Tuesday, 4 January 2011


I have hesitated to comment on the soon-to-be personal Ordinariate in England and Wales, and this for several reasons.

A pre-Ordinariate story, first of all. It is a number of years ago now that I spent a day in a meeting with three priests. The meeting was a rather practical one, not un-related to education. During the lunch break my priest colleagues shared some parish experiences ..... and it dawned on me that the only single person in the room was also the only lay person present! All my colleagues were former Anglican clergy who had now been ordained as Catholic priests. I tell the story because it suggests one of the aspects of Anglican patrimony that is expressed within the juridical structure of a personal Ordinariate, that is, the possibility of the ordination of married men to the priesthood. This is there as a possibility, albeit with a qualification that the Ordinary will normally observe the wider rule of celibacy in promoting candidates to the priesthood, but it is nevertheless and institutional possibility, and not just for men who were formerly Anglican clergy. See paragraph VI §2 of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and paragraph 6§1 of the Complementary norms. Along a similar line, the functions of the Governing Council, composed of at least six priests, reflects Anglican patrimony. In some respects, its functions model those of the College of Priests and College of Consultors of a diocese; but in those respects covered by Article 12 §4 of the Complementary Norms, which include a deliberative vote on the submission of a terna for the appointment of the Ordinary, its functions reflect a style that is more "synodical". I suspect that it is these aspects of Anglican patrimony that will have more effect in the Ordinariate than Liturgical questions, as my closer-to-the-Ordinariate story illustrates.

A stone's throw (well, perhaps two stones' throws) from where I am sitting typing this post, is an Anglican parish. In the early summer, well before any announcements of "defections" to the Ordinariate were made, the Bishop of Richborough, Keith Newton, visited the parish for a service of baptism and confirmation. I attended since a neighbour of mine was one of those being confirmed. Liturgically speaking, it was a typical parish Novus Ordo, though with communion recieved kneeling and a very vigorous affirmation of the doctrine of the real presence in the homily. The music was not, on the whole, that which would gain the approval of the Catholic tradosphere. All of which is to suggest that, on the whole, the Ordinariate will not bring to the Catholic Church a great liturgical regeneration. There may be exceptions, but I guess that the great choirs and music often associated with the Anglican tradition will not be part of the Anglican patrimony the will come across to the Ordinariate, at least not in its beginnings. I used the word "defections" not to be in any way derogatory, but simply to illustrate how some in the Anglican Church, without any deliberate malice, will feel about the decisions of the Bishops of Richborough, Ebbsfleet and Fulham to become Catholics. If my neighbour were given to theological reflection, she would be noticing the dates of the Catholic ordinations of Keith Newton, the Bishop who confirmed her, and asking in her mind what that makes of the validity of her own confirmation. If the Bishop who confirmed her now thinks he hadn't been even been ordained a priest when he confirmed me, what does that mean about my confirmation? Another part of the Ordinariate story is that of those who are remaining in the Church of England and, so far as I can tell, the three Bishops are being very sensitive to the feelings engendered there. Also within hailing distance of where I type are Anglican parishes served by women priests, a Forward in Faith parish and a very high Church Anglican parish where the Vicar wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury a year or two ago protesting against the latter's efforts to hold back the ordination of an openly gay priest as a bishop. All of these, too, will have their feelings about the beginning of an Ordinariate.

I am interested that three former Anglican religious were among those who were received into full communion on New Year's Day. The provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Complementary Norms allow for establishing religious orders within an Ordinariate, though it has not been made clear that this is the intended outcome for these three sisters. I was also very interested on meeting the Bishop of Richborough (as he then was) to see what an ordinary, feet-on-the-ground pastoral Bishop he was. I have the impression that his decision to become a Catholic has no grandeur about it but is, instead, the result of a period of discernment reaching back to the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus and of some careful behind-the-scences discussions. He asked for prayers at the time I met him, a request that others making the same journey of discernment have also made. It would be wrong, I think, to see the events of New Year's Day, and the coming establishing of an Ordinariate, in only political and public terms. For people like Keith Newton, it has been a very personal journey though with its very public moments; and I am reminded of the very intense discretion which Edith Stein maintained with regard to her own conversion - Secretum meum mihi.

And that I think leads me to my own reaction to the forthcoming Ordinariate, and the very rapid developments that we have seen in that respect. I think there is a great need to preserve a discretion in our reaction, since we cannot see exactly where it will lead, how it will develop, what its impact on the Church of England will be, what its impact on the Catholic Church in England and Wales will be. (To recognise what its import is for the Catholic Church, we have only to ask the question: if the ordination of married men as priests and a quasi-synodical choosing of an ordinary are possible in a personal Ordinariate, why can't they be possible in a diocese?) The worst thing I think we could do is to visit on to the Ordinariate our own wishes and  desires for it, and for the Catholic Church. We should leave that to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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