LONDON – The first personal ordinariate for former Anglicans will be established in England in early January, the English and Welsh Catholic bishops announced.
It will include five former Anglican bishops, who announced their resignations earlier this month, and an unspecified number of clergy and laity divided into about 30 groups, the bishops said a news conference at their headquarters Nov. 19.
The ordinariate will be formed by a decree and Pope Benedict XVI will appoint the ordinary at about the same time, they said. The structure, which will resemble a military diocese, will be the first to be created since the pope issued his apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus” Nov. 4, 2009.
The ordinariate will allow groups of Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church while retaining much of their distinctive patrimony – including married priests – as well as their liturgical practices.
Auxiliary Bishop Alan Hopes of Westminster, the bishops’ liaison officer for the ordinariate and the highest-ranking former Anglican priest in England and Wales, said small groups of Anglican laity and their pastors had been preparing for reception into the church and the ordinariate since late September.
“The bishops have warmly and generously welcomed the Holy Father’s initiative toward those Anglicans who are seeking full and ecclesial communion with the Catholic Church,” he told the news conference.
“We have placed it all in the context of our overall ecumenical journey – which is exactly where the Holy Father has placed it – which seeks full communion in faith and fullness of unity for which Jesus Christ himself prayed,” he said.
“It has become very clear that there are clergy and groups of people who wish to make use of this journey into the Catholic Church through the ordinariate structure,” said Bishop Hopes, who was received into the Catholic Church in 1994.
“Some time during the month of January the ordinariate will be set up and an ordinary – something like a bishop – will be appointed to have care of the ordinariate,” he said.
The three serving Anglican bishops, whose resignations come into effect Dec. 31, will be ordained Catholic priests in January, and the two retired bishops will be ordained as priests before Lent, he said.
Clergy and laity will undergo formation and instruction so they can be received into the Catholic Church during Holy Week.
Those Anglican pastors who wish to become Catholic priests in the new structure will be ordained and incardinated into the ordinariate at Pentecost, Bishop Hopes explained.
He said the priests would first undergo a rigorous 12-week course overseen by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“After their ordination, we expect the clergy to continue their studies for some time so they can really get their feet under the table of the Catholic Church,” he added.
Bishop Hopes refused to tell the exact number of people who will initially make up the ordinariate, though sources close to the bishops have told Catholic News Service that they are likely to include about 50 clerics and hundreds of laypeople.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster told the news conference the five bishops are the only Anglicans who have publicly stated their desire to join the ordinariate.
He said he did not “feel guilty” that some Anglican parishes might be left without pastors, a point raised by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, the Anglican leader, on Vatican Radio Nov. 18.
Archbishop Nichols said Pope Benedict had offered the ordinariate only in response to repeated requests from Anglicans for corporate reception.
“It is out of respect for that imperative of conscience that all this takes place,” he said.
“This is not a process of rivalry and competition between our churches,” he added. “Indeed, we believe that mutual strength is very important.
“We have a shared mission, we have a shared task,” he said. “We are not in competition in the task of trying to bring the Gospel to our society.”
Archbishop Nichols, president of the bishops’ conference, said the problem finding church buildings for the ordinariate could be solved in the first instance by encouraging sharing churches with local Catholic parishes.
“I think our preference is for the simplest solutions,” he said. “The simplest solutions are for those who come into Catholic communion to use Catholic churches.”
Archbishop Nichols refused, however, to speculate on the long-term future of the new structure.
“We have responded to something the Holy Father asked us to do and we have responded in an open and generous way,” the archbishop said.
“We are open to whatever way it develops – whether it develops into something significant or if, over time, groups just adapt into the Catholic dioceses,” he said.
A fund has been set up to help to establish the ordinariate and to help to pay for the salaries of its pastors, to which the bishops have contributed the sum of 250,000 pounds ($399,000).
Interest in the offer of the ordinariate is believed to have increased since July when the General Synod of the Church of England voted to ordain women as bishops without such safeguards as “flying bishops,” which had been demanded by traditionalists.
Forward in Faith, the largest Anglo-Catholic organization, has reported that many of its members were disappointed with the vote but were divided on how best to respond to the challenge it presented. Some members, including Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham, the chairman of Forward in Faith, who will be ordained a Catholic priest in January, said they felt the ordinariate was the best option.