At a Holy See press conference this morning, Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Di Noia O.P., secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, made a stunning announcement regarding the fruit of ecumenical efforts reuniting the Anglican Communion with Rome. Presenting a "note" they explained a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution defining a new legal structure--Personal Ordinariate--by which Anglican clergy and faithful can reunite with the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Levada explained "with the preparation of an Apostolic Constitution, the Catholic Church is responding to the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion".
An "apostolic constitution" is the form of document used by the Holy See to make the most significant canonical and disciplinary provisions for the Church. It is not, then, a simple "decree" (1983 CIC 29 etc), say, or an "instruction" (1983 CIC 34).Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, who helped draft the new structure in his former capacity as under-secretary of the CDF, said: “We’ve been praying for unity for 40 years. Prayers are being answered in ways we did not anticipate and the Holy See cannot not respond to this movement of the Holy Spirit for those who wish communion and whose tradition is to be valued.” He said there has been a “tremendous shift” in the ecumenical movement and “these possibilities weren’t seen as they are now.” He rejected accusations that the new Anglicans be described as dissenters. “Rather they are assenting to the movement of the Holy Spirit to be in union with Peter, with the Catholic Church,” he said. Technical details still need to be worked out, and these Personal Ordinariates may vary in their final form, Archbishop DiNoia said. Full details of the Apostolic Constitution will be released in a few weeks but today’s press conference went ahead because it had been planned sometime ago.
The establishment of a "personal ordinariate" will be something of an innovation in modern canon law, although this ordinariate is apparently going to be similar to "personal arch/dioceses" such as those used for the military (1983 CIC 368 and ap. con. Spirituali militum), or to personal prelatures (1983 CIC 294-297), with Opus Dei being the only example thereof to date. One wonders, though, why both of these structures were apparently found to be inadequate for the reception of Anglicans, and why a third way was invented? We'll have to see. [from Canon Lawyer Ed Peters]
Cardinal Levada stated “It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith. Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church. The unity of the Church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows. Moreover, the many diverse traditions present in the Catholic Church today are all rooted in the principle articulated by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.'”
Meanwhile in London...Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury affirmed that the announcement of the Apostolic Constitution "brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. It will now be up to those who have made requests to the Holy See to respond to the Apostolic Constitution", which is a "consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. "With God's grace and prayer we are determined that our on-going mutual commitment and consultation on these and other matters should continue to be strengthened. Locally, in the spirit of IARCCUM, we look forward to building on the pattern of shared meetings between the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England's House of Bishops with a focus on our common mission".
"The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing co-operation", the declaration adds. "The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) and International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) agreements make clear the path we will follow together.