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Pope skips language of love in Anglicans manifesto

  • 20 November 2009

On November 4 each year Australian Anglicans and Roman Catholics pray for one another. It was also when Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (‘Groups of Anglicans’). Writing when it was first announced, I noted that its wording would matter:

Phrased in overly-confident ‘Romanista’ style … it will communicate an institutional, bureaucratic message about unity. It will reinforce the suspicion that ecumenical endeavour means ‘return to Rome’, rather than the vision of every Christian tradition being converted to the unity which Christ wills. Written with humility … it may just be a sign of the pro-visional which ecumenical endeavour, and this aching world, so desperately needs.

So – which way does Anglicanorum coetibus fall? It gets off to an undiplomatic start: 'The Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition' such a move. No criteria for this maximum-volume claim are given – why not ‘Guided by Divine Providence …’ or ‘In the grace of humility …’ or just ‘Christians identifying themselves as Anglicans … ’? And it was disrespectful for Benedict XVI to describe as ‘groups of Anglicans’ those who are mostly not so. The Constitution sets out a 13-point ‘normative structure’ for Personal Ordinariates, with brief ‘Complementary Norms’ from the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith (CDF). Few surprises, though understanding the detail requires close checking of the Canon Law references. Even so, I could not determine whether re-confirmation or re-deaconing will be required. I came to this document looking for signs of a ‘pro-visional’ approach. Whatever one makes of the 13 points and the Norms, it is the language of the introduction which sets out ‘ecclesiological principles’ which dashed my hopes. The Anglican Communion accepts that in a re-united Church the distinctive ministry of the Bishop of Rome will be needed. Yet the language of Anglicanorum coetibus presents such a ‘blatant’ view of the papacy, and such a quantitative view of the unity of the visible Church catholic, as to make dialogue near pointless. In particular, key Roman documents on the church such as Lumen Gentium (LG) are not cited from the official English texts, but re-translated from the Latin in ways that shift their meaning – a disturbing trend. The second sentence, for example, speaks of 'the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate', citing LG 23 and CDF’s Communionis notio (CN) 12; 13. But LG 23 says nothing about ‘guarantee’: it concerns the