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THE AMERICAN ORDINARIATE

Yesterday the Pope officially established an American Ordinariate. Yes it’s a wretched word, to which my spellcheck and ear take offense. A couple of people have written fairly negative blogs about this event which have made me examine my own reactions. For those of you who are not up on this news, or wonder what on earth an ordinariate might be, here’s my reflection. An ordinariate is a grouping of people into common purpose and identity within the Roman Catholic Church. In America it seems to have been used to identify that church’s ministry to the military thus far. Now it is being used in a rather different manner. The new Ordinariate is a “place” in which Episcopalians and other Anglicans may establish parishes within existing Roman Catholic dioceses which may use familiar liturgical texts based on the Books of Common Prayer and presumably the ceremonial and hymnody familiar to Anglicans. What portions of these texts will be permitted remains to be seen. One notes that the new website of this grouping exhibits some prayers which have been used by Anglicans for centuries.

Married Episcopal and Anglican clergy are to lead these new parishes after ordination to the Roman Catholic diaconate and priesthood. One former Episcopalian bishop, Fr. Jeffrey Steenson, formerly Bishop of the Rio Grande, received and ordained anew a few years ago heads the Ordinariate. His former episcopal status has not been recognized -this is true of a number of Church of England bishops who have recently converted to Rome. In that most are married, they are not eligible to be consecrated as Roman Catholic bishops, for while Rome has married priests, it follows, in common with Orthodoxy, the practice of confining the episcopate to celibate clergy. St. Peter would not have been acceptable. Thus priests appointed to head these Ordinariates will have a limited jurisdiction. Although they may wear episcopal regalia they cannot ordain or assist as bishops in the ordination of other bishops.

In that all, clergy and laity, who are incorporated into these groupings must accept all Roman Catholic teachings and renounce their former convictions about the catholicity of Anglicanism, this pastoral provision is perhaps rather nostalgic . They have moved “place” and renounced who they were, but may keep their baggage, or some of it. This may be viewed as an enormous act of charity on the part of Rome and should be viewed as such. In some manner it reflects a recognition given by the second Vatican Council, which detected in Anglicanism a shade or reflection of something “catholic” which may not be as apparent in other Western Christian separated ecclesial communities. Perhaps the full force of that recognition has now been dulled by the recent pronouncement of the Roman Curia which effectively unchurches most non-Roman Catholic bodies and praises Orthodoxy somewhat faintly by remarking that the great churches of the East, although “valid”, lack that fullness which it is claimed only unity under the papacy grants.

After some years of ecumenical hope, Rome seems now to have returned to a clearer articulation of its claims to be the one, true church. Fair enough. As far as Anglicanism is concerned, we haven’t made things easier for Rome. While engaging Rome in official discussions – and the documents forged by Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the ARCIC talks are substantive and important – we have gone our own merry way, particularly in the West, as we have admitted women to Holy Orders and in North America embraced the ordination of gay people and same-sex blessings of unions. We struggle with the problem of how we may react to what we may, or may not believe to be movements of the Holy Spirit while not isolating ourselves from other Christians and even those in our own family. Certainly in the United States we retain more than a tinge of our traditional fear of “popery”, readily lumping Roman Catholics into the same status as fundamentalists, and ignoring Rome’s often enlightened approach to the problems of poverty, and its opposition to indiscriminate abortion and the death penalty. The not inconsiderable presence of former Roman Catholic clergy and laity in our midst factors into the presence of anti-Roman Catholic prejudice.

Yet progress has been made. Anglicans no longer identify Rome with the Anti Christ, or fuel their imaginations with  polemics about the Marian martyrs, Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer and many priests and lay people who were executed for their faith during the reign of “Bloody Mary”. We recognize each other’s baptisms: Anglicans may be unchurched but not unChristianed!  We now pray together, even worship together. Sixty years ago almost none of this was the practice. We continue to talk officially. I have some sympathy with the Roman view that official talks with Anglicans is rather like wrestling with an octopus. What one arm embraces, the other shuns. Our own growing confusion makes it almost impossible for us to talk with each other.

The Ordinariate is not a place where Anglicans may remain Anglican while embracing communion with Rome. Its membership must accept all Roman Catholic teachings. It is perhaps significant that almost all those who joined separated Anglican bodies, those whose leadership has worked for union with Rome, have opted to remain where they are. Joining the Ordinariate isn’t merely a matter of Rome recognizing rump Anglican jurisdictions. It is not a haven for disaffected Episcopalians. This being true, the creation of this “place” for converting Episcopalians and Anglicans should not disturb us. Rather we should rejoice that converts have found their home and be glad that they are to be permitted to live into elements of a tradition forged over these past centuries by men and women of faith, who while not to be commemorated as saints and divines, have lived and died in the faith enshrined in our Prayer Books, spirituality and tradition. And perhaps that reality poses a difficulty for Rome. How is it that such people have exhibited the fruits of the Spirit which stem from hearing and receiving the Gospel and the Sacraments of the Universal Church, and that in such abundance? This Anglican tradition of teaching and spirituality, of “formation” demonstrates formidably the Work of the Trinity even among “schismatics”.

That question poses another one. Setting aside the real tragedy of disunity which weakens and compromises all parts of the Universal Church in its work and mission, in what manner does our incorrigible refusal to accept Papal claims to universal sovereignty limit the grace of God among us? Cannot Rome imagine just how the clothes of Imperial Rome and the behavior of past occupants of the See of Rome alienate and obscure our ability to recognize in her communion, as it is in practice, those marks of the true Church we embrace in theory and would love to be restored?  Certainly we have our own historic and contemporary baggage, much of which clouds our own mission and vision in the communities we serve. There’s plenty of room for shame, and none for triumphalism. I am convinced that church unity will only emerge when all portions of the Divided Church get real about themselves and own up to our corporate sins. I am delighted that Rome appreciates much in our qualities of worship and spirituality. There is much about Roman Catholicism I cherish. I am glad that converts who also cherish their past are being given a home. I wish them godspeed.

A final word about the vexed question or “valid Orders”, or ministerial authenticity. In no area perhaps do we all collude in a process which seems to tell God his own business. How dare we question that which the Christian community does in ordination? Certainly there are ordinations which are “private”, that is not for a Christian community or for a Christian community. Such are obviously not actions of the Church. Certainly Anglicans are right to want to see the episcopate as what we used to term “the fount or Orders” for the simple reason that this emerged very early on indeed as the practice of the Church. It is also true and obvious that the ministries of all the ordained are limited and compromised by our divisions and that in very practical ways. But to state that God is not involved when Christians set aside those they believed to called by God to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, simply because certain laws or rites have not been employed, seems to me to be a frightful act of arrogance. This is an arrogance to which Anglicans may be as prone or complicit as members of the Church of Rome. I believe that re-ordination is normally as sinful as re-baptism. It should only be practiced in cases where clear evidence exists that the former action lacked an essential element. It should never be employed to make a point in a game of ecclesiastical politics.