Making Anglicans Feel at Home in the Catholic Church

Interview With Msgr. Stetson of the Pastoral Provision

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By Karna Swanson

HOUSTON, Texas, OCT. 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- News broke last week that Benedict XVI will allow groups of Anglicans wishing to enter full communion with the Catholic Church to do so through personal ordinariates, while preserving elements of the Anglican spiritual and liturgical tradition.

The provision for the ordinariates is the Vatican's response to Anglicans who have expressed wishes to become Catholic. It is estimated that between 20 and 30 Anglican bishops have made such a request.

To understand how the personal ordinariates work and the significance of this move, ZENIT interview Monsignor William Stetson, a priest of Opus Dei and secretary to the Ecclesiastical Delegate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal priests.

He maintains a Pastoral Provision Office at Our Lady of Walsingham parish, an Anglican Use congregation in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

ZENIT: What is a personal ordinariate? Do these exist elsewhere in the Church?

Msgr. Stetson: An ordinariate is a jurisdictional structure comprised of a prelate with ordinary jurisdiction, his own incardinated clergy who assist him in his pastoral work and lay faithful whom he shepherds.

The ordinariate for the military organized in many countries has the responsibility for the pastoral care of those in the military services and their families. In the United States it is called the Archdiocese for the Military Services. To the best of my knowledge there are no other ordinariates.

ZENIT: What is the main difference between the 1980 Pastoral Provision and the new apostolic constitution?

Msgr. Stetson: The Pastoral Provision had no canonical content and did not provide for the exercise of the power of governance. The new apostolic constitution will establish canonical norms at the highest level providing for the creation of new canonical structures called "ordinariates" in individual nations. In conformity with the general norms, each ordinariate will have the power of governance (jurisdiction) over a determined series of persons and matters.

ZENIT: What will happen to the Anglican Use parishes that have been in operation for years?

Msgr. Stetson: At the moment the so-called Anglican Use parishes in the United States are personal parishes of the diocese where they are located, which retain elements of the Anglican tradition, especially the liturgy.

There is no canonical relationship between them or with the Ecclesiastical Delegate of the Pastoral Provision.

Presumably, if an ordinariate is established in the United States, the parishes will pass to the jurisdiction of the new ordinariate and come under the jurisdiction of the prelate of the ordinariate.

Future parishes and worship communities could be set up by the ordinary of the ordinariate at the request of groups of Anglican lay people with a priest after consultation with the diocesan bishop of the place they are located.

ZENIT: What is the aim of establishing the personal ordinariates? Why was the pastoral provision not sufficient?

Msgr. Stetson: The pastoral provision is merely an administrative process for preparing married, former Episcopal priests to be ordained as Catholic priests at the request of diocesan bishops. The new ordinariate will provide a canonical structure similar to a diocese for the pastoral care of lay faithful who convert from the Episcopal church.

ZENIT: This canonical structure seems to respond directly to a petition made two years ago by the Traditional Anglican Communion, which has about 400,000 members worldwide. Do you see many or most of these members entering into communion with the Catholic Church through the personal ordinariate?

Msgr. Stetson: The Traditional Anglican Communion is in reality a confederation of so-called dioceses located in many different countries; it is made up of priests and lay people and bishops. The Traditional Anglican Communion as such has never been part of the Anglican Communion under the Archbishop of Canterbury.

What will happen to the dioceses in particular countries will depend on the decisions reached by the Catholic hierarchy in the respective countries together with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Their numbers are greater in Africa and Asia.

ZENIT: What will the process look like for Anglicans, especially priests and bishops, entering the Church through the ordinariate?

Msgr. Stetson: The Apostolic Constitution allowing for the creation of ordinariates in each country has not yet been issued. For this reason we do not know the nature of the process. I would anticipate that it will be similar to that used for the last 27 years by the Pastoral Provision here in the United States, and its counterpart in England (that did not, however, provide for parishes and liturgy, as in the United States.)

ZENIT: The Vatican announcement provided for the possibility of an Anglican ordinariate having seminarians, who are to be prepared alongside Catholic seminarians, "though the ordinariate may establish a house of formation to address the particular needs of formation in the Anglican patrimony." Would this include the possibility of marriage for these Anglican seminarians?

Msgr. Stetson: The specifics have not yet been made known on this question. At the very least I would assume that the seminarians would have to be both married and studying in an Anglican seminary at the time they sought to enter into full communion, and then continue studying for the priesthood in a Catholic seminary. They would have to be dispensed from the norm of celibacy on a case-by-case basis by the Holy See. Future seminarians would have to be celibate.

ZENIT: What other traditions will the Anglicans retain when they enter the Catholic Church by way of the personal ordinariate?

Msgr. Stetson: Small parishes that allow for greater cohesion together. A rich tradition of liturgical expression (language, music, vestments, space, etc.) in English, dating back to the 16th century. This would also include a great tradition of the use of sacred Scripture in preaching, love for the Fathers of the Church and theological expression beyond that of Roman Catholic scholasticism.

ZENIT: Why is the Vatican able to offer this concession only to Anglicans, and not Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc., who would like to enter the Church?

Msgr. Stetson: Anglicans have always enjoyed a special place in Roman Catholic attitudes toward the rupture of Christian unity in the West after the 16th century. The Church of England sought to retain many elements of the Catholic Church while at the same time being Protestant. The Church of England maintained a greater unity within itself and thus could be dealt with as a single entity in conversations with Rome.

ZENIT: There has been talk that this move will negatively affect Anglican-Catholic dialogue, namely the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation (ARCIC)? Is this true?

Msgr. Stetson: Apparently not, according to the statements of Roman Catholic and Anglican authorities in England and other countries that have been engaged in ecumenical dialogue. Only time will tell.

ZENIT: Why is this good news for Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church?

Msgr. Stetson: The Anglicans who enter full communion will find a familiar family spiritual home in the Catholic Church through those personal parishes that the prelate of the ordinariate will be able to establish and staff with specially trained priests who also have come from the Anglican tradition.