While Dr Phil McCarthy has taken offence at Pope Benedict’s decision to found special dioceses for Christians formerly of an Anglican background, he is not right to say that many Catholics have been shocked. In the late summer of 2010, several priests and lay people in London offered to put on a public meeting aimed at addressing questions that Catholics have about the Ordinariate. We invited four distinguished speakers reflecting a range of view points within the Catholic world – lay, episcopal, clerical, pastoral, conservative, progressive, academic and ecumenical. Despite reasonably wide promotion, only 7 people registered and so it was cancelled. It seemed to us that, after all, Catholics were either content or amenable to the development.
Clearly once the structure becomes a reality there will be opportunity for learning about how it will work in practice, both in relation to the other Catholic dioceses and to other Christian church communities, for the sake of the whole Church’s mission and service in the world. Some of this will be challenging, but even the Archbishop of Canterbury has discerned that there could be something prophetic for the forward course of Christian Unity about it. Dr McCarthy is surely mistaken when he mocks the Ordinariate concept as an unnecessary annex because, it seems to me, the Catholic Church has a genius for inventing the means of being the Church apt to those who desire to belong to it in a diversity of ways – from regular dioceses, to religious orders and abbots nullius; from parallel Byzantine Catholic and Latin Catholic jurisdictions in Ukraine and North America to personal prelatures and new ecclesial movements. I do not see that the Ordinariate will lack either precedent or comparably inventive structures already provided for – see Canon 372 on particular churches other than a diocese that can be founded in a territory “distinguished by the rite of the faithful or by some other quality” and Ad Gentes 20 which envisages groups of people “impeded from accepting the Catholic faith because they cannot adapt themselves to the particular guise in which the Church presents itself in that place” and that such a situation should be “specially catered for”.
In the case of Anglicans clergy and faithful desiring full communion at this point, their esprit de corps and the “real but imperfect communion” they already have with the Catholic Church is something to be conserved and built upon rather than dissipated. If we are not inclined, like Dr McCarthy, to allow the corporate dimension which Anglicanorum Coetibus is looking for, we continue to miss out on what another part of the Christian community wants to offer us in the exchange of gifts of which Unitatis Redintegratio spoke. We are also saying that the coming reintegrated Church is one in which we Catholics assume everyone will have to fit in individually with us, and our parishes, dioceses and worship as we already have them. Yet, when we are one, how will the rich distinctiveness of, for instance, the Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, Byzantine and Latin traditions fit in with each other in full communion, unless we start now, as Pope Benedict has done, to think imaginatively about how the integrity of the Church’s apostolic faith and order can embrace diversity as an outward manifestation of its universality? Given the urgent evangelistic task before us, thankfully there are indeed many rooms in the Father’s house; whole floors of them are yet being built of living stones.