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Ecumenical witness in the life of Camaldoli

This is not all that has been going on, and not all we were celebrating, however, for this Benedictine offshoot congregation on the Caelian hill. Several weeks ago, they elected a new prior: Dom Peter John Hughes. Dom Peter has been an Anglican priest for a number of years, and a Camaldolese monk for fifteen. How fitting, that on the eve of their millennial anniversary, the community living in the house that was that of the pope who sent the Apostle of England would choose as their Roman prior a priest of the Communion born from the Church of England?

After fifteen years of ecumenical witness as an Anglican priest active in a Catholic order, the election presented a crossroads. Clearly, the prior must be in full communion with the Catholic Church – and there is no personal Ordinariate established in Italy. Therefore, Dom Peter was brought into full communion and welcomed into the Catholic presbyterate at a quiet liturgy presided by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, “Italy’s most famous theologian”. Forte has been rumored as a possible successor to Cardinal Levada in the CDF, and was one of the first appointees to the Council on the New Evangelization.

Below is a selection of his homily:

My dear Peter! In order to become a monk in the community at Camaldoli, you were required first to become a member of the Catholic Church. While you understood and accepted this, you felt it paradoxical that, in order to embrace monasticism as a sign of an ecclesial mystery larger than that of each single tradition and of the unity which lies beyond all divisions, a decision was required which seemed to point in the opposite direction. Despite the consequences of disunion, we can nevertheless recognise and celebrate gifts of grace and continuity. Where there was discontinuity because of the non-recognition of your Anglican Orders, the continuity was maintained in your decision to live the monastic life, in the light of the understanding of Camaldoli, as an ecumenical witness, with its goal of full visible unity in faith and sacraments. When you were recently appointed to lead the Camaldoli monastic community in Rome, you were also invited to consider receiving Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.

After much thought and prayer, you have come to see this as a response to a call, an invitation to exercise to the full the service of leadership now asked of you, and an opportunity to offer a fuller witness within the Catholic Church. By giving such a response, you do not deny your origins or identity or the value of your long and fruitful ministry in the Anglican communion, and you do not intend to break this communion. On the contrary, your ordination to-day opens the way for you to continue your service to the unity for which Jesus prayed, liberating it for a fuller realisation within the Catholic Church that has received you as a member and has called you to exercise this ministry. Our sincere wish is that this act today might also be celebrated as expression of this deeper Christian fellowship we already share in Christ, and linked as it is with the monastic witness, may be welcomed as a positive and constructive contribution to the ecumenical journey.

By all accounts of those present, every effort was made to recognize the value of Peter’s entire ministry and his dedication to the community, and there was not a drop of Roman triumphalism, much to the credit of Archbishop Forte and the curial offices involved. One can be received into Catholic orders in a way that does not invalidate the ongoing participation in the priesthood of Christ, that someone such as Dom Peter so clearly exemplifies. We must continue to pray for the day when such steps are no longer necessary.

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