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Via blogging Priest extraordinaire, Fr Z:

From a reader:

I have been informed by an Anglican group that my Bishop gave the green light to let an Anglican (not an ordinariate group, but a schismatic Anglican group) use one of our school’s sanctuary and altar to celebrate their services. Is this permitted? If not, what should I do?

I get the sense that you, dear reader, want to do something about this.  Be careful not to read something negative into every ecumenical gesture.  Not all of them are illicit.

This situation is addressed in the 25 March 1993 Decree on the Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.  This is a dicasterial, not a papal document. It was not signed “in forma specifica“.  It nevertheless has binding force as an act of executive power.

The document contains these pertinent paragraphs:

137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship. However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services. Under similar circumstances, permission may be given to them for interment or for the celebration of services at Catholic cemeteries.

138. Because of developments in society, the rapid growth of population and urbanization, and for financial motives, where there is a good ecumenical relationship and understanding between the communities, the shared ownership or use of church premises over an extended period of time may become a matter of practical interest.

139. When authorization for such ownership or use is given by the diocesan Bishop, according to any norms which may be established by the Episcopal Conference or the Holy See, judicious consideration should be given to the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, so that this question is resolved on the basis of a sound sacramental theology with the respect that is due, while also taking account of the sensitivities of those who will use the building, e.g., by constructing a separate room or chapel.

140. Before making plans for a shared building, the authorities of the communities concerned should first reach agreement as to how their various disciplines will be observed, particularly in regard to the sacraments. Furthermore, a written agreement should be made which will clearly and adequately take care of all questions which may arise concerning financial matters and the obligations arising from church and civil law.

Therefore, the bishop is within his authority to permit what you described.

Hopefully, the bishop has a well-worded contract laying out the situations and circumstances of the use of the church.

Think of it this way.  Since this is a schismatic Anglican group, it may be part of the bishop’s plan gradually to pull them into the Catholic fold!

As for what YOU might do concretely, dear questioner, here are a few suggestions.

  • Pray for the unity of the Church.
  • Pray for these Anglicans, that they might respond to the grace that is being given to them to come into full unity with the Church of Rome.
  • Pray for the bishop, who is obliged by his office to care for souls of the baptized in the diocese.
  • Write a graciously worded letter to the Catholic bishop in question, thanking him for his zeal and pastoral solicitude not only for the Catholics, but for the souls of all the baptized of his diocese whom in his heavy office he is obliged by God to care for unto their salvation.

BTW… Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.