Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington reported to a gathering of Roman Catholic Bishops this week on the progress towards establishing an Anglican ordinariate in the US, saying that they expect about 100 clergy and 2,000 laypeople could be among the first to move from an Episcopal or Anglican-related churches into the Roman Catholic Church.
The progress report highlight some things for Episcopalians to keep in mind as this process unfolds.
First, the RCC does not distinguish between Episcopal Churches and members of breakaway church, nor does it distinguish between the Episcopal Church and groups that claim an Anglican heritage or style of worship but were never part of the Episcopal Church in the first place. So give those numbers appropriate latitude.
Second, this process is even more ecumenically troubling than the existing "pastoral provision" established under Pope John Paul II. In the pastoral provision, the focus was on individual Episcopal clergy who could renounce their orders and become Roman Catholic priests--and keep their wives. The Ordinariate is focused on whole congregations.
Often religion reporters, local media and even Catholic communications representatives get confused about the status of these clergy and parishes after they swim the Tiber. This is not a church-within-a-church. What is being set up is not a semi-independent branch of the Roman Catholic Church. There will be no English Rite church alongside an Eastern and Latin Rite branch of the Catholic Church. These are former Anglican congregations that become Catholic under the local diocesan bishop. They will be diocesan churches with married clergy using a ritual related to the Book of Common Prayer, but unmistakably Roman Catholic in theology and character. After their married priest retires or dies, there will be no married English-rite clergy ordained to replace them.
Catholic News Service reports:
Cardinal Wuerl was appointed by the Vatican last September to guide the incorporation of Anglican groups into the Catholic Church in the United States under "Anglicanorum coetibus," an apostolic constitution issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009.
At a news conference following his report, Cardinal Wuerl said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the Vatican were to establish the U.S. ordinariate by the end of the year. "I think it will be sooner rather than later," he said.
Wuerl does not differentiate between those who are leaving the Episcopal Church...notice the reference to the Bladensburg and Baltimore, Maryland, congregations...and churches that are neither Episcopal nor in the Anglican Communion but which may also fall under the ordinariate's jurisdiction.
Two Anglican congregations in Maryland -- St. Luke's in Bladensburg and Mount Calvary in Baltimore -- have announced their intention to join the new ordinariate once it is established.
Formation criminal background checks and psychological screening are important to any future process before re-ordaining any former Episcopal and breakaway Anglican clergy. Former Episcopal bishop, now Catholic priest, Jeffrey Steenson has been working in developing the program in the US.
Addressing the bishops at the close of the first day of their spring general assembly near Seattle, the cardinal said St. Mary's Seminary in Houston has developed and the Vatican has approved an intensive nine-month program of priestly formation for Anglican clergy who wish to become Catholic priests....
...The current task involves preparation of dossiers to be sent to the Vatican on each of the Anglican priests who is seeking admission to the priestly formation process, he said.
"This information will include the results of criminal background checks, a psychological evaluation, a letter of resignation from their Anglican entity" and letters from Cardinal Wuerl or the head of the ordinariate once it is established, the Catholic bishop in the diocese in which the candidate resides and, if possible, his former Anglican authority, the cardinal said.
Once that information has been submitted to the Vatican, the candidate "will cease celebrating the Anglican Eucharist" and begin leading his congregation in the catechetical preparation for them to become Catholics, he said..
There is still some concern among Catholic bishops as to how these former Episcopal and Anglican-related congregations will fit into existing Catholic dioceses.
The questions directed at Cardinal Wuerl by his fellow bishops indicated a certain level of anxiety about how the ordinariate will operate in relation to their dioceses and how they might respond to members of other denominations who are attracted to the ordinariate idea.
Although the ordinariates are designed to be fully Catholic while retaining elements of the Anglican heritage, Cardinal Wuerl acknowledged that it is not entirely clear what those elements are and how they will be maintained.