The Ordinariate: Pope Benedict’s vision of unity

In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately.  The Apostolic See has responded favourably to such petitions.  Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches, could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization.

Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus

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The formation of the Ordinariates was not on the media lists of Pope Benedict’s achievements: and, with certain exceptions, the Catholic press is still cautious.  We should expect that, for these are early days.  Questions are still being asked about the Ordinariate, its purpose, its effect upon the whole Catholic Church, and its place within the wider work of Christian unity.

Why do disaffected Anglicans not just become Catholics like they used to?

The creation of the Ordinariates is a remarkable gesture of recognition of the heritage and history of the Anglican Communion.  In the past Anglicans becoming Catholics have left behind – some regretfully, some gleefully – all that being Anglican had meant to them.  Today, to mention the Ordinariate or to wear its badge among Catholics is to identify one’s past Christian history and something one has brought into the fullness of Communion with the wider Church.  It is also a constant and continuing reminder to the Anglican Communion that it truly belongs in Communion with the Bishop of Rome.  Some of us ‘disaffected’ former Anglicans might also respectfully suggest that many of its present difficulties might never have happened if it had pursued the path of unity with the Catholic Church which was its goal forty years ago: a goal to which the ARCIC process still commits it.

Can you identify the Anglican patrimony?

I’m not sure that I can at the moment, at least only with broad brush strokes, and then not with any certainty.  If you’d asked Anglicans the question fifty years ago I think they would have been clearer.  It is, I believe, the resurgence of the Evangelicals, and the rapid adoption of the modern secular agenda by Anglican liberals both here and in the USA, which have together destroyed the old consensus, and divided the Anglican Communion into two deeply opposed camps: they are not really in the same church. (I say two camps because the Anglo-Catholics have been so marginalised that they have either compromised and become liberals, or are silenced or ridiculed at all levels of debate in Anglicanism.)  In these early days there has been talk about a Patrimony of Anglican forms of liturgy, and the Customary is introducing the spiritual writings of great post-Reformation Anglicans. My guess is that something more will become apparent as the Ordinariate parishes are set up, and as Ordinariate priests serve, as they inevitably will, within the wider diocesan structures of the Catholic Church.

Isn’t the Ordinariate an affront to the Church of England, our ecumenical partner?

I’ve no doubt that Archbishop Rowan Williams was hurt and upset by the announcement of the Ordinariate.  But for Anglicans who had previously ignored – and were to continue doing so – the advice and careful planning of their Archbishop in his attempts to maintain the unity of the Anglican Communion – such an objection is  disgraceful!  Certainly it has suited some to portray the Ordinariate as ‘poaching’: they are mistaken, I believe.  The appeal is to re-union, to the healing of the disastrous schisms of the 16th century.  It is an appeal to all  Anglicans: this point was made in a story I heard from one of my Anglo-Catholic colleagues.  Days after the announcement he went to an (Anglican) clergy Chapter.  After coffee, the whole room turned to him: ‘Tell us you think about this Ordinariate’, said the Area Dean.  My friend replied: ‘You all know what I think: what is much more interesting is what you think of the Pope’s appeal to you as Anglicans.’  There was a shocked silence, for they had not understood until that moment that the Ordinariate structure was a deeply significant appeal for unity with the Anglican Communion.

The ARCIC process is probably dying. It has always presupposed that the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion would talk to each other in the same way: that the Agreements on the Eucharist, on Authority, on Ministry, meant the same to both partners. But they do not: while the Catholic Church can say for sure, ‘Such a theological agreement is in line with Catholic teaching’, Anglicans are every day further from being able to say this.  At most, the ARCIC agreements reflect what some Anglicans believe; but others hold the absolute opposite and will not hesitate to say so to a secular media delighted at the ‘grave splits among Anglicans’ which are thereby revealed. Creative diversity, so cherished by Anglicans, has become arrogant personal opinion.

The Ordinariates are just a way of bolstering up conservative Catholicism.

I honestly do not believe that those Catholics who get to know their recent ‘converts’ will give credence to this objection, and this may well disappoint ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ Catholics. What most Ordinariate Catholics want is just to be Catholics, and to leave behind that continual bickering and defensiveness which we knew as Anglicans.  If we appear a bit ‘traditional’ in our liturgy, then that is only because we have been used to singing a huge range of music, and have had very beautiful church buildings (which we have left behind) and of course, much smaller congregations with the time and the energy to celebrate the liturgy with care.  If we are nervous about the title ‘liberal’ it is because as Anglicans our ‘liberals’ had long since ceased to believe in the objective reality of God, the supernatural, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and moral rule beyond personal choice.  Get to know us and you will find us well attuned to the struggles of those who are divorced, of gay men and women, disadvantaged youngsters and women seeking to stand truly equal with men in the modern world – in fact all the opportunities, problems and changes which God calls his people to face in today’s society.  You will find those who love plainsong and polyphonic masses, and those who raise their arms  singing charismatic choruses: a rather mixed bunch I’m afraid.

But there aren’t very many of you.

I know it has been a cause of sadness for both former Anglican priests and for those lay people who came with them, that many within their former congregations have stayed where they were.  The brave words heard at Assemblies and Synods are forgotten: the liberal tsunami has swept over those lines drawn in the sand.  The existence of the Ordinariate is, then, the more important.  It reminds us (when some would prefer us to forget) that in the 1990’s some 400 priests and an unknown number of laity were received into the Catholic Church in this land, and have given inestimable service.  It is a historical reminder of that great crisis forced upon the Church of England by its establishment in the 17th century, albeit upon a different issue, and in a different context.  The flower of the English episcopate (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) and its clergy were forced into the Non-Juring Schism, and separated from the Church of England.  This too is part of our Patrimony, of the struggle of conscience and the longing for unity.

Finally, the creation of the Ordinariate structures is a visible reminder both of the continuing crisis – and a continuing opportunity.  The Bishop of Rome – whoever he be – continues his appeal, which is the appeal of Christ Jesus himself, that the whole Church might be One.  Pope Benedict has thrown the door wide open and surely it must remain ever so.

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About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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