In addition to ringing in the new year, on January 1st, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was created in the Catholic Church. It is basically a diocese for the entire United States for those people—lay and cleric, individually or corporately—who are formerly Anglican/Episcopal and have “swam the Tiber” to join the Catholic Church. Within this jurisdiction, there will be parishes, a seminary, a tribunal and everything else found in a typical diocese.
The closest existing structure within the Church to this is the military ordinariate . Similarly, any military chapel or chaplain from the United States all belong to the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. For example, the Catholic ministry at Ft. Hood is physically within the Diocese of Austin; however, it is administered completely by the Military Archdiocese. These new “Anglo-Catholic” parishes could be next door, but would be a part of this Ordinariate instead of the Diocese of Austin. Another example of this type of Catholic diversity is Our Lady’s Maronite Catholic Parish on E. 51st, while obviously residing inside of Austin, it is actually part of the Maronite Eparchy (Diocese) of Our Lady of Lebanon based in St. Louis.
A little technical information aside, why? Why establish a personal ordinariate for former Anglican/Episcopal folks? Is Pope Benedict, using a war metaphor, launching an offensive toward poaching dissatisfied Episcopals while their denomination is going through some internal strife?
No, not at all.
The history goes back 30+ years. I wrote more about the history and technical nature of this over on my personal site, brandonkraft.com for the church geeks amongst us.
Recently, Anglican groups have petitioned Pope Benedict XVI for a way to become Catholic without having to throw out all of their religious history, culture and liturgy. After more and more requests from all corners of the world, Pope Benedict XVI issued Anglicanorum coetibus, a apostolic constitution allowing this new jurisdictional structure, as a response to these requests. The Ordinariate in the United States is the second after last year’s erection of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for England and Wales. Work is in progress for ordinariates in Australia and Canada, perhaps elsewhere.
This move is a prime example of Pope Benedict’s desire for unity within the Church once again. He could have easily just said “want to be Catholic? Go down the street to the closest parish, go through RCIA like everyone else and suck it up.” But no, the fractured Christian world hurts the Church and specifically, upon the Rock of Peter should the Church stand. The Holy Father has embraced this mandate as a key theme of his pontificate. Whether it be this situation to help Anglicans become unified, the constant and multiple attempts to re-integrate splinter groups (like the Society of St. Pius) or increased dialogue with Orthodox and Protestants, one of the primary goals of His Holiness is to patch up the family feuds of the Christian faith.
I consider this a sign of humility as well. Catholics (myself very much included) can be a bit snobbish toward other Christian denominations. I went to a friend’s wedding in a Baptist church not too long ago; my first Baptist service since going with a friend to Sunday evening service in early high school. Let’s just say I could write quite a bit more about what I thought was lacking. My default reaction—something I’m working on—to this is “We (Catholics) have it all figured it. Incredible how much they lack. It’d be great to replace all this with what we have.”
In this move, by allowing Anglicans to retain some of their own heritage, the Pope, while not sacrificing anything of Catholicism, is humbling the Church to say “We’re big enough for everyone, there is good within the Anglican patrimony and we can be informed by that.”
On the local level, we can use this example as a model for us as well. We can’t be afraid of new or different ideas or delusion ourselves into thinking we have it all figured out. Years back, I was active in ministry with a priest who always seemed to have “no” for an answer to anything outside of “the way things were done.” It didn’t matter if I would spearhead the new idea myself and be responsible for trying to make it work, didn’t matter if it was self-funded (or require no funds), seemingly the answer was always short: No.
When I worked in a parish, my knee-jerk reaction to some proposals were just as short. The vast majority of the time I had this reaction (I pray!), I didn’t act on it and took a bit more time to hear out and reflect on the idea. Thus, with all due respect and understanding, we can’t be like that priest.
Pope Benedict XVI has witnessed to us that to be welcoming is to be open to the others. Whether it is new parishioners in our parishes or entire congregations converting to the Church, we must not be afraid to let their ideas and history inform us where it can while still being the rock of the faith they were led to join.