anglican priests have already asked to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Along these lines there are moves by bishops in Puerto Rico and Central America, three Canadian Anglican bishops (followed by 43 priests), and signs emerging in Japan.