Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Fr Dwight Longenecker Mission

Last night I attended the first session of a Lenten mission at our parish held by Fr Dwight Longenecker, a very well-known Catholic writer, blogger, and speaker. He represents himself, and has been represented to us by our clergy, simply as a rare example of a married Latin rite priest. I believe that theoretically, he came in as a former Church of England priest in the US via the Pastoral Provision, but he made no mention of Anglican Use or Anglicanorum coetibus in his presentation.

He did have some remarks on the modern history of married priests in the Catholic Church. He traces this back to Pius XII, who issued what he called an exemption or exception (can someone confirm this was an indult?) to a group of married Swedish Lutheran pastors who wanted to become Catholic. He then mentioned a 1978 letter to Paul VI from US Episcopal priests who referred to the action by Pius XII as a precedent for granting an exception for certain married Protestant pastors. However, neither Paul VI nor John Paul I had the chance to take any action.

This is somewhat at variance with the account we have from Fr Barker, who puts the rise of the Pastoral Provision in the context of the 1977 Congress of St Louis and negotiations sponsored by then-Bp Bernard Law, although these negotiations seem to have stalled when most of the budding "continuers" elected to form their own jurisdictions and elect their own bishops. I'm tempted, perhaps at tonight's question session, to ask Fr Longenecker if he knows how the two initiatives may or may not have been related. (On the other hand, it might be better to lurk or maybe follow up with an e-mail to Fr Longenecker.)

In Fr Longenecker's case, he was happy enough to be a Church of England priest on the Isle of Wight until he left with a group of about 800 C of E priests in 1995 over the issue of ordaining women. A certain number of these 800 who were married did apply via local UK Catholic dioceses tor exceptions that would allow them to be ordained. Whether this was done appears to have depended on the whims of both Rome and the local bishop. (The celibate C of E priests had an easier time.)

In any case, this appears to have happened somewhat under the radar, and the conventional history leading up to Anglicanorum coetibus doesn't mention it. If Fr Longenecker is right, a substantial number of married Church of England priests were ordained Catholic prior to the erection of the UK ordinariate. And it does appear that the option for married Anglican or Lutheran priests to apply for exceptions and be ordained as Catholics outside of Anglicanorum coetibus still exists, although presumably in the US, it would preferably be done via the now-established Pastoral Provision channels. I hope a visitor familiar with the canonical specifics here can clarify the situation.

In Fr Longenecker's case, the process of application took ten years due to the vagaries of bureaucratic delays and wavering intentions by bishops in the UK. He finally met with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Charleston, SC on a visit to his family there and was eventually successful in being ordained there and placed in his Greenville, SC parish in 2006. This may have been via the Pastoral Provision procedures, but it could possibly have taken place separately, since his application had been pending in the UK since 1995.

My wife and I both remarked, after we left last night's session, that we heard no weepy references to the precious treasures of the Anglican spiritual patrimony. Fr Longenecker is matter-of-fact and even-handed in discussing Anglicanism. He explains to Catholics that Anglicanism has features that "look like" Catholicism, including bishops, kneeling at prayer, praying from a book, and "a Eucharist that looks like a Mass." A good way to put it.

But there is absolutely no sense that he wishes to be seen as either unique or separate, except insofar as he could avail himself of canonical procedures that would allow him, after great struggle, to be ordained a Catholic priest in the married state. He is simply a Catholic priest, and far more prominent than any others in the Pastoral Provision or the OCSP. The OCSP ought to be considering this as a model going forward.