Did any of us really believe that Christian unity would come about apart from Christians acknowledging the visible leader of the Church, the Vicar of Christ? I'm all in favor of ecumenism and good relationships with separated Christians as well as those who belong to other faiths, religions or no religion at all. However, let's face it, our Church is quite explicit that the Church of Christ is the one which is headed by the Vicar of Christ. All others are to a greater or lesser degree in partial communion with the Church of Christ depending on their doctrine, sacraments and spirituality.
Yesterday, Pope Benedict released the Apostolic Constitution granting Anglicans and Episcopalians who have been clamoring to enter the Catholic Church with most of their spirituality, liturgy and customs in tact, their desire. In other words, these former Anglicans/Episcopalians will have their own "rite" within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. They'll have their own "dioceses" which will be called "Ordinariates" similar to what the military already has. Their former ministers who are free of any impediments, can be ordained Catholic priests even if they are married. On a case-by-case basis, their married seminarians may be admitted to the priesthood as well--which in my opinion does seem to open the door of possibility for the Church on a case-by-case basis to having married seminarians become Catholic priests in the rest of the Latin Rite Church--just my opinion, but I must tell you the following.
When I was first ordained a priest and stationed at St. Teresa Church in Albany, Georgia(1980-1985) my pastor, the late Fr. Herbert Wellemeier was good friends with several disaffected Episcopal clergy in Albany. One of the Episcopal priests, Fr. Jim Parker, told us at a luncheon in 1981 at our rectory that he and other disaffected Episcopalian clergy were petitioning Rome to allow them to become Catholic and to be ordained priests as married men.
I have to tell you when I heard him say that, I thought he was delusional. I thought to myself, never being so bold to say it out loud, "you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of this happening!" The next thing I know, the pastoral provision was established by Pope John Paul II and Fr. Parker was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church, kept his wife and help to coordinate the national program to receive former Episcopal priests into the Church and to be ordained Catholic priests.
Then in 1991, I became pastor of The Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Augusta, Fr. Dan Munn, a former married Episcopal Church, received into the Catholic Church and ordained a Catholic priest in 1983 as a direct result of the Pastoral Provision, was the parochial vicar. I enjoyed the services of this married priest at our Church the entire time I was pastor there until 2004. Fr. Munn died in 2006, God rest his soul. In addition, another former married Episcopal priest became chaplain at the former Catholic hospital in Augusta, was of the Melkite (Greek Catholic) Rite of the Church and had bi-ritual faculties in the Latin Rite. Married Catholic priests have been a blessing in Augusta, not to detract in any way from the celibate priests who too have been a blessing in Augusta. In fact Fr. Munn was a great proponent of celibacy for priests and his married status as being the exception. He said married priests get too "domesticated" and seldom act as prophets in their parish or church. That was his opinion.
Now back to my article. Pope Benedict is allowing these former Episcopalians to not only have their own "dioceses" but their own Anglican Liturgy (Mass) with changes that will make sure the Mass is valid. In fact, I have witnessed one of these Masses and they are very beautiful, the English translation is very accurate and much nicer than the English we currently have in the normal Latin Rite--but that's changing soon too, thank God.
Only celibate priests can be bishops, but Episcopal bishops who are married, when ordained Catholic priests (not bishops) may act as heads of these newly established ordinariates. They could wear the insignia of the bishop (ring, miter, staff)as is possible for certain "high" monsignors in the Church now.
Let us welcome the Pope's ecumenical outreach and let us welcome those Anglicans and Episcopalians who have longed for some time now to be a part of us and in union with the Pope but also maintaining so much of what is good and beautiful in their Anglican/Episcopal tradition.