George Weigel has now weighed in on the Anglican situation.
The first wave of reactions to the October 20 Vatican announcement of a new arrangement for receiving into the Catholic Church groups of Anglican clergy and laity who would retain distinctive elements of their spiritual and liturgical heritage tended toward the critical: Rome’s move, it was suggested, was a new obstacle to Anglican-Catholic dialogue, an act of ecclesiastical “poaching,” and a retreat from the ecumenical commitments of the Second Vatican Council. What the Vatican intended as an act of ecumenical hospitality, however, was also bit of theological shock-therapy: a moment of clarification in a situation that had begun to resemble an ecumenical Wonderland in which well-intentioned people taught themselves impossible things before breakfast.
Many of the practical details of the new arrangement remain unsettled, for the text of the Apostolic Constitution that Benedict XVI will issue, creating “personal ordinariates” by which Anglicans can enter into full communion with Rome under the spiritual guidance of Anglican clergy who will be ordained as Catholic priests, has not been completed. Nonetheless, the announcement does mark the end of an era in Anglica-Catholic relations, which began with a pioneering ecumenical dialogue led by the Belgian Cardinal Desire Mercier and the British statesman Lord Halifax after World War I. That era reached its apogee at Vatican II in the mid-1960s, when corporate reunion between Canterbury and Rome seemed to many an achievable, short-term goal.
As both Anglicanism and Catholicism sought to find their way through the cultural whitewater of late modernity, however, the theological premise on which an era of good feelings had been based – that Anglicanism and Catholicism both affirmed the binding character of apostolic tradition, which in turn led to a common understanding of the priesthood and the sacraments – began to seem less a given than a hope.
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