Cardinal Wuerl says 67 Episcopal priests have submitted dossiers seeking ordination in the Catholic Church

A new ordinariate will be created on January 1 to bring Anglicans into the US Catholic Church, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington has announced at an annual meeting of the country’s bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Wuerl also said 67 Anglican priests had submitted their dossiers seeking ordination in the Catholic Church, and 35 of those had received initial approval from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

They can now move to the second stage of approval, which includes a criminal background check, psychological evaluation and recommendations from the Catholic bishop where he lives and from his Anglican ecclesiastical authority, he said.

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Cardinal Wuerl told reporters that Anglican parishes with a total of about 2,000 members have so far asked to become part of the Catholic Church through the process established in 2009 when Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. Cardinal Wuerl was named by the Vatican to head an ad hoc committee for the constitution’s implementation.

The constitution authorises the creation of an ordinariate to bring in Anglicans, or Episcopalians as they are known in the US, who seek to leave their tradition and join the Catholic Church but retain certain elements of the Anglican liturgy and traditions.

The process was established to accommodate whole congregations who choose to join the Catholic Church after they have become disaffected with the Anglican church over recent changes, such as the ordination of women, the ordination of openly gay priests and blessing of same-sex marriages and partnerships.

Cardinal Wuerl’s announcement in the final hour of the public portion of the annual meeting in Baltimore brought immediate logistical questions, such as the relationship between the ordinariate – which will cover the entire US – and the dioceses in which the former Anglican priests will live.

The physical location of its offices will be determined after the ordinariate is erected. Cardinal Wuerl said he assumed that an ordinary will be named at that time.

“I remain convinced that this ordinariate will be a true expression of the Catholic Church because of your engagement in the steps leading up to the acceptance of the candidates for ordinate and for your involvement in the catechetical formation of the members of the congregation seeking membership in the ordinariate,” he said. “Your involvement is one of the guarantees of the well-being of the ordinariate as it is established and begins to receive both clergy and congregations.”

The US ordinariate will be the second one created under Anglicanorum coetibus. The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established for England and Wales in January of this year. It is led by Mgr Keith Newton, a former Anglican bishop who is married and was ordained a Catholic priest. It includes about 1,000 individuals in 42 communities. Its priests include five former Anglican bishops.

The Catholic Church does not allow married priests – whether those in Eastern rites that allow priests to be married, or former clergy from other churches who have become Catholic – to become bishops.

Therefore, the new ordinariate may be led by a priest, who will have a role similar to a bishop, according to the background material. An ordinary who is not a bishop will not be allowed to ordain priests, however. So, Cardinal Wuerl explained, ordinations for the ordinariate may need to be done by “one of us” until the ordinariate has its own bishop.

Cardinal Wuerl did not say where the Anglican communities seeking to become Catholic are located. Two such parishes have already completed the transition, one in Fort Worth, Texas, and the other in Bladensburg, Maryland, which were accepted in ceremonies in September and October. They will become a part of the new ordinariate when it is established, though for now they come under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Archdiocese of Washington.

A Vatican-approved pastoral provision has since 1980 provided a way for individual Protestant clergymen to be ordained for US Catholic dioceses. It also allows Anglican parishes to become Catholic parishes. Three have done so and are referred to as “Anglican use” communities.

Anglicanorum coetibus applies to the entire world and allows Anglican communities to be received into the Catholic Church through new ordinariates instead of through existing dioceses.

In addition to the approvals by the Vatican, the background checks and psychological evaluations, the candidates for ordination as Catholic priests also will go through a programme of priestly formation approved by the Vatican, Cardinal Wuerl said. The programme is based at St Mary’s Seminary in Houston, either on-campus or through the university’s distance-learning programme, he said, and should take six to nine months to complete.

Congregations that wish to become a part of the ordinariate will go through a catechesis programme based on the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

A great many details remain to be decided about how the ordinariate will function, he added. Parishes in the ordinariate will have the option of using either The Book of Divine Worship, a Vatican-approved liturgical text based upon Anglican liturgies, or the Roman Missal used in other Catholic churches.

Questions raised by bishops after from the floor Cardinal Wuerl’s presentation touched on issues such as whether the newly ordained priests of the Anglican ordinariate might be available to help out in other parishes and vice versa, such as for priests on vacation; and whether parishioners of Catholic churches would be free to participate in the Anglican parishes.

The answer to both questions was yes. Priests working across ordinariate lines, so to speak, would need permission from the bishop or ordinary, as currently is required when priests work in other dioceses, Cardinal Wuerl said.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston suggested that dioceses with priests who are entering into full communion with the Church might, for example, offer to have the new priests participate in the diocesan health insurance programme until the new ordinariate is able to offer such benefits.

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