Monday, 25 April 2011

Archbishop Sentamu comments on the Ordinariate

During an appearance on Radio 2's Good Morning Sunday programme on Easter Sunday, Archbishop Sentamu, the Anglican Archbishop of York was asked about his response to the numbers leaving the Church of England to join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He was asked if this was a cause for concern. For the next six days, the programme can be heard again on the BBC's i-player: The relevant section of the programme occurs shortly after the 1:46:00 point.

At one level, Archbishop Sentamu's comment is welcome in that it did not display antagonism towards those who are leaving the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, it displayed a generous appreciation of the contribution made to the Church of England by those who are now joining the Roman Catholic Church.

At a deeper level, though, his response becomes more problematical. There were two or three different strands in his reponse, each of which raises its own problem. Fundamentally, though, I felt that it indicated a real indifference as to whether or not one belonged to one Christian denomination or another. That indifferentism is problematical to those leaving the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church - for them it really does matter to be in communion with the Holy See and so denomination does matter - and problematical for ecumenical dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church - indifference to denominational affiliation is an inadequate basis for any realistic dialogue.

One strand is reflected in Archbishop Sentamu's suggestion that those leaving the Church of England could be compared to children who have grown up and are now leaving their family, and finding a better home elsewhere. Another strand is also reflected in his observation that if those leaving were to know Jesus more and know him as their Lord and Saviour in the Roman Catholic Church then it didn't really matter: "good luck to them, and God bless them". This strand indicates a lack of any real ecclesial sense, which feeds the indifference to denominational affiliation.

Archbishop Sentamu also referred to people leaving the Catholic Church to join the Church of England, and to seek ordination in the Church of England, something that the Church of England does not publicise. "I have baptised and confirmed people coming the other way who were never baptised in their own churches. And occasionally you get people wanting to join the ordained ministry of the Church of England". The question this raises from the Catholic point of view is whether there really is an equivalence of moving "one way" to moving "the other way". For Archbishop Sentamu, it is easy to see an equivalence in the two directions of movement. But will Roman Catholics see an equivalence? There is not a symmetry of understanding. There seems to me a real difference between non-practicing Catholics joining the Church of England and very much practicing Anglicans joining the Roman Catholic Church.

At the end of his interview, Archbishop Sentamu observes in effect that the Church of England is still part of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church". I am not sure how comfortably this fits with his evangelical notion of closeness to Jesus Christ and indifference to denominational affiliation expressed earlier in the interview.

But the saddest points arising from my reflection on this interview are that (1) it suggests there is no real possibility of a genuine ecumenical dialogue between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church and (2) there is a real sense that the highest authorities in the Church of England do not feel that they have anything to pause and reflect upon in terms of ecclesiastical polity as a result of the establishing of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

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