The Traditional Anglican Communion’s groundbreaking decision to approach the Holy See has been well-documented and much discussed over the last three years, most recently by our own Fr. Fleming in his new book, Convinced by the Truth: Embracing the Fullness of the Catholic Faith. Now that the Holy Father has come and gone in the UK and the Sacred Synods there are confirming that some clergy and laity there are ordinariate-bound, mostly from the Province of Canterbury, it seems as if it might be a good time to piece together a bit of the history of how those in the UK also played a key role in the development of Anglicanorum Coetibus. Most of this has appeared in other scattered sources, but I thought it would be good to at least make a first pass at a more coherent narrative.
When the news of the Apostolic Constitution broke last October, many of us speculated that an important role had been played by elements within the Church of England because of the choice of a press conference in London with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the fact that more than one C of E bishop had a statement ready for synchronized release. These initial hunches received more support in comments made at FIFUK’s 2009 National Assembly shortly after the announcement of Anglicanorum Coetibus. Statements made last fall along with information that has trickled into the public record since then have shed light on how the Church of England’s Flying Bishops lived up to their name in moving about to do their part in building the bridge across the Tiber.
It is my understanding that the English approach began almost by chance with a spring holiday. Bishop Andrew Burnham of the See of Ebbsfleet traveled to Rome in April of 2008 to celebrate his 60th birthday. While there, he sought meetings with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Rather than finding himself having an informal chat with the monsignori of the staff, he found himself invited to meet with Cardinals Kasper and Levada.
Pleasantly surprised at the warmth of this reception, Bishop Andrew was able at short notice to arrange for Bishop Keith Newton of Richborough Episcopal Area to hop a plane and join him for the meeting. In that meeting, these two suffragans of the Archbishop of Canterbury asked whether anything might be done to help English Anglo-Catholics. They received a warm response and thereafter became aware of some of the details of the TAC approach and that other groups of Anglicans had been knocking at the door as well.
More than 15 years earlier, the then Cardinal Ratzinger had said of Forward in Faith, “If they accept the Magisterium, we have no alternative but to finding a means of admitting them to full communion with the Holy See.” It was becoming clear that the Vatican would be as good as the now Holy Father’s word. Subsequent events bore this out.
At this point, we can only speculate about what happened between the General Synod of the Church of England’s vote in July 2008 to move forward with the admission of women to the Episcopate and the present. Media reports have included sightings of the Bishops of Fulham and Richborough in Vienna, where they met Cardinal Schonborn in January 2009, and of the Bishops of Ebbsfleet, Fulham, and Richborough in Rome in April 2010, where they had meetings in the Vatican. No doubt meetings and regular contacts have continued up to the present in both in England and in Rome. Now we stand at the threshold of the public phase of the process, which I suppose one might think of as something of an ecclesiastical IPO. In the words of Fr. Kirk at last year’s FIF Assembly, “Well, you’ve asked for it, now you’ve got it.”
I thought it was useful to fill in a bit of this particular history at the present time to show that the Holy See has dealt faithfully and pastorally with those who have approached it. Now that the moment approaches when decisions are required or at least possible, the wedding-night jitters are rising among some of those considering taking advantage of the Apostolic Constitution. Many ask whether the Holy See will treat them fairly. I tell this story to help assure those of us who have not been in the inner circle of these developments that the process leading up to the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus and now leading into its implementation, gives us evidence of the care and solicitude of the Holy Father and many in the curia and the various national hierarchies. The Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough and those who joined them later took a risk, as did the leadership of the TAC, and now that faith is being rewarded. For many years, Bishop Andrew has been known for saying, “RITA!” for “Rome is the answer.” Now Rome has given its answer, and the care given in consulting various groups in crafting that answer gives ample evidence of Rome’s solicitude.
However the ball began to roll among the various groups who approached the Holy See, Anglicanorum Coetibus was addressed to GROUPS of Anglicans who formally petitioned or had merely hoped for the full reunion that has been one of Anglo-Catholicism’s most fervently held desires for more than 175 years. Whether it was TAC greasing the wheels or the English giving things a push, or the additional impetus added by groups and individuals as yet unknown, the train got moving and provision was made for everyone. As the Bishop of Fulham said last fall, “This is a world approach of which we shall be a part.”
Now we enter a new phase where “coetibus” must become “coetus,” as old identities and acronyms fall away and groups coalesce into ordinariates in communion with the Catholic Church. The ordinariates will be a home for members of the TAC, traditionalists from within the Church of England, members of other bodies inside and outside of the Anglican Communion, and for many who have already entered the Catholic Church individually and now welcome the opportunity to return to their native patrimony.
Those further back on the caravan road to full communion will be looking ahead to the vanguard, not only to see how it is treated by Rome, but also how those who go first treat one another. As all of the various groups of Anglicans who will make up the ordinariates coalesce, we will do well to remember the Saviour’s prayer for unity in the Gospel of John:
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Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
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