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Letter to an Anglo-Catholic bishop appealing for clear understanding of the Pope’s puzzling (to some) provision

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The following correspondence (scroll below) was ‘declassified’ from the NCCL ‘TOP SECRET archives’ in January 2013.

For additional ‘background’, see this post dated 30 June 2010 on the Reform of the Reformer blog, and this webpage.


The Pope’s motu proprio, Anglicanorum coetibus is an event of historical proportions, something altogether unprecedented in the history of the Church. Since the Protestant revolt of the 1500s no other grouping of the ‘separated brethren’ has been reunited en masse to the Holy See of Rome and provided for with its own juridic status.

Indeed, “personal ordinariate” is an whole new category of legal (canonical) status invented to correspond to the ecclesial reality brought about (as the Pope teaches in the opening lines of his apostolic constitution) by the Holy Ghost himself.

Perhaps that explains in part why understanding of it — what the Pope really has accomplished by the grace of God — generally lags among the faithful, not least among them the Anglo-Catholics. There’s something of a veritable mystery about it all.

As Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia expressed in his wonted frankness: “There’s uncertainty. Not all questions have been asked, and when they are, it will take time to figure this out.” (As quoted in the article by Joan Frawley Desmond, “Cardinal Wuerl on Religious Freedom, Threats to Marriage, and Welcoming Anglicans Into the Church: U.S. Anglican ordinariate will be official on Jan. 1.” Tuesday, 15 Nov. 2011, from the reporter’s blog at http://www.ncregister.com/blog/cardinal-wuerl-on-religious-freedom-threats-to-marriage-and-welcoming-angli/ – accessed 11/17/2011)

So far, the Anglo-Catholics in general are neither aware nor too interested in exactly what, in terms of preserving their patrimony with canonical safeguards, the Pope has provided them. Instead, they seem (again, generally speaking) to wish to concentrate — and quite understandably, one should say — on the concrete steps each person or parish must take to enter into ecclesial communion.

Perhaps the significance of the provision for them, and how many others, is just too mind-boggling. After all, it is not every day that the Pope of Rome guarantees for Catholics (but particularly of a ‘tradition-minded’ sort) in principle all the elements constitutive of a sui iuris church (which may – or not – later be recognized explicitly), while in the meantime making the ordinariates into which they combine, collectively, a juridic body distinct from the Latin church and the bishops thereof. (See this page for more on the subject, including a definition of “sui iuris” – self-governing or ‘autonomous’.)

But certainly, its significance should not be lost on the Church’s other “traditionalists”, whether Western, Eastern or for that matter the (Eastern) Orthodox.

The appeal now published [January 2013] from NCCL’s ‘TOP SECRET archives’ is also interesting insofar as it is made not by a Latin Catholic but by an Eastern Roman, NCCL’s Executive Director.

Bishop Campese never replied — not, at least, with anything resembling particular interest. A subsequent, brief conversation two months later elicited yet another letter from the Executive Director. (See this page of the ‘archives’.) But nothing more — nothing that the author of the letter came to know.

Some parts of the DEUS (Diocese of the Eastern United States) Anglican Church in America has since come into communion with the Holy See according to the provisions of the motu proprio, but some not.

April 12, 2010

The Rt. Rev. Louis Campese
Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the Eastern United States
Anglican Church in America
Cathedral of the Incarnation
1515 Edgewater Drive
Orlando, FL 32804

Most Reverend and dear Bishop Campese,

pursuant to my last e-mail (copy attached), please find enclosed the promised pamphlets. The one without a colored cover can serve as a master from which to make more copies, in case use is found for that.

Thank you for having Christian Campbell phone, who is to be admired for his energy. Unless by now he has read the annotations I e-mailed last month, he could use studying the enclosed pamphlet. [Inserted here, handwritten by author of letter:”It can bear re-reading by everyone.”]

As surely Your Lordship has noted, the use of the present-progressive terms “providing for” and “entering into full communion” in the title of the law is far more than grammatically significant. The matter, pardon me for presuming to repeat what you know to be obvious, is far from over. The Constitution being a second step in the process begun by the Holy Ghost, what is to follow is yet for everyone, each in his own station but ever with the mind of the Church, to discern and to discover.

