The future of Anglo-Catholicism

A nobleman went into a far country to receive kingly power… but his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’    Luke 19:12,14.

Fr Philip North in Synod

Fr Philip North in Synod

Fr Philip North has better reason than most  Anglo-Catholics to feel hurt and angry. The campaign against his appointment as a bishop was only concerned with one issue, that of his belief that women may not be priests.  And unlike Fr Jeffrey John and his foiled appointment, Fr North  is not going to find Parliament and the secular liberals on his side in the support of ‘justice’.

It is perhaps surprising that he advocates in a recent article in New Directions, the magazine of ‘Forward in Faith’, a re-engagement by those Anglo-Catholics who remain in the C of E  ‘to convince the Church of England of its catholic identity.’  I believe Fr North to be mistaken , both in his analysis of what has happened to the C of E over the last forty years, and in what he proposes for his fellow Catholics still in the C of E.

I disagree with his assertion that we (Anglo-Catholics) ‘allowed ourselves to become respectable and establishment’ and at the same time maintained  ‘an ethos of exclusivity, a feeling that (we) alone were in possession of the truth and displayed an archness, even a distance, to those of other persuasions.’  Rather, my memory of the 70’s and 80’s was of a Movement renewing itself and growing in confidence. It had taken on board the spirit and reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and was willing to engage with the rest of the C of E through the parishes and synods. Much of this happened outside (the diocese) of London, and I am afraid that beyond the capital we looked disdainfully at the ‘lace and biretta’ brigade and the ageing laity running the ‘Catholic Societies’. In leaving the ghetto in order to go to Diocesan Synod we believed that we could contribute ‘richly and constructively to the life of the wider church.’ Yes, we believed that we had much to give, and that the C of E had  much it needed to receive!

Were we naïve? I think we were. Most of us were really much more interested in our parishes and their people than in sitting through debates in Synod. But it was there that an agenda was being advanced to change the C of E, and in such a way that it would make it clear for everyone that the C of E was most certainly not what Anglo-Catholics had doggedly maintained i.e. a part of the whole Catholic Church, sharing a fundamental identity with the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.  Of course, we  had nearly succeeded in doing this: that was what was so worrying. For decades we had produced the theologians, the thinkers, the ordinands, as well as being willing to go to some of the roughest and toughest parishes in the land. So the liberals, although they quite liked us for not being evangelicals, grasped the new doctrine of ‘equality’ which was becoming fashionable in secular society, and applied it to the Church’s ministry. No matter what, women must be priests. Some of them really believed that, once we had them, England would turn back to its National Church. In spite of all the evidence, some still believe it will happen when there are women bishops. The evangelicals came at this from a different angle, and quickly realised that if they voted for women ‘priests’, they could actually rid the C of E of ‘priesthood’, and put a stop for ever to the Anglo-Catholic claim that our priests were the same as the Roman Catholics.  This is the real significance of the 1992 vote, and the following action of bishops in proceeding to ordain women to the priesthood. It was  the most devastating action of the Church of England since the break with Rome in the 16th century. It turned the Church of England irreversibly away from the historic Communions of East and West, and in upon itself. Conformity by the Church with the secular establishment had been asserted. The English Church had submitted, as it did to Henry VIII, to Elizabeth 1, and to Parliament under William and Mary.

A 'bitter half-life?' - surely not!

A ‘bitter half-life?’ – surely not!

I disagree again with Fr North when he describes ‘the bitter half-life we have lived since 1992.’  This was the second half of my ministry as an Anglican priest, and it had many times of sweetness and full-life! We learnt a new relationship with our (flying)  bishops, one based on respect and trust. The fraternity among priests was strong, and we taught with a new urgency and clarity.  Our congregations grew in numbers and faith. But other parts of the C of E were not happy. It was they who had voted in the system which gave us alternative bishops, but as a former Bishop of Southwark remarked to a group of us, ‘If I had realised that I was not going to be able to celebrate the Eucharist in your churches, I would never have voted for it.’  Clearly  he had voted for a gesture, to make the majority look magnanimous, but only to last for a few years while the Anglo-Catholics conformed or left. It was not our refusal to allow him to preside, so much as our renewed strength and growth which horrified him. As Geoffrey Kirk pointed out to me when we were neighbours in Lewisham, our two churches had more people worshipping in them on Sundays than the whole of the rest of the Deanery put together.  In any other field we would have been ‘models of good practise.’  But rather like the railways and the leaves, our two parishes were producing the ‘wrong sort of growth’.   I went to Synod and Chapter, I was courteous to my women colleagues, I wrote and spoke about mission and I called for reform and renewal – but I was constantly faced with the fact that, in order to participate in any way in the life of the diocese, one had to accept the ministry of women priests.  It was deliberate and coercive.

