In an unprecedented move, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols held a joint press conference to discuss Pope Benedict's establishment of "personal ordinariates" to receive disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church.
At the press conference, they issued a joint statement discussing the future of Catholic-Anglican relations. The statement reads in full:
Today’s announcement of the Apostolic Constitution is a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church.
Pope Benedict XVI has approved, within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.
The announcement of this 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.
The Apostolic Constitution is further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
The on-going official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion provides the basis for our continuing cooperation. 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.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. Joint days of reflection and prayer were begun in Leeds in 2006 and continued in Lambeth in 2008, and further meetings are in preparation. This close cooperation will continue as we grow together in unity and mission, in witness to the Gospel in our country, and in the Church at large.
A few observations: By endorsing this statement, especially the first paragraph ("accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church"), the archbishop of Canterbury has essentially signaled that the game is over. Those in the Anglican Communion who truly believe that the Church is meant to be one, and to have one visible head, now have no excuse not to return to Rome.
Those who remain in the Anglican Communion will continue to move further away from orthodoxy. As Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for the Times of London, put it in a note on Twitter: "RC plans good news for women bishops."
The rest of the statement seems an attempt both to save face and to attempt to take some credit for today's announcement. Yet the simple fact is this: Despite the attempt to put a good face on the matter, today's announcement makes it clear that the ecumenical dialogue of the past 40 years has failed. At every turn, the Anglican Communion as a whole has moved away from Rome, not toward her.
Since restoration of the entire Anglican Communion to unity with Rome is no longer possible, Pope Benedict did what he had to do. Parts of the Anglican Communion will now enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, and the rest will see its long, slow slide into irrelevance pick up pace.