More than two years ago, Pope Benedict XVI published the apostolic exhortation Anglicanorum Coetibus, that allows groups of Anglicans to collectively convert to the Catholic Church while still keeping their Anglican identity.
It envisaged the creation of structures called 'Ordinariates' for returning Anglicans.
The first such Ordinariate was established last January in the United Kingdom.
One year after its creation, about a hundred of its members have come to Rome for a week, to celebrate the anniversary.
To date, fifty seven priests and three deacons have joined the Ordinariate, together with over one thousand lay people.
Two hundred more faithful will be received this year.
Twenty of the Ordinariate's priests are still being trained.
Mgr. Keith Newton, a married Anglican priests and father of three takes stock of this unprecedented experience in the relationship between Christian Churches in the West.
He briefly met the Pope on the sidelines of the General Audience at the Vatican.
“Sadly – he adds – my wife was not there. She's a teacher, so she stays in Rome all week. She hopes to meet him one day.”
Mgr. Newton, how would you describe the first year of the Ordinariate?
It's been a challenging year because everything is so new.
We've had to get used to many changes, not just in terms of the difference in the method of communion, but also the challenges of housing and money, which have been upsetting for some people.
We are settling down now.
But this has been offset with the incredible joy and welcome that we received from many people, and the joy that we've achieved what we prayed for for some years, communion with the Catholic Church.
As the leader of the Ordinariate, you have the function of a bishop and are a member of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales. How is it going? Did it feel weird to be the only married person there?
The other bishops take the fact that I am married for granted.
One archbishop told me that I am the first married person in the Episcopal Conference.
I replied 'I probably am the first one in the world,' as married bishops don't even exist in the Eastern Churches that ordain married men.
Was the split from the Anglican Church difficult?
It was mostly a consensual split.
Last week the Anglican diocesan bishop actually came to preach at the last service celebrated by a group in Durham, and will be present when they are received into the Catholic Church by me.
Some bishops have been very helpful.
They are all invited to write references and some of them have been extremely helpful in doing that.
They have seen that this is actually the right move for many of us.
Others have been less helpful.
What formation do Ordinariate priests undertake?
The preparation for ordination as Catholic priests in the Ordinariate is quite rigorous.
The difference is just that the point of ordination comes at a different place: a short period of three months or so, of intensive formation, then ordination.
After that, two years of further formation.
This assumes that all those priests have a basic foundation of biblical knowledge, doctrine and so far.
The Catholic Church doesn't recognize Anglican sacraments and every Anglican priest who joins the Ordinariate must be ordained again. How did it feel for you to be re-ordained? How did it make you feel about your life as an Anglican priest?
We've not been asked to deny anything. In most of the ordination services, there is a prayer for the 'graces that have been received through past ministry.' And certainly in my ordination, Archbishop Nichols (of Westminister, Ed.) in his homily placed emphasis on our past 'ministry'.
It is a continuation of the ordained ministry but being ordained as a Catholic priest is a completion of it.
There is something new about being in communion with the Holy See. After all ordination is about order, and we have been put in the right order within the Catholic Church.
I didn't find it particularly difficult because I think it is such an amazing gift to be in communion with the Holy See.
No one asked me to say 'this was a worthless ministry.'
God's grace works in mysterious ways.
But the Catholic Church does not recognize Anglican orders...
But the Second Vatican Council makes it very clear that there are aspects of Catholicism in other denominations which are sources of grace and are 'an impetus towards unity.'
Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, recently said that the Ordinariate is not a matter of ecumenism but a form of conversion. Do you agree?
I think it is both. It has to be about conversion, in one sense.
But conversion is not a good word, because we all need to be converted.
The Ordinariate is about entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, with which we were only in partial communion before, and that is to do with a personal choice, a personal profession of faith.
Every person and every priest has to make that personal profession of faith.
But I think the Ordinariate is about ecumenism too. People talk about receptive ecumenism today, about recognizing gifts within each other and sharing them.
We could go on talking about this for centuries, but in the Apostolic Constitution there is a practical expression of working that out, of saying 'here we are, a group of Christians who believe the same things but have slightly different traditions and ways of doing things, maybe different pastoral methods.'
I think it's also important for us to tell the Catholic Church about our journey. But now it's probably too early for the Ordinariate to be seen in ecumenical terms. It's only been a year.
Mgr. Mark Langham (in charge of the Catholic dialogue with Anglicans at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Ed.) thinks that the Ordinariate will help ecumenism in the long term. I hope this is true, because it shows what receptive ecumenism could do.
Do you feel you are a 'model' for what the Catholic Church could be in the future – a Church that is more aware, even in the West which is a union of different Churches?
