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Vatican releases apostolic constitution for Anglicans seeking union

Catholic World News - November 09, 2009

The Vatican has released the full text of an apostolic constitution in which Pope Benedict XVI makes provision for Anglicans seeking corporate union with the Catholic Church. The text, entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus, explains and establishes the "personal ordinariates" that will be set up to provide an administrative structure for former Anglicans within the existing Catholic hierarchy.

The apostolic constitution-- the most authoritative form of papal document-- was accompanied by a set of Complementary Norms, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to flesh out the canonical structure of the new personal ordinariates and their relationship to existing dioceses and episcopal conferences. The Vatican also released an official commentary on the documents, written by Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, SJ, the rector of the Gregorian University.

[For a more detailed examination of the Vatican document, see Phil Lawler's Analysis piece, "The apostolic constitution: a closer look."]

The main thrust of the apostolic constitution, establishing personal ordinariates that would allow for the preservation of a distinct Anglican tradition within the Catholic Church, had been announced on October 20. But the promulgation of the apostolic constitution was delayed until November 9. While Italian media outlets reported that the delay was due to disagreements over questions about how the norm of clerical celibacy would apply to the personal ordinariates, Vatican officials denied that concern, claiming that the question was already resolved and that the norm of celibacy would not be altered. Nevertheless the apostolic constitution does allow for some exceptions to that norm. The Vatican cautioned: "The possibility envisioned by the apostolic constitution for some married clergy within the personal ordinariates does not signify any change in the Church's discipline of clerical celibacy."

Anglicanorum Coetibus supersedes the "pastoral provision" that had for individual Anglican priests-- and, in a few cases, entire Anglican parishes-- to enter the Catholic Church over the past two decades. Anglicans dismayed by developments within their communion, and hopeful of preserving an Anglo-Catholic tradition, had deluged the Vatican with petitions for some form of corporate union. As Father Ghirlanda put it in his official commentary, "The Pastoral Provision was not suitable for the new situation to which that the Holy See was called upon to respond."

In releasing the new document, the Vatican stressed that Pope Benedict was answering repeated petitions, rather than making an aggressive move to encourage defections from the Anglican communion. The apostolic constitution, the Vatican announced "represents not an initiative on the part of the Holy See, but a generous response from the Holy Father to the legitimate aspirations of these Anglican groups." The announcement added that "this new structure is consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church." Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, repeated that message by saying that the move was "not an initiative by the Pope to attract new members" to the Catholic Church, but a response to those who already sought membership.

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  • Posted by: KL Flannery - Nov. 09, 2009 1:57 PM ET USA

    One problem with the Constitution and the Complementary Norms is that they do not make it sufficiently clear that the first generation of Anglican married clergy—-that is, those who are married now as Anglicans and wish to serve as priests in an Ordinariate—-will not have to undergo the “case by case” scrutiny of later generations. This is apparent in section VI, §1 of the Constitution *if* one follows up the references.

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