Fr North ends with a stirring cry to Anglo-Catholics to enter the fray again. I responded to such calls as a young priest in the 70’s. I picked myself up again in middle age and entered the struggle (gladly, not bitterly) in the 90’s.  And now I have gone where Anglo-Catholics have always longed to be, which is in restored communion with the worldwide Catholic Church. Pope Benedict held out an invitation, and I have yet to hear a convincing argument against accepting it. Fr North, having said, ‘We have declined it’ gives no reasons.  He is right when he says that in saying ‘no’  ‘we have re-committed ourselves to an Anglican future.’ But that Anglican future is not a Catholic future – and now never can be.  The two opinions are not ‘threatening to leave and then never quite doing so.’ The two opinions are being a member of the Catholic Church, and being a member of the established Church of England. Once I thought I could be both: now I believe you can’t. To re-write Father’s last sentence:  ‘the Church of England changed, the Anglo-Catholics left, and those who stayed are facing death.’


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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9 Responses to The future of Anglo-Catholicism

  1. Fr O says:

    ‘The evangelicals came at this from a different angle, and quickly realised that if they voted for women ‘priests’, they could actually rid the C of E of ‘priesthood’, and put a stop for ever to the Anglo-Catholic claim that our priests were the same as the Roman Catholics. This is the real significance of the 1992 vote …’

    Quite the most intriguing insight into the reasons for this fatal mis-step that I have come across … the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Thanks, Father

  2. Fr O says:

    By the way, Father, I like your post so much, I did a short one of my own based on it. Let me know what you think if you have time!

  3. Harry says:

    Like you I was surprised by Fr North’s article in New Directions in which he seemed to be determined to ignore the relentless progress of the Synod towards women Bishops, His comments about Anglo-Catholics in the past, which you highlight I found hurtful. Like you, I remember the Parishes I was in as being lively and growing without any feeling of exclusivity but instead they made attempts to engage fully with the wider community.
    My own feeling is that the Church of England’s greatest mistake was to invest so much authority in Synodical government. You rightly say that many, including you self, were more interested in “working the parish” than going to endless debates. The result of this is that the system becomes a forum for people who like that sort of thing and it takes on a life of its own and the opinions of the “activists” suddenly become “popular opinion”. Like the “Westminster Bubble” we have a “Synod Bubble”.
    For a few years I was on my local Deanery Synod, we were supposed to discuss upcoming issues to inform the Diocesan Synod of the feelings in the Parishes. Instead we spent many weary hours being told what the Synod had done in the past and I don’t think there was any real interest in our responses. I remember well one meeting when there was really nothing to discuss, not even AOB had produced its expected prolongation of the affair, so one member suggested we closed the meeting only to be told by the chairman that “it isn’t ten o’clock yet”. On one other occasion we voted against the party line and the chairman was heard to whisper loudly “they weren’t supposed to do that”. Not surprising that the system becomes populated with those who have the taste for committee life.
    The greatest concern I had was that this body was able to make decisions which alter the nature and teaching of the Church which happened in 1992. I was at an Ordinariate exploration group meeting in St Agnes Kennington where Geoffrey Kirk described his experiences in Synod at the time, I hope I don’t misquote him, but he said that, in hind sight, those opposing the ordination of women had used the wrong tactics, they had patiently laid out the theological objections to the measure, but the supporters simply weren’t interested.
    Nothing has changed since then and that is why I’m so surprised at Fr North’s rallying call to Anglo-Catholics who still remain in the CofE. In a way I admire his optimism, but things won’t change now.
    A further consideration which hasn’t yet been addressed is what will be the position of a Catholic Parish that finds itself with a woman Diocesan Bishop? Is it really likely that the Bishop will tolerate a Parish that doesn’t recognize her as a Bishop and can you really consider yourself a Catholic if you can only recognize some of the Bishops of your communion as properly consecrated, while the others are some sort of area supervisor or manager? What a strange position to be in.
    I really do appreciate the desire of people to remain as long as possible in the Church in which many of them have spent all of their lives and have invested so much love, time and money. I’t won’t be easy as we know. I was really touched by the warm welcome I received from my local Catholic parish when I first went there but I do have regrets that I wasn’t able to remain in the CofE. As a friend said to me “we haven’t changed, they’ve changed our Church”.