I think the Holy Father's vision is that it is possible for many different traditions to co-exist: as long as you have the same basic doctrinal beliefs, you can have differeces that are of secondary nature; like the vestments you wear and the particular way you carry out the liturgy.
All religious traditions are in communion with each other and with the Holy See. That seems to me like a vision and the Ordinariate is just part of it. It's definitely possible, if everyone respects and believes the core doctrines. The overtures towards the FSSPX (Lefebvrist traditionalists, Ed.) are an also part of that – even if I don't know whether they reciprocate.
In today's ecumenism, do moral differences matter more than theological ones?
I don't think the two can be divided as easily as that. Moral issues are theological issues in many ways. There are more and more things that are dividing the Anglican Church and other groups from the Catholic Church.
Although the Catholic Church does not recognize Anglican orders, it was very keen to say 'Do not ordain women priests or bishops, because this will be a further obstacle to unity.'
Then came the issue of gay marriages, gay bishops, which has created further obstacles.
Those of us who are in the Catholic tradition believe the essence of marriage cannot be changed, even though in our country there is a move towards the recognition of gay relationships as marriages.
In the Ordinariate, it will be impossible to ordain married men as priests...
That's not quite true. There is within the Apostolic Constitution a wonderful passage which says that 'the ordinary may petition a derogation' to ordain a person who is married but has never been an Anglican priest, according to the particular criteria that have been agreed with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
We haven't done that yet, but there is a possibility. It won't be used very often but there is a possibility that it can happen. There is one person who was never ordained but who was in an Anglican theological college: I think he's got a good basis for petitioning for ordination, as he was going to college and preparing for ordination before the Apostolic Constitution came out.
And what about ten years from now? Will it happen in the future?
The norm will continue to be that the role of a priest is carried out by celibate men.
But there's a possibility things could change even if we don't know what the criteria might be.
These will need to be worked out with the Congregation.
The Anglican Church has had married priests for centuries. Does this mean that part of the Anglican tradition might be lost in the Ordinariate?
That is certainly true. Who knows how this will be received later on in the Church, we leave it to the Holy Spirit. I don't think it's for us to argue for married clergy. There are married clergy already in the Catholic Church – not Anglicans, I mean Eastern Rite married clergy. So it's a matter of discipline and not of doctrine. Having said that, celibacy is an important gift for the Church and I wouldn't want to deny it anyway. But equally, I obviously know it's possible to be married and a priest.
How was it working for decades side by side with women priests?
I did not recognize their orders but I recognized them as fellow Christians – because for everybody the basis is that we are all baptized: that's the most important thing, you treat fellow Christians with respect and with courtesy. But I would also say they were workers in the vineyard, and what you could do with them you did. In fact, when I was an Anglican parish priest, in my deanery, half of the deans were women. It was a very happy deanery but there were some things I certainly wouldn't do with them. I wouldn't celebrate the Eucharist, I wouldn't go when they were celebrating. Some of them were very good people. I just think they were in the wrong. I think the problem women face is the real vocation.
What do you mean?
In the (Anglican, Ed.) Church of England, nowadays the only real vocation for a woman is to be an ordained priest. But actually, in the old days, women served the Church in all sorts of ways. As long as you don't see the priesthood as being more important than other forms of ministry. In the Catholic Church women carry out incredible ministries in many areas: in parishes, in religious life, in catechesis, and I think that's to be encouraged really.
What is the financial situation of the Ordinariate like?
The Ordinariate is up and running but that doesn't mean that we don't have financial challenges. We started with almost no money at all, so the Catholic Church in England and Wales and one or two charities gave us some money. Now, our groups are slowly starting to send money to the centre.
But trainee clergymen cost a lot of money; we have the center with its administrative functions, that costs money and we have some seminarians, that also costs a lot of money. We want to train more people in the future, and that costs more money. And also there is the question of pensions for sick and retired clergy, that's quite expensive. So we need to form our financial base, and that will take some time.
We hoped we could use some Anglican buildings but that has not been possible at present, even if things might change. The Church of England doesn't was us to, they feel it would be divisive.
Did you receive many requests from the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), who had already split from the Anglican Church in the past?
There are twenty or so priests who put in their request last year. We just had a response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and five of them have been given a 'nulla osta'. We are now in the process of discerning their vocation to be catholic priests.
Having the 'nulla osta' doesn't guarantee you ordination. Most of them however, did not receive the 'nulla osta' for a variety of reasons: some of them have no lay faithful at all, some of them have irregular marriages, some of them have received very little training and were ordained after very short courses.
These TAC priests do not fulfill the necessary requirements. So one of the most important aspects is be that - even those TAC priests who are going to enter the Ordinariate – will be ordained at the end of the process, not at the beginning of it.