Opponents of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, set up by Benedict XVI to allow ex-Anglicans to worship together with their own liturgy, were so excited when it was reported that Pope Francis, when Archbishop of Buenos Aires, wasn’t keen on the initiative. But if that were ever the case, then he has changed his mind.
This week it emerged that Francis has widened the remit of the Ordinariates in Britain, America and Australia. Until now, only ex-Anglicans and their family members could join the new body. But, thanks to a new paragraph inserted into the Ordinariate’s constitution by Francis, nominal Catholics who were baptised but not confirmed can join the structure. Indeed, the Holy Father wants the Ordinariates to go out and evangelise such people. Put bluntly, this suggests that English bishops who wanted to squash the body – and whose allies were rushing to get to the new Pope in order to brief against it – have been thwarted.
Here’s the fine print, from the Ordinariate’s website:
Pope Francis has approved a significant amendment to the Complementary Norms which govern the life of the Personal Ordinariates established under the auspices of Anglicanorum Coetibus.
On 31 May 2013, the Holy Father made a modification to Article 5 of the Norms, in order to make clear the contribution of the Personal Ordinariates in the work of the New Evangelisation.
This paragraph has been inserted into the Complementary Norms as Article 5 §2:
A person who has been baptised in the Catholic Church but who has not completed the Sacraments of Initiation, and subsequently returns to the faith and practice of the Church as a result of the evangelising mission of the Ordinariate, may be admitted to membership in the Ordinariate and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation or the Sacrament of the Eucharist or both.
This confirms the place of the Personal Ordinariates within the mission of the wider Catholic Church, not simply as a jurisdiction for those from the Anglican tradition, but as a contributor to the urgent work of the New Evangelisation.
As noted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, enrolment into a Personal Ordinariate remains linked to an objective criterion of incomplete initiation (i.e. baptism, eucharist, or confirmation are lacking), meaning that Catholics may not become members of a Personal Ordinariate ‘for purely subjective motives or personal preference’
So there you have it: a ringing affirmation of the Ordinariate’s mission from a supposedly sceptical pontiff. Now what the new body needs is money and perhaps a little more courage to stick its head above the parapet. The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have so far declined to organise a nationwide second collection at Mass to help their new brethren. They should do so without delay.