LAST 20 October 2009, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the former dicastery of Pope Benedict XVI—surprised the world with an announcement of a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution that would pave the way for the establishment of Personal Ordinariates for groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world, who have expressed their wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church. The announcement went on to say that the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application.
After forestalling useless speculations related to the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy—i.e., of concluding that perhaps soon Catholic priests will be allowed to get married too—let us now focus on the really important novelty of this forthcoming Constitution: the Personal Ordinariate as such.
What is a Personal Ordinariate?
Even if for the specific case of the Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans we have to wait for the forthcoming Apostolic Consititution, the reference made (in the Vatican announcement) to Military Ordinariates allows us to foresee some of its characteristics.
The figure of the Military Ordinariate was introduced into Church Law by the Apost. Constitution Spirituali Militum Curae, signed by John Paul II on 21.IV.1986. According to this document, Military Ordinariates, which may also be called Army Ordinariates, and are juridically comparable to dioceses, are special ecclesiastical circumscriptions, governed by proper statutes issued by the Apostolic See, in which will be determined in greater detail the prescriptions of the present Constitution.
It is therefore a form of what in Canon Law is known as a personal ecclesiastical circumscription, which has the following constitutive elements:
1) A group of faithful—a portion of the people of God, delineated not by the fact of their domicile or quasi-domicile (as in the territorial circumscriptions, like the diocese or territorial prelature), but by their having certain personal qualities.
In the case of the military Ordinariate, this delineating quality is their relationship with the armed forces, specifically (quoting from the aforementioned document):
— the faithful who are military persons, as well as those who are at the service of the armed forces provided that they are bound to this by civil law;
— all the members of their families, wives and children, even those who, though independent, live in the same house, as well as relatives and servants who also live with them in the same house;
— those who attend military training schools, or who live or work in military hospitals, hospices for the elderly, or similar institutions;
— all the faithful, both men and women, whether or not they are members of a religious institute, who carry out in a permanent way a task committed to them by the Military Ordinary, or with his consent.
2) An Ordinary—a proper pastor (a priest, but preferably a bishop because of his episcopal functions), with power of jurisdiction which is (again quoting from the aforementioned document):
— personal, in such manner that it can be exercised in regard to the persons who form part of the Ordinariate, even if at times they are beyond the national boundaries;
— ordinary, both in the internal and external forums—i.e., it is a power that comes with the office itself and not through a delegation by another (e.g., the Pope);
— proper—that is to say not vicariously, like what happens with the former military vicar (who acted in behalf of the Pope) or the actual apostolic vicars in the apostolic vicariates.
— cumulative with the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, because the persons belonging to the Ordinariate do not cease to be the faithful of that local Church of which they are members by reason of domicile or rite.
3) A Presbyterate—composed of priests who, endowed with the necessary gifts for carrying out fruitfully this special pastoral ministry, give service in the Personal Ordinariate. These can be of different categories:
— those who are formed in the seminary that the Ordinariate may erect with the approval of the Holy See, and promoted to Holy Orders and incardinated in the Ordinariate once they have completed the specific spiritual and pastoral formation;
— other members of the secular clergy who may be incardinated into the Ordinariate according to the norms of Canon Law;
— still other priests—both secular and religious—who, with the consent of their own Ordinary, serve in the Ordinariate (by adscription).
Relationship of the Faithful of the Personal Ordinariate with the Diocesan Bishop and the Local Parishes.
Some journalists have expressed fears of possible frictions between the projected Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans and the local Churches. If we recall, that same apprehension had been raised (and sadly still seems to be raised in certain quarters) in the case of another kind of personal ecclesiastical circumscription—i.e., the Personal Prelature.
This type of apprehension can arise if one forgets that personal ecclesiastical circumscriptions should be understood from the viewpoint of the ecclesiology of Vatican II. From this point of view, it becomes clear that among the Pastors of the Church, there is neither rivalry nor competition, but rather communion and collaboration. Thus, the provision of this type of personal circumscription is the result of the desire of providing help to the local Churches, through the creation of entities which are capable of carrying out a special pastoral activity that goes beyond the normal possibilities of the dioceses for their faithful. Thus, a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1992—with the significant name of Communionis notio—had precisely pointed out how these entities created by the Holy See for peculiar pastoral tasks are harmoniously inserted in communion with the local Churches.
It could be expected, therefore, that the upcoming Apostolic Constitution—aside from the particular statutes of every Personal Ordinariate that shall be subsequently erected—will guarantee the rights of the Local Ordinaries and the way of harmonizing the activities of the priests of the Ordinariate with the authority of the local parishes, including norms regarding such matters as how a faithful becomes part of the Ordinariate, what registries are to be kept, etc.
Similarities and Differences with Personal Prelatures
The press has compared the upcoming Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans to Personal Prelatures, specifically with Opus Dei. A notable difference would be that the projected personal ordinariates for former Anglicans would depend on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instead of the Congregation for Bishops or the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith as is provided for the erection of personal prelatures. Another difference would be the use of a particular liturgy in the case of the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans, whereas the only existing Personal Prelature has no liturgy of its own and does not even print its own Ordo for daily Masses and Liturgy of the Hours.
Beyond the obvious differences, however, it is more interesting to note the elements common to all these personal jurisdictions. As an imminent canonist had recently pointed out, in reaction to the announced Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans, Personal Ordinariates, Military Ordinariates and Personal Prelatures constitute in each case that type of personal circumscripton expressly willed by Vatican Council II, which are superimposed with the local Church (insofar as their faithful also belong to the diocese), in order to carry out a specialized pastoral activity. Beyond the pastoral phenomenon of Opus Dei, up till now the personal prelature—as typified in cc. 294-297 of the Code of Canon Law—has been mentioned as a possible solution to the pastoral needs arising from human mobility (e.g., care of migrants, refugees, seafarers and overseas workers). Now it has come to light that this type of personal circumscriptions might also be of great use in the area of ecumenism. (Cf. Eduardo Baura, Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross [Rome], in an interview published recently in www.zenit.org).