  4. Pingback: Answer to Fr. Philip North from Ordinariate Pilgrim | Ordinariate Expats

  5. I love Christian unity, but perhaps the Unity is more in the Scripture, the Holy Ghost and the Atoning Blood than in the details of how we live and move and have our being in the Lord. I think there is still a place for Anglo-Catholicism outside the Ordinariate, although if that’s where you discern the Lord is leading, then press on. However, I think there is a more viable option for us…in real Three Streams Anglo-Catholic practice…firm Catholic roots and liturgy–what has always and everywhere been taught, hard core personal holiness and evangelism in both Word and deed, and a daily Pentecost that brings a fiery and supernatural Holy Ghost to everyone.

    All that being said, I think the bottom line is that there is still Anglo-Catholic life outside what my dear brother has opined here. It’s more than just polity…it’s the Lord Himself, remembering what the term “catholic” means–“down through, or according to, the WHOLE.” All those in Christ.

    We’re all One in Him, thanks be to God.

    • With the greatest respect to the person posting this, this view is not an Anglo-Catholic view, but a Neo-Anglican one that has more in line with the new ACNA than the traditional Anglo-Catholicism of the old CofE or Episcopal Church (prior to Mrs Schori).

      It is simply a repackaging of the old Branch Theory that even Anglo-Catholics in the CofE haven’t believed in since 1992 (which is why Fr North’s statements are bizarre and a re-writing of history). But the repackaging (“Three Streams” business) is foreign to those of us who were formed by actual Anglo-Catholicism.

      Here’s more:

      The Rev’d Harper says we are all One in Him, but we are only One in Him due to the Catholic Church’s Sacrament of Baptism that goes outside (thankfully) her own boundaries. Michael Ramsey wrote on this in his “Gospel and the Catholic Church.” We are united incompletely; the Ordinariate unites Anglo-Catholics corporately completely.

      So unless anyone in San Antonio wants to become a diocesan Roman Rite Catholic or a Catholic of another Rite, there are two Catholic (Anglican Use) options: Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio or St. Gilbert Ordinariate mission in Boerne.

      That is, unless Fr. Harper wishes to lead his congregation into the Ordinariate too! There’s always the more corporate way!

  6. Understand, brother. Just don’t agree. But see your point, absolutely.

  7. Fr. Thierry says:

    Fr. North,

    Thank you for what you are doing to promote true Anglo-Catholicism. You have my full support and the one of the Church of St Athanasius (Virginia, USA) where I am currently Priest.
    I agree with you. Women cannot be priests for many reasons.

    We continue the discussion to make our fellow Anglicans come to the understanding of what you and I know.

    Peace to you Father.

    Fr. Thierry

  8. Having read my brother’s post above, I gotta say that, having read Holy Writ well on the topic, I don’t see the Sacrament of Holy Baptism constrained by geography or polity.

    The pre-eminence of the See of Rome ultimately points to the political domination of the Roman Empire during the formative years of the Church…there is nothing in Scripture that points to them as a center of the Faith. I have no objection to my brothers and sisters that feel led of the Holy Ghost to find their leadership there, but I see nothing in God’s Word that points to the RCC as having the approved Solution for unity. Christ spoke of unity in Gethsemane, when He prayed His followers be one and He and the Father were (are) One. That clearly points to a unity in the Spirit, not polity.

    In short, we are united in the Kingdom. And there were many bishops outside Rome. And many Christians with them. Scripture denotes them: “These signs follow them that believe.” This doesn’t talk about road signs, beloved…this points to the operation of the Holy Ghost in Christians, who Christ said were those that repented and were baptized. So…Holy Baptism, whether we like it or not, is the inward and spiritual Grace given us by our Father in Heaven.

    I, for one, think the most faithful expression of this is inside the Church Catholic, which, I will note–with great respect to all concerned– carries no geographical or ethnic label. I think the ancient Apostolic Succession, what has always and everywhere been taught, God’s eternal Word–all underscore the value of the Seven Sacraments in our Catholic practice.

    Like it or not, there remain catholics outside God’s (and our) family in Rome. The old saying, “you can’t choose your family” certainly applies here. It’s the Spirit, Word and Sacraments that bind us together, not polity. To suggest otherwise, my dear brothers, implies more Pax Romana than unity according to the Word of the Lord.

    We are fam, guys.

    And nothing but love for you guys here.

    Now…let’s go tear Satan’s kingdom down as we work our respective sides of God’s ministry street.

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