The Pope’s decision to allow the setting up of an ordinariate for Anglicans who wish to become Catholic is a generous experiment. It would not be a separate “church” like the Eastern Churches, which are self-governing churches of apostolic origin in communion with Rome. As far as I kow, no pope has ever claimed the ability to establish a “church” is this sense. 

The structure that the pope is contemplating is more like that of the military ordinariate. The bishop is appointed by the pope, and has spiritual authority over military personnel and their families. The ordinariate has its own priests and seminarians and manages its own affairs. 

The difference with the Anglicans’ is that they would have their own liturgical books, approved by Rome, and many of the clergy will initially be married. It is unclear (and perhaps Rome has not decided) whether married men will continue to be ordained for this ordinariate. 

There are already formerly-Anglican priests who converted and now function as Catholic priests. And of course Eastern Catholic churches have a married clergy, and have begun ordaining married men not just in their home territories but also in North America. If a married Catholic in the Western Church feels he has a vocation to the priesthood, all he has to do is transfer to an Eastern Church, enculturate in  that church, and ask that Church to test his call for a vocation. I have not noticed any mass movement in that direction. 

I doubt that the new Anglican ordinariate will have any significant effect in North America. I devoutly wish that there were such an Anglican-use church in the places I live. The standard of music in Catholic churches ranges from the mediocre to the truly abominable, and the translations grate on the ear of anyone who has studied English literature.

The long-term significance of the move is that it may provide a model for reintegrating Protestant Churches within the Catholic Church. It may also be a test as to whether it is worthwhile modifying the discipline of clerical celibacy in the West. From my limited contacts in higher ecclesiastical circles (my name is poison to most bishops) I sense that there is a willingness even among the most orthodox to reconsider the discipline of clerical celibacy. 

But a married clergy is hardly a panacea to the problems of sexual abuse and shortage of clergy, and brings with it a whole raft of problems. I have spoken to wives of ministers, and I have seen the toll that their husband’s ministry takes on them and their children.  

However, whatever happens, Benedict’s gesture is generous, and I hope it bears much fruit.

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