With the new note on Anglican admission into the Catholic Church, a couple of thoughts come to mind.
The "personal ordinariate," a new version of the personal prelature, admits two laudable goals, one stated, one left unstated.
The stated goal is that it permits the Anglicans entering the Church to retain the customs of prayer and spirituality that they have maintained since their break with Rome under Henry VIII. By itself, this is to be expected. Similar kinds of situations have been worked out over the course of the last two millennia with every group that has ever broken off. Even the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankar rites, having distinct histories of fission and fusion, have also their distinct rites.
The second point is touched on rather tangentially by the canonist Ed Peters when he says the Church is moving away from geographic territories and towards social groupings.
This "social grouping" will create problems down the road, of course, but it isn't noticeably different from what's happened in the United States for the last 50 years.
In medieval Europe, the king may have his private chapel, but Sunday Mass was in the cathedral, and everyone attended, from prince to pauper. That kind of Mass hasn't been seen in the United States in a long time. Today, the rich have their parish church, the poor have theirs, and never do the twain meet. Indeed, when the poor dare to enter a rich man's church, their faux pas is made clear. In much the same way, the poor look askance at anyone daft enough to drive their Beemer to the run-down urban church in the heart of the 'hood.
But, given the who the TAC are and what they represent, the second message is much more interesting.
The TAC love the traditional liturgy. They love chant, the priest leading the people towards the heaven of the altar, the communion rail. They hate guitars, clown noses and insipid liturgy.
The bishops of England have long tried to keep the TAC out of the Church, for fear that a half-million serious Catholics might upset the balance of power. The Holy Father just did an end-run around them.
But it isn't just around them. Think of all the bishops in the developed countries, bishops in the United States for instance, who don't like Summorum Pontificum, who put various illegitimate impediments in place, bishops who just don't understand that the current Novus Ordo liturgy is a thing made for children, not adults.
With the new structure, a structure that could easily be used by not only the SSPX, but many, many other groups, the Holy Father has the ability to do an end-run around recalcitrant bishops throughout the world.
From the descriptions so far, the new Anglican format seems to be essentially a quasi "religious order" that's organized not by vows or living together in stable community (e.g., cloister), but rather by traditional spiritual practice.
Could the Ecclesia Dei groups around the world ultimately be set up in a similar fashion?
If bishops continue to be recalcitrant towards the Holy Father's wishes, there's no reason they couldn't be.
This bodes exceedingly well for Extraordinary Catholics, that is, the Catholics who follow the Extraordinary Form. Indeed, it bodes well for ALL faithful Catholics.
For myopic bishops?
Not so much...
UPDATE: I've had some questions concerning John Allen's report that the Vatican note compares the "personal ordinariate" to military dioceses in structure and lack of geographic containment.
While this comparison is certainly true of the governing structure, it should be remembered that this structure is quite different from the military diocese in terms of its purpose.
The military diocese exists to minister to a highly mobile population. The spirituality of that population can be very much in conformance with that of the rest of the population it exists within, but the governing structure is set up to handle the mobility problem that military service presents.
The population of a personal ordinariate, on the other hand, might be geographically quite stable, its population very unlikely to move at all. It exists in order to protect a specific approach to spirituality common to a widely dispersed group of people, it protects that spirituality from "outside" interference or suppression.
Thus, the personal ordinariate is, indeed, expressly designed to keep its members out from under the thumb of the ordained men who would otherwise oversee those members. In this regard, the personal ordinariate is actually quite a lot closer to the status of a religious order, if only because (a) religious orders exist to protect and promote specific spiritualities and (b) the local bishop has extremely limited ability (read "none") to interfere with the spiritual life of the order.
There is, of course, one exception to the similarity between religious orders and personal ordinariates. A bishop can invite in or kick out any religious order in his diocese. A diocese does not have a religious order within its boundaries unless the bishop invites it in. It can only operate within the boundaries of the diocese until the bishop kicks it out.
That same bishop has absolutely no such control over the members of a personal ordinariate.
John Allen may (or may not) realize this, but for political reasons he may be choosing to remain publicly silent about this aspect of the personal ordinariate. Certainly the bishops recognize what Pope Benedict has done, but they also have good reasons for not drawing public attention to this aspect of the new structure. And, of course, the Vatican is diplomatically silent about this aspect as well, choosing to emphasize the form of the governing structure, while delicately describing the purpose without reference to the local bishop.
I am certain more than one of them will be very interested in seeing what other kinds of personal ordinariates get set up. This just doesn't bode well for local bishops who continue to defy the Pope.