Among the prime movers behind the requests to the Holy See to provide a means of corporate communion of Anglo-Catholics with Rome was the Traditional Anglican Communion with its Primate, the Australian Archbishop John Hepworth. Originally all the bishops and vicar generals of the TAC had signed the petition to Rome, which involved a public confession of the faith contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Archbishop Hepworth was confident of bringing with him 400,000 faithful.
So far, however, only one cleric from the TAC has been received into the Catholic Church via the Ordinariate, and that is former Bishop Robert Mercer CR, who will be ordained Catholic deacon and a week later priest in April of this year.
As of the beginning of this month, the Traditional Anglican Communion has to all intents of purposes split in half. At a meeting of (part of) the House of Bishops near Johannesburg, South Africa, from 28th February to 1st March 2012, the TAC Primate, Archbishop John Hepworth of the Anglican Catholic Church in Auistralia, was voted out of office as Primate with immediate effect by 12 of the 20 active bishops of the TAC. The offer contained in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus was formally rejected and the (continuing) TAC was declared “unambiguously Anglican”. This meeting followed a series of unpleasant letters and actions which Archbishop Hepworth describes as “bullying”, such as refusing to allow Ordinariate-leaning TAC members to celebrate various liturgies or de facto expulsion of those in the discernment process.
This is just the last step in a saga which began with the publication of the Apostolic Constitution in November 2009 and which basically hinged on the meaning attached to the words “corporate communion”. It was clearly the hope of most of the petitioners to Rome that the Traditional Anglican Communion would be recognised by the Vatican as an independent church with whom corporately Rome would declare full communion, much like the Anglican and Old Catholic Churches are in communion.
Anglicanorum Coetibus most certainly did not offer that. It recognises the faith history and liturgical, spiritual and pastoral practices of certain groups of Anglicans as compatible with the Catholic Church. It permits these Christians to enter the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church (each of them being received individually) and then regroup in a new and revolutionary structure, which is the Personal Ordinariate. This is a quasi diocese for ex-Anglicans (whereby the stress lies on “ex-”) who are encouraged to brings many aspects of Anglican patrimony into the Catholic Church.
As I have said, this is new, it is revolutionary, but it went much further towards reintegration than many, especially in the TAC, had hoped.
The new structure made it particularly difficult for clerics, who will be required to be (re-)ordained in the Ordinariate. Although the Constitution permits the ordination of married men, it excludes ordination of these men to the episcopate. Also excluded are those whose matrimonial situation is irreconcilable with Catholic Canon Law (e.g. divorced and remarried). Moreover it does not allow those previously ordained in the Catholic Church to return to ordained ministry (it is arguable that this ruling might well have been more lenient). The most significant difficulty is represented by the fact that each cleric’s theological and pastoral training will be assessed and those found to have had “insufficient” training will be expected to enter into a more rigorous diet of seminary training before being ordained in the Ordinariate.
The most prominent among those to be excluded from Catholic ordination is Archbishop Hepworth himself, who recently went public about his reasons for ever leaving the Catholic priesthood in the first place. He states that he was homosexually raped on several occasions by two priests and a senior seminarian while himself a seminarian and young priest. Rome’s decision not to allow Archbishop Hepworth to be reconciled might seem harsh in the circumstances.
Then there is the case of American TAC Bishop David Moyer, who after receiving a nulla osta (no impediment) from the Vatican was prevented from proceeding to Catholic ordination following a negative vote from Catholic Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, which was ratified by Ordinary Jeffrey Steenson. The unresolved issues to which Mgr. Steenson referred in announcing his decision most likely include the fact that Bishop Moyer is currently facing a lawsuit for fraud.
Most observers doubt whether in the circumstances these two bishops will now decide to enter the Catholic Church as laymen.
The Canadian branch of the TAC, the Anglican Catholic Church in Canada, has been formally divided into two dioceses for some time, the continuing TAC diocese of Canada and the pro-diocese of Our Lady of Walsingham, which includes those parishes and clergy currently in the discernment process as to whether to join the Ordinariate. Because of numbers, there will not be a Canadian Ordinariate for the time being. Instead a Canadian Deanery of St. John the Baptist will be established as part of the now US and subsequently North American Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Most of the member clergy and parishes of the pro-diocese will officially leave the TAC on 15th April of this year or at a future date yet to be decided. This includes both bishops, Peter Wilkinson and Carl Reid. The latter has informed in a newsletter that the current position is that two bishops, twenty-two priests and three deacons will probably join the Ordinariate, along with eleven or twelve parishes, who will soon form “sodalities” or Ordinariate groups, as they are called in the UK. Another six priests and three or four parishes are undecided.
As far as the UK is concerned, one development is certain, and then there is some speculation. The former vicar general of the UK’s TTAC (The Traditional Anglican Church), Fr. Brian Gill, currently of Wales, has announced his departure and that of his congregation from the TTAC on Ash Wednesday and their intention to join the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Considering that a number of Ordinariate liturgies have taken place in the TTAC church of St. Agatha’s, Portsmouth, under the active participation of their parish priest (including the reception of Bishop Robert Mercer), it might be fair to assume that this parish too is leaning towards the Ordinariate.
Regarding the “rump” TAC, and particularly Australia, Archbishop Hepworth has announced a meeting of their own in the near future, with the intention of renewing their commitment to “foster and develop the Anglican tradition within the doctrinal framework of Catholic teaching”, to reiterate their “belief in the teachings contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” and their “reaffirmation of the Portsmouth Petition to the Holy Father”, seeking full communion.
I guess we shall have to wait and see.