October 20, 2009, will go down in history as a turning point in Catholic-Anglican relations. This morning, at 11 A.M. Rome time (5 A.M. EDT), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced new procedures through which entire congregations of Anglicans can be reunited to the Catholic Church.
Late on Monday, October 19, after the CDF press conference was announced by the Vatican, rumors began to swirl. Most commentators thought that the announcement would involve the Traditional Anglican Communion, a group which represents 400,000 Anglicans in 40 countries worldwide, which had approached the CDF two years ago, requesting "full, corporate, and sacramental union" with the Catholic Church.
But today's announcement goes well beyond the TAC. William Cardinal Levada, the prefect of the CDF, and Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, announced that Pope Benedict has signed an Apostolic Constitution (which has not yet been released) that will allow the TAC and other disaffected Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church as discrete bodies:
In this Apostolic Constitution the Holy Father has introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.
As John Allen of the National Catholic Register explains, "personal ordinariates" are
similar to the structures created throughout the world to provide pastoral care for members of the military and their families. The structures are, in effect, non-territorial dioceses, provided over by a bishop and with their own priests and seminarians.
While the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of Anglican Holy Orders, the new structure will allow married Anglican clergy to receive Holy Orders after formal conversion, and thus to serve as Roman Catholic priests. As John Allen notes, in keeping with both Catholic and Orthodox tradition, "they may not be ordained as bishops."
This new canonical structure will be open to all in the Anglican Communion (currently 77 million strong), including the Episcopal Church in the United States (approximately 2.2 million). The TAC will likely be the first to take advantage of the Apostolic Constitution, but more will undoubtedly follow. The Anglican Communion has been increasingly divided since the consecration of Gene Robinson, a open and practicing homosexual, as bishop in 2003, not to mention early controversies over the priestly and episcopal ordination of women and the blessing of same-sex couples.