BY FR DWIGHT LONGENECKER
LAST MONDAY I was travelling to Florida for a retreat with fellow former Anglican ministers who are now Catholic priests. As luck (or providence) would have it, it was the day that the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus was published, which allows the erection of Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans worldwide.
Naturally we were delighted and intrigued by the document. Our retreat turned into a workshop as we studied it, prayed about our own response, discussed how the Ordinariate might develop in America and drafted a letter expressing our gratitude and offering assistance should an Ordinariate be established in the US.
Clearly the Apostolic Constitution is a response to Anglicans on a global basis. Having lived in England for 25 years I am aware that the American situation is very different from the English. What is the American Anglican/Episcopal scene like at this time? Who will respond to Anglicanorum coetibus?
The first group of people to respond to the Pope’s offer are former Anglicans already within the Catholic fold. Individuals like myself who were once Anglican priests may join the Ordinariate and serve the Anglicans coming over. Former Anglicans who are members of Latin Catholic parishes may also join the Ordinariate, wishing to enjoy the “Anglican patrimony” and help with evangelisation.
The second category are members of the Episcopal Church. Since the 1970s the church has been dominated by modernist theology and progressive politics. As a backlash, Episcopalians started to break away and the “continuing church” movement got underway. Nevertheless, there are plenty of faithful, Catholicminded Christians within the Episcopal Church and a good number may seek a way into the Ordinariate.
Another group who will respond to the Pope’s offer are the existing “Anglican Use” Catholic parishes. A procedure called the Pastoral Provision was established in 1980 by John Paul II to assist Episcopalians who wanted to convert. It provided a mechanism for married Episcopal priests to be ordained as Catholic priests. It also provided a way for personal parishes to be established in which a Vaticanapproved liturgy based on the Book of Common Prayer would be used. These parishes will naturally wish to become part of the Ordinariate.
The fourth group are members of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC). The main US group within the TAC is one of the “continuing churches”– the Anglican Church in America. This denomination of about 100 parishes has indicated, along with the rest of the TAC, that it is ready to accept the offer.
There are over 100 other “continuing churches”. These schismatic groups have broken from Episcopalianism for many reasons. Some because the Episcopal Church is too liberal, some because it is not liberal enough. Some because it is too Catholic, others because it is not Catholic enough. Some because of liturgical disagreements, others for theological disagreements.
For better or for worse, religion in America is entrepreneurial. The same energy and independent spirit which leads Americans to start their own church will enable some of these “freelance Anglicans” to commit to the Ordinariate and make it work. The examples they have to follow are the pioneers who started the Anglican Use parishes. The two key examples are the Church of Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, Texas, and Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston.
In both cases, a courageous priest with committed lay people started from scratch. They were given a chance to make it work and after 20 years have achieved great success. After worshipping in front rooms, rented churches, warehouses and halls they now enjoy traditional Anglican worship in beautiful churches. They have schools, large congregations, are developing the Anglican choral tradition and all in full communion with the Holy See.
For those who take up the offer to succeed they will need a dose of pioneering spirit. The Anglican Use parishes have succeeded because they have had the courage to take risks and step out in faith. They had to walk away from their fine Episcopal livings, their buildings and careers. They worked hard, made great sacrifices and by God’s grace achieved more than they thought possible.
The Anglican Ordinariate can work, but only if those who wish to respond to this generous offer are willing to make a similar effort.