The Coming Ordinariate: some canonical thoughts

The news from England seems to give clear indication that the proposed method of incorporating organized groups of traditional-minded Anglican bishops, presbyters and Christian faithful is moving ahead, and will emerge as a public reality in very short order.

There is of course a tremendous amount of blog activity regarding the provisions of Anglicanorum cœtibus, more so every passing month in fact, and I have found time to digest very little of it, despite my interest. One prominent blogger on the topic (and most other things Anglo-Catholic) is Damian Thompson of the Telegraph.  Amidst a welcome spurt of readership on my part of late, this paragraph from one of his recent posts caught my eye:

[H]ow fascinating that Bishop [Keith] Newton, rather than an existing Catholic bishop, could be leader of the Ordinariate. He cannot be ordained a Roman Catholic bishop, as he is married, but if he were the priestly “ordinary” of the communities, he would exercise many of the legal (as opposed to sacramental) powers of a bishop.

It may seem a quibbling point, but I would have preferred Thompson’s parenthetical clarification to have read “as distinct from sacramental” rather than opposed. The powers of governance that a bishop exercises as the middle element of the three-fold mission of the ordained to teach, govern, and sanctify must not be thought of as opposed to the saving function; the distinct roles should rather always be employed in concert.

That being said, however, I heartily agree with Thompson, and with other commentators (beginning, at least in my hearing, with John Huels of the Faculty of Canon Law at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, whose full commentary on the test of Anglicanorum cœtibus is published in the latest issue of the journal Studia canonica) in calling attention to the remarkable provision in the apostolic constitution for at least the possibility of the primary governing role within the quasi-diocesan structures being entrusted to a man below the episcopal rank of orders, presumably to allow just this very thing. It raises the question of how, and how well, the sacramental rôle of a bishop will be fulfilled in these ordinariates; I would suspect either by arrangement with nearby Latin Rite bishops, or perhaps even (at least at first) by specially appointed persons from the Vatican.

This will all remain to be seen when this provision comes into practice in the coming years, but it will be tremendously interesting to watch and study, from both an ecclesiological and a canonical perspective.

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