The Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Vincent Nichols, writes for The Catholic Herald on the still-unnamed Apostolic Constitution:
21 October 2009The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution has come as a surprise. So, too, has the generosity of its measures. It is important to understand its context as well as its content.The Apostolic Constitution is the response of Pope Benedict to the approaches which have been made to the Holy See by groups of Anglicans, in different parts of the world, asking for full visible communion within the Catholic Church. It is, then, a response, not an initiative, by the Holy See. It is a response designed to establish a provision which will be equitable and uniform in whatever part of the world it may be taken up.It has a particular purpose: to permit those who wish to live their faith in full visible union with the See of Peter to do so while also preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony. So this is a response to those who have declared that they share the common Catholic faith and accept the Pope's ministry as something Christ willed for the Church. In the words of Cardinal Levada: "For them, the time has come to express this implicit unity in the visible form of full communion." As Archbishop Rowan Williams and I said in our joint statement: "The announcement of this Apostolic Constitution brings to an end a period of uncertainty for such groups who have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church."Much work now opens up, not only for those who hold such faith and will have to consider carefully the formal response of the Holy See, but also for the Catholic community. In approaching this work, some important perspectives have to be kept in mind.First, this response does not alter our determined and continuing dedication to the pathway of mutual commitment and cooperation between the Church of England and the Catholic Church in this country. The foundations of all the joint work in ARCIC and the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission make clear the path we follow together. An Anglo-Catholic tradition will continue to be a part of the Church of England, nurtured by those who cherish this tradition while not ready to accept the current jurisdiction of the Holy See.We also need to appreciate what this moment makes clear about the mind of Pope Benedict XVI. I believe this is another illustration of his desire to achieve reconciliation with those who are estranged from the Catholic Church and who show a willingness to be reconciled. This desire is clearly one of the priorities of his pontificate. As he has written: "In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognise in a love, which presses 'to the end' (cf John 13.1) - in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen ... So if the arduous task of working for faith, hope and love in the world is presently (and in various ways, always) the Church's real priority, then part of this is also made up of acts of reconciliation, small and not so small." (Letter to Bishops, March 10 2009). Reconciliation, then, is a part of the proclamation of the Gospel.Pope Benedict, we have to remember, is also ready to allow the breadth of the expressions of Catholic life to find their place in the Church. In that same letter he wrote: "But should not the great Church also allow herself to be generous in the knowledge of her great breadth, in the knowledge of the promise made to her? Should not we, as good educators, also be capable of overlooking various faults and making every effort to open up broader vistas?"The Holy Father clearly believes that legitimate diversity does not threaten the unity of the Church, a unity which is essentially of faith, expressed in visible communion and in the witness of life lived in conformity to the call of the Gospel. While this Apostolic Constitution establishes a single framework for the universal Church, clearly much detail will have to be established locally. Alongside the Constitution there will have to be agreements about the way forward and the practical steps by which Personal Ordinariates, if and when they are established, will be an integral part of the Catholic community, working in close unity with the dioceses of England and Wales. These matters are now to be considered both locally and in close consultation with the Holy See.This is an extraordinary moment. It is a challenge and an opportunity on many fronts. I salute the courage and generosity of Pope Benedict who has again shown an open and loving heart, just as one would expect of a Holy Father.