The recent statement by the Vatican, offering "personal ordinariates for Anglicans entering the [Roman] Catholic church" has clearly been exercising minds since the news broke the other day. On the one hand, it appears that the Archbishop of Canterbury had relatively little notice of this development, and neither did the traditionalist catholic tradition grouping within the Church of England. Its timing was certainly interesting - just before the Forward in Faith national assembly. It also coincides with the news that at the committee stage, additional safeguards for traditionalists appear to have been introduced which could be seen as going against the General Synod vote on women bishops. Though not enough to satisfy FiF, they will doubtless cause concern for those who favoured a simple process.
Going back to the Pope's initiative, it was interesting to see what was new in it. Since the C of E voted to ordain women priests back in 1992, married Anglican priests have moved over to the Roman Catholic Church. They cannot become bishops, and they have to be ordained again, as Anglican clergy are lay people in the official view of the Roman Catholic Church. This new initiative doesn't concede anything on that issue, but does say that clergy will be able to retain some Anglican identity
According to Cardinal Levada: "It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith"
It would seem, for example, that some Anglican liturgy may be permitted within these ordinariates. Presumably 1662 holy communion would be out of the question, but evensong may be permitted. We must wait for the detail on that. Ironically, many of the clergy to whom this offer may seem attractive tend to use the Roman Missal instead of the authorised Church of England communion services anyway!
Personally, I think it may be good for some clergy. I've come across a number of clergy who would be more truly themselves in a Roman Catholic context that could provide some acknowledgement of their spiritual and personal journey and heritage. The Church of England has Provincial Episcopal Visitors or 'flying bishops' (Ebbsfleet & Beverley) who, along with some suffragan bishops, look after the traditionalist clergy and parishes who do not accept women priests. They have have welcomed this move, and see it as a response to their appeal to the Pope. My only reservation is that it was a surprise initiative, rather than something which emerged in the context of dialogue. As such, it feels more like a takeover bid for part of the C of E, than an offer of help to people.
On the other side of the issue, it will be interesting to see how Roman Catholic people view this development in England. Many of those I know are much more 'liberal' on issues relating to women, sexuality, etc and are hoping for the Catholic church to move on these questions in due course. They may not welcome an influx of people who are more conservative, and will doubtless be much more loyal to the Papal line on many issues than some who were 'born and bred' Catholic. Maybe that was part of the Pope's thinking!
Whatever the truth of the matter, we're living in interesting times.