Just weeks after the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the death knell may have been struck for his original idea of the Church of England as a middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism. This notion, which he subsequently disowned, became the basis of the Anglo-Catholic wing within the Church of England.
Newman himself realized that this experiment was impossible, hence his reception into the Catholic Church. And it now appears to be at an end. The announcement that five Church of England bishops are resigning to take advantage of Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, indicates that fence-sitting is no longer an option.
Last year, Pope Benedict’s unprecedented initiative paved the way for Anglican ordinariates to be set up within the Catholic Church. As the accompanying note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made clear, the ordinariate will allow “former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.” Anglican clergy will be re-trained and re-ordained as Catholic priests on a case-by-case basis, a special dispensation being granted to those who are married, though they will not be allowed to be bishops. This provision allows for whole parishes and even dioceses to enter into unity with the Catholic Church. Such communities will be overseen by specially appointed ordinaries.
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