Well Anglicanorum Coetibus is out... Those who say it adds nothing terribly new have got the point but also missed it. It adds nothing too new because it is about welcoming not just those in the Church of England but also those who internationally have their source in the Anglican Communion.
Where this is not new - and yet extraordinarily is novel in the experience of inter-denominational dialogue - is shown strangely enough elsewhere. This Response to the request of these groups to become part of the Catholic Church is in marked continuity and development with what the Second Vatican Council declared about Christians outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church - despite the uncomprehending negativity of The Tablet (a very Bitter Pill) this week. This is what the decree on Ecumenism of that Council says:
"Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ."
Therefore anything which is of the grace of Christ, developed perhaps in different ways from the manner in which the Catholic Church in its manifold rites and expressions (not just in terms of the Roman Rite) has grown and articulated the Faith, belongs to Catholic Unity and should be respected, accepted and nurtured. Hence the words of the same Council's Constitution on the Church: "This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity."
In this Constitutuion the Pope has said, "All right. We have ecumenism, which is in itself a grace of Christ. But there are large bodies of Anglicans - for example, TAC - who want to return to full Catholic Unity. Rather than "swallow them whole" and bid them never again to hark back to any Anglican heritage, why don't we respect the way that the Holy Spirit, through the baptism of our fellow Christians, has nourished and developed their faith and allow them to enrich US with their own traditions and experience?" Such an approach should inspire ecumenism, not negate it. For it says that the Catholic Church does not want to invade, swamp and negate these real grace-filled traditions, but accept them and work with them and allow them to flourish. Thus, for example, the fact that this is clearly not a " one-generation arrangement by definition", as one commentator has suggested, and that married men may even be proposed for priesthood, within certain limits, is in itself a novel and massively generous proposition, given the Church's right insistence on the norm of celibacy for centuries.
This then is not an obstacle to ecumenism but an exciting experiment which opens new vistas and takes seriously the Catholic Church's willingness to accept different forms of Christianity within her. It will have an impact. Perhaps this impact will not be very strong in England, where there is a studied and at times ferocious bias against Catholicism and the Papacy reflected and promoted in almost suffocating publication by the media there. It will be felt by TAC - and by us. For the rest of the Anglican Communion, in particular the Church of England, this is a slow fuse... It will take time. But the fuse will burn. I love the many forms of Anglicanism I have experienced in ecumenical work over the years. However, sadly, Anglicanism is beginning to experience even more deeply the practical reality of Truth: not all differences can be accomodated and some of these differences have the nature of contradiction and division. Christ wants us to be one, yes with difference, but not with all differences. There are differences of truth and falshood, right and wrong, which have the power to tear communities apart and to bring a deep unsettling sadness to the hearts of believers.
Lastly, for now, I am glad we can get rid of the old approach of reception of converts to the Church which said that they must leave behind everything of their previous Christian tradition as if it had no value. Do we really want to discard their wonderful liturgy, psalmody, theological insights, insights of pastoral practice, their familiarity with the scriptures, their deep sense of the way in which Christinity can be incarnated in a local area or culture? No, it all has value. It will benefit the whole Catholic Church. Christ has been at work there. And this, in a very subtle way, is exactly what Pope Benedict has recognised and enacted with this marvellous intitiative.