Three months after Benedict XVI issued an apostolic constitution (November 2009) which makes provision for Anglicans seeking corporate union with the Catholic Church, the members of an organisation of Australian Anglo-Catholics, Forward in Faith Australia (FIFA), voted unanimously to seek full communion with the Holy See.
The national chairman of FIFA, Bishop David Robarts, said that his organisation received 'with great gratitude the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus of Pope Benedict XVI and directs the National Council to foster by every means the establishing of an Ordinariate in Australia'.
He also 'warmly welcomed' the appointment of Bishop Peter Elliott 'as delegate of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference in the project to establish a Personal Ordinariate in this country [and] notes the formation of a working group with Bishop Elliott comprising members of Forward in Faith Australia, the Traditional Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Church of Australia, to set in train the processes necessary for establishing an Australian Ordinariate.'
The Ordinariate, a form of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, will enable Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining parts of their spiritual heritage.
Bishop Robarts said members of FIFA had felt excluded by the Anglican Church in Australia, which had not provided them with a bishop to represent their views on homosexuality and women bishops.
'In Australia we have tried for [several years] to get some form of episcopal oversight but we have failed. We're not really wanted any more, our conscience is not being respected.'
Bishop Robarts said it had become clear Anglicans who did not believe in same-sex partnerships or the consecration of women as bishops had no place in the 'broader Anglican spectrum.'
'We're not shifting the furniture, we're simply saying that we have been faithful Anglicans upholding what Anglicans have always believed. We're not wanting to change anything, but we have been marginalised by people who want to introduce innovations.
'We need to have bishops that believe what we believe,' he added, saying that 'crossing the Tiber' would allow the group to retain their Anglican culture without sacrificing their beliefs.
The vote to investigate the establishment of an Ordinariate was held on 20 February at a Special General Meeting of FIFA at All Saints Church, Kooyong, in Melbourne.
The FIFA meeting also established a working group called Friends of the Australian Ordinariate, inviting FIFA members and other interested persons to provide their names and addresses to the group.
Bishop Robarts said his group was the first Forward In Faith branch - there are also members in England and the United States - to embrace Pope Benedict's offer so strongly. Other Anglo-Catholics are waiting to see if the Anglican Church will allow them significant concessions on the introduction of women bishops, such as a male-only diocese.
The Traditional Anglican Communion, which has already broken away from the Anglican Communion, is another group to have declared that its members will become Catholic under the Apostolic Constitution.
Forward in Faith (England)
At the same time, in England, the Anglican bishop of Ebbsfleet and the Forward in Faith group called on Anglicans to mark the feast of the Chair of St Peter on 17 February with prayer - preferably together with Catholics - to discern the path to follow after Benedict XVI had opened the way for them to enter communion with Rome.
'[T]his is not a day of decision,' Bishop Andrew Burnham, England's Forward in Faith leader, wrote in the prayer materials provided by his organisation. 'The apostolic constitution is not a crisis point but the opening up, permanently, of a new way into unity with the See of Peter. Decisions about how and whether this should happen for each of us will take place in different ways, and at different times.'
The day of prayer, Bishop Burnham proposed, 'is an opportunity to reflect, pray, and discern the way forward for each of us, our priests and our parishes.'
In the material provided for the prayer day, the Bishop's February 2010 pastoral letter on unity was included. In it he reflects on the meaning of the term Anglo-Catholic.
He noted that the early 19th century initial use of the term in English focused on 'continuity of the Church of England with the Church of apostolic times.'
The Bishop then considered the increasing momentum towards unity in Christ, particularly among Anglo- Catholics, Orthodox and Catholics. The Pope's Apostolic Letter was another step along this path, he suggested.
'Though it is addressed to Anglicans in general, the particular focus of Anglicanorum Coetibus is, of course, Anglo- Catholics. We are the ones who have longed for the reunion of the Catholic Church. We are the ones who, with candles, and devotions, and incense, and music, and prayers, and vestments, have got as close as we can to Roman Catholic practice ...
'More important, we are the ones who in matters of faith and morals - what we believe about the Gospel, the creeds, the ministry, and the sacraments - and how we live, have always claimed to be 'Catholic.'
'Do we mean it? And, if we do, what do we do about it? Individually and in groups. That's what we are saying our prayers about.'