As many as 100 US Anglican priests and 2,000 lay people could be the first members of a US Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans who want to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington has said.
Cardinal Wuerl was appointed by the Vatican last September to guide the incorporation of Anglican groups into the Catholic Church in the United States under Anglicanorum coetibus, an apostolic constitution issued by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2009.
At a news conference, Cardinal Wuerl said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Vatican were to establish the US ordinariate by the end of the year. “I think it will be sooner rather than later,” he said. He was speaking after he had addressed the US bishops on the subject.
Two Anglican congregations in Maryland, on the country’s east coast – St Luke’s in Bladensburg, near Washington DC, and Mount Calvary in Baltimore – have announced their intention to join the new ordinariate once it is established.
Addressing the bishops at the close of the first day of their spring general assembly near Seattle, the cardinal said St Mary’s seminary in Houston has developed and the Vatican has approved an intensive nine-month programme of priestly formation for Anglican clergy who wish to become Catholic priests.
Fr Jeffrey Steenson, the former Episcopal bishop of the Rio Grande who became a Catholic in 2007 and now teaches at St Mary’s Seminary, was instrumental in developing the programme, which focuses on “the areas of historic theological divergence” between the Catholic and Anglican churches, Cardinal Wuerl said.
The only ordinariate created thus far under Anglicanorum coetibus is Britain’s Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which includes 60 former Anglican clergy and about 1,000 lay people.
Ordinariates are also under consideration in Australia and Canada.
Cardinal Wuerl said he had received “a significant number of letters, emails and calls” from interested Anglicans after his appointment last September.
The cardinal leads a task force that also includes Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, and Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, Texas. Fr Scott Hurd, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who had been an Episcopal priest, serves as liaison to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus.
Cardinal Wuerl said the task force reported earlier this year to both the Vatican and the US bishops that the establishment of a US ordinariate “would in fact be workable”.
The current task involves preparation of dossiers to be sent to the Vatican on each of the Anglican priests who is seeking admission to the priestly formation process, he said.
“This information will include the results of criminal background checks, a psychological evaluation, a letter of resignation from their Anglican entity” and letters from Cardinal Wuerl or the head of the ordinariate once it is established, the Catholic bishop in the diocese in which the candidate resides and, if possible, his former Anglican authority, the cardinal said.
Once that information has been submitted to the Vatican, the candidate “will cease celebrating the Anglican Eucharist” and begin leading his congregation in the catechetical preparation for them to become Catholics, he said.
Cardinal Wuerl suggested that the US bishops could assist in the process by providing worship space to small communities in their dioceses that are seeking to become Catholic; assigning a priest to serve as liaison to such groups; making available the resources of diocesan marriage tribunals to assist Anglicans, clergy and lay, whose marriages need to be regularised; and offering the services of a local director of religious education or other educator to assist in the catechetical preparation of those seeking to become Catholics.
The questions directed at Cardinal Wuerl by his fellow bishops indicated a certain level of anxiety about how the ordinariate will operate in relation to their dioceses and how they might respond to members of other denominations who are attracted to the ordinariate idea.
Although the ordinariates are designed to be fully Catholic while retaining elements of the Anglican heritage, Cardinal Wuerl acknowledged that it is not entirely clear what those elements are and how they will be maintained.
The cardinal also stressed that the reception of formerly Anglican congregations into the Catholic Church through the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus is distinct from the Pastoral Provision established by John Paul II through which married Anglican clergy could join the Catholic Church as individuals.