If you will further permit me to say, a key to understanding the law is that not even the Pope, for all the blessed brilliance of (German) precision written into it, can be expected to know how exactly the Anglo-Catholics, not to mention the rest of the Church, will respond to its provisions.

But a careful reading of the law allows three overarching assumptions to be detected in the text and their lines of reasoning to be drawn out.

First, in obedience to the Holy Ghost, Pope Benedict has, if not completely ‘given away the store’, certainly opened its doors wide to the Anglo-Catholics and handed to your prelates keys of their own. As I try to demonstrate in the footnotes, the law already recognizes, with much subtlety, all the necessary conditions already existing in the Anglo-Catholic communion which will allow with time and presumed growth for more explicit recognition of that communion as a sui iuris ritual Church — Fr. Ghirlanda’s commentary to the contrary
notwithstanding. Among other things, the Constitution & Norms provide the legal means to prevent the Anglo-Catholics from being falsely identified with, let alone ‘absorbed’ into, the Latin Church. To achieve this without causing another schism, His Holiness has given a law with razor sharp distinctions.

Second, His Holiness does not yet know the Anglo-Catholics as well as he would like, any more than Anglo-Catholics, one might reasonably suppose after so long an estrangement, know him, viz., the Holy See. There will need to be therefore a period of getting to know one another. A first step is to learn exactly what the law means and implies (which does not always jibe with ‘official commentaries’ from the Curia). This gives an opportunity for the Anglo-Catholics to capitalize on the good first impression they have given already to His Holiness, provided they heed yours and the advice of others who have studied and understand the Roman mentality.

Third, hardly anyone on earth knows the Latin bishops like Pope Benedict. I enclose an excerpt touching on that sore subject from a speech given before, admittedly, he was infallible. (You will notice that he was speaking to the other traditionalists of the Western Church.) Forgive me for saying it for fear of giving the (false) impression of lacking due reverence for the sacred Hierarchy, but anyone who knows them well is not exactly standing in line since Vatican II to take lessons – least of all in in [sic] ecclesiology – from the bishops of the Latin Church, or from the Roman Curia at large (heroic exceptions proving many times the rule, to be sure). If the returning Anglo-Catholic communion were to take cues, or worse “orders”, from them, it stands to reason that the pilgrimage would — to borrow a line reminiscent of W. C. Fields — “go nowhere, fast”. But there is really no need to do so. The evidence suggest that His Holiness has written the law to give you breathing and elbow room to spare.

I would not dream of writing the above point in a document like the enclosed pamphlet, destined for indiscriminate public consumption, for what I hope should be obvious reasons.

In the meantime, I have recommended to a priest of the Pastoral Provision that a ‘white paper’ of sorts, in question & answer format, be produced in time for circulation at the “Anglican-Use Conference” scheduled for June 10-12. Among other things, it is important to circulate explanations of the law and events before those with less disinterested intentions (or on account of some other ignorance) spread confusion.

Finally, if you suppose it might come in handy as the Anglo-Catholic communion draws up its particular law(s), I could send for your eyes only a schema [… this section not yet ‘declassified’ … ed.] .

The key is to study most carefully the law: in the first place, the clergy, even if only a few, to make a right beginning: in order to be of one mind with His Holiness — who declares he is following the will of the Holy Ghost, and then also with one another, per Philippians 1:27. Doing so, as I explained to Christian (though with little persuasion), will help to avoid the seemingly insignificant small errors at the beginning of the journey which inexorably lead far from one’s intended destination.

Asking Your episcopal Blessing and wishing you every good thing this Eastertide, I have the honor to be

Sincerely Yours in The Risen Christ,

P.S. At the suggestion of [one of the bishop’s priests], I shall phone you. However, if you find it more convenient or useful to dial me in the meantime, my telephone number at home is 610/xxx-xxxx. (Since no longer staffing the office, I now only retrieve voice messages intermittently at the number appearing in the letterhead.)

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