New Avenue Leads to Communion

Commentator Praises Benedict XVI's Fatherly Care

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The apostolic constitution responding to Anglicans who wish communion with the Holy See opens "a new avenue for the promotion of Christian unity," the Vatican says.



This evaluation was given in a statement from the Vatican announcing "Anglicanorum Coetibus," Benedict XVI's apostolic constitution that establishes personal ordinariates for Anglicans who want to enter the Catholic Church. Complementary norms and an official commentary were also published.

The constitution "introduces a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion [...] which will allow the above mentioned groups to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony," the statement explained.

This new avenue for promoting Christian unity also grants "legitimate diversity in the expression of our common faith," the Vatican added, assuring that it is "consistent with the commitment to ecumenical dialogue, which continues to be a priority for the Catholic Church."

As well, the statement noted, "It 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."

Finally, the Vatican clarified in introducing the constitution that the "possibility envisioned [...] for some married clergy within the personal ordinariates does not signify any change in the Church’s discipline of clerical celibacy. According to the Second Vatican Council, priestly celibacy is a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and radiantly proclaims the reign of God."

Spirit's prompting

Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, pointed to Benedict XVI's "fatherly care" with this initiative.

The "Supreme Pastor of the Church and, by mandate of Christ, guarantor of the unity of the episcopate and of the universal communion of all the Churches," he wrote, "has shown his fatherly care for those Anglican faithful -- lay, clerics and members of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life -- who have repeatedly petitioned the Holy See to be received into full Catholic Communion."

Certain press reports or critics, most notably dissident theologian Hans Kung, tried to paint the Holy Father's move as a power play, failing to highlight that the constitution is a response to Anglican requests.

Father Ghirlanda also emphasized that unity is first and above all the work of the Holy Spirit.

"Those Anglican faithful who, under the promptings of the Holy Spirit, have asked to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church have been moved towards unity by those elements of the Church of Christ which have always been present in their personal and communal lives as Christians," he wrote.

And he concluded with the wish: "As the Holy Spirit has guided the preparation of this apostolic constitution, so may he also assist in its application."

What we wanted

Indeed, an initial reaction from the leader of the traditionalist Anglican group Forward in Faith called the constitution and norms "extremely impressive."

Bishop John Broadhurst wrote: "I had thought the original notice from Rome was extremely generous. Today all the accompanying papers have been published and they are extremely impressive.

"I have been horrified that the Church of England while trying to accommodate us has consistently said we cannot have the jurisdiction and independent life that most of us feel we need to continue on our Christian pilgrimage. What Rome has done is offer exactly what the Church of England has refused."

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On ZENIT's Web page:

"Anglicanorum Coetibus": www.zenit.org/article-27490?l=english

Complementary norms: www.zenit.org/article-27491?l=english

Official commentary: www.zenit.org/article-27492?l=english