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From Guiding Lines to Institutional Reality

Reporting from Rome a few days after white smoke issued forth from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the always astute John L. Allen Jr. wrote: “The election of Joseph Ratzinger April 19 was a vote for continuity with the papacy of John Paul II, but also a choice for a man who will translate the guiding lines of the Wojtyla pontificate into institutional reality.” Allen, Vatican correspondent for the otherwise ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter, went on to say, “Pope Benedict XVI is a man with a keen vision of the realities facing the Catholic church, especially in the West, along with the courage to proclaim remedies that fly in the face of much conventional wisdom and political correctness.”

In the six years that have elapsed, two major Bene­dictine milestones have confirmed Allen’s observations: Sum­morum Pontificum, Benedict’s 2007 motu pro­prio freeing the Tridentine Latin Mass, and Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Pope’s 2009 apostolic constitution establishing Anglican ordinariates. While Pope Benedict deserves a vast amount of credit for having the courage to cut against the grain, and for showing the innovativeness necessary to pull off these feats, it must be acknowledged that they were preceded and made possible by initiatives originally fostered by John Paul II.

In the case of both the Latin Mass and the ordi­nariates, Benedict was responding to a growing need in the Church; in both cases, his response was to revolutionize a policy put in place by his predecessor.

The Latin Mass:

In 1984 John Paul authorized Quattuor Abhinc An­nos, a circular letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to the presidents of the world’s episcopal conferences, establishing the Latin Mass “indult.” It called for the celebration of the Traditional Mass “for the benefit of those groups that request it; in churches and oratories indicated by the bishop (not, however, in parish churches, unless the bishop permits it in extraordinary cases); and on the days and under the conditions fixed by the bishop either habitually or in individual cases.” Four years later, in Eccle­sia Dei Adflicta, his motu proprio explaining the excommunication of the rogue traditionalist Archbishop Mar­cel Lefebvre, John Paul called for a “wide and generous application of the directives” found in Quattuor Abhinc Annos. We all know the story: celebrations of the indult Latin Mass remained few and far between for the next two decades.

That changed in 2007 when Benedict in essence wrested control of the Latin Mass from the steel grip of the bishops and bestowed it upon priests and the people. The Pope wrote at the time that “the need has arisen for a clearer juridical regulation.” Now, according to Summorum Pontificum, wherever a “stable group of faithful” requests it, a pastor is urged to “willingly accept their requests to celebrate the [Latin] Mass.” Should this group of faithful receive no satisfaction from their pastor, they are encouraged to inform the diocesan bishop, who is “strongly requested to satisfy their wishes.” Should the bishop fail to do so, the faithful can now bring their cases before the Pontifical Commission Eccle­sia Dei, which has worldwide jurisdiction over matters related to the Latin Mass.

R. Michael Dunnigan, general counsel with the canon law group St. Joseph Foundation and chairman of the Latin Mass group Una Voce America, explained the changes thus: “John Paul’s administration nearly always deferred to the decision of the local bishop, no matter how arbitrary or ungenerous…. Benedict’s bold solution was to change the locus of decision-making” (Catholic World Report, Apr. 2010). Whereas John Paul opened the door a crack, allowing limited use of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, Pope Benedict’s motu proprio kicked the door down so that now, in theory at least, the Latin Mass can be celebrated without restriction.

Anglican Converts:

In 1980, in response to increasing inquiries from Anglicans seeking to return to full communion with the Church, John Paul II established the Office of the Pastoral Provision, the responsibilities of which include overseeing the creation of Anglican Use parishes in the U.S. (The Pastoral Provision also allowed married Anglican clergymen to be ordained Catholic priests.) These “personal parishes,” which would be fully Catholic while preserving the liturgical heritage of Anglican patrimony, would be established by local bishops in response to the requests of Anglicans wishing to convert.

The Pastoral Provision was greeted with enthusiasm among Anglo-Catholics and Anglican converts, but its impact was strictly small-scale. Over the following thirty years, only seven personal parishes came into being and seventy former Anglican clergymen were ordained as priests. “The fact is,” writes Dunnigan, “as with the traditional Latin Mass, some bishops simply have not been willing to consider establishing Anglican Use parishes in their dioceses.”

Curiously, no Pastoral Provision office was ever created in England, the historical home of the Anglican Communion. According to Dunnigan, British bishops rejected the requests of Anglicans for the establishment of Anglican Use parishes there. It is no wonder that an exasperated John Paul characterized the British bishops as “unapos­tolic.”

Benedict changed the nature of the game in 2009 when he announced the creation of new canonical structures that would allow large groups of Anglicans to convert to the Church en masse. These new structures, called ordinariates, have begun to be established in various places worldwide (for a look at the first, in England, see our New Oxford Note “The Extraordinary Ordinariate,” Jan.-Feb.). Again, Benedict engaged in creative thinking in order to bypass obstructionist episcopal forces in the Church. Anglican groups that wish to convert are no longer beholden to the whims of the local bishop. Rather, the authority to establish local ordinariates belongs to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Contrast & Continuity:

The similarities shared by the new policies and procedures Benedict has established for the Latin Mass and Anglican converts can be seen when considered in contrast to the ones they replaced. With Summorum Pontificum, writes Dunnigan, “the system of appeals to bishops and to the Holy See was largely replaced by vesting decisions at levels much closer to the people than in the past.” Likewise, with Anglicanor­um Coetibus, “the faithful may be included in a personal ordinariate by making a request in writing. The leadership of each ordinariate is expected to cooperate and collaborate with local bishops, but the ordinariate itself will not be subject to local bishops.”

Despite the significant departures between their approaches to these two matters, there is continuity in the two Popes’ over­arching visions. Both sought to respond with pastoral care to the needs of faithful traditional Catholics and would-be Anglican converts, according to historical circumstances. John Paul’s tentative first measures, however, were hamstrung by the episcopal collegiality he so prized. Benedict, on the other hand, has introduced revolutionary remedies in response to the lack of episcopal cooperation that bogged down John Paul’s reforms — remedies that indeed do “fly in the face of much conventional wisdom and political correctness.” Benedict has seen fit to fly over the heads of local bishops and episcopal conferences, where necessary, to advance his and his predecessor’s shared vision of a renewed, inclusive Church. In these two cases, for these two particular groups of the faithful, Pope Benedict has, as Allen predicted he would, “translated the guiding lines of the Wojtyla pontificate into institutional reality.”

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