Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Popes for Christian Unity

In a recent article Fr Dwight Longenecker has outlined some of the historical  events which have brought 1,000 Anglican priests along with thousands of laity into full communion with the Holy See since 1990.


To explain this development and the origin of the Ordinariates he highlights the efforts of popes from the time of Pius XII to ordain married men from the Lutheran and Anglican traditions.  


In his article: "Two Giant Popes, Two Small Steps Toward Unity"  Fr. Longnecker highlights the generosity of the popes over the past 70 years in the pursuit of true and viable Christian unity:

Pope Pius XII

On December 2, 1960 the Swiss guards at the Vatican were surprised to see an Anglican Archbishop striding up the stairs in a purple cassock and Canterbury cap. The energetic Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher had come to see Pope John.

Pope St. John XXIII

It was the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury had paid a visit to the Vatican for six hundred years. Fisher had been on a trip to the Holy Lands, and on the way back to England had stopped in Istanbul to see the Ecumenical Patriarch. In June of 1960 Pope John XXIII had established a new Secretariat to promote Christian unity. Sensing a new spirit of ecumenism in the air, Archbishop Fisher was also determined to visit the Pope.


. . . . The pull quote from the visit was Pope John asking Archbishop Fisher when the Anglicans would return. Fisher replied, “It is not a question of returning, but going forward together.” The Pope insisted that the Archbishop meet with Cardinal Bea, the head of the new secretariat for church unity, and that meeting led eventually to the establishment of the ARCIC talks (ARCIC standing for Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission). The ARCIC talks have continued off and on for fifty years and have produced some substantial agreement in certain areas between Catholic and Anglican theologians.


Twenty years later another giant of a pope, John Paul II took another small, but significant step towards Christian unity. In 1978 a group of Episcopal [Anglican] priests in the United States petitioned Pope Paul VI for permission to be ordained as Catholic priests even though they were married. They knew this was a possibility because it had happened during the pontificate of Pius XII when a group of European Lutheran pastors had converted to the Catholic faith. They were granted dispensations from the vow of celibacy allowing their ordination as Catholic priests. The possibility was also mentioned in Paul VI’s encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.

Pope Paul VI as a young priest


At the death of Paul VI in August 1978, and following the month long pontificate of John Paul I, the pope from Poland took over. By 1980 the request of the Episcopal priests finally made it to the desk of the Holy Father. John Paul’s response was, “Be generous to these men.” Knowing the great sacrifices Anglican priests would make to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II asked for the Pastoral Provision to be established.


Pope St. John Paul II


Pope Benedict XVI

. . . . By the early 1990s this permission was extended to England and other parts of the English speaking world, and in 2009 Pope Benedict established the personal ordinariates for Anglicans. These are ecclesial structures which grant a broader permanent base for an Anglican style “church within a church”. Similar to Eastern rite churches, the churches of the ordinariate have their own liturgy and will often have married priests. Pope Francis expanded their vocation further by allowing members of the Ordinariate to welcome other Christians through evangelization and outreach.


Thus the seemingly small decisions of Pope John and Pope John Paul II have brought many former Anglicans and Episcopalians not only into full communion with the Catholic Church, but have also brought some of us into the ministry of the Catholic priesthood. Their decisions in this matter also illustrate the way the Catholic Church makes progress.


Pius XII’s decision to make an exception to the rule of celibacy and welcome a few Lutheran pastors combined with John XXIII’s decision to open a Secretariat for Christian Unity and to welcome a visit from Archbishop Fisher. Paul VI’s recognition that an exception to the rule of celibacy was possible opened the way for John Paul II to establish the Pastoral Provision. That in turn allowed Benedict XVI to expand the Pastoral Provision into the Anglican Ordinariate. It may be that Francis will expand the concept of the Ordinariate to include Lutherans, Methodists and other Christians from the Reformed tradition.”


On a personal note, it was Pope Francis I who signed my own dispensation for ordination in 2013.  So we see the hand of
Pope Francis I
continuity in the work of the Holy Father over 70 years, developing the avenue to unity and building the bridge to full communion with the Holy See of St. Peter. 





Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a former Anglican priest who was ordained in 2006 through the Pastoral Provision.

You can read Fr. L's  whole article at:   Fr. Longnecker's Blog

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