“I am grateful, too, for the sincere efforts the Church of England has made to understand the reasons that led my Predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to provide a canonical structure able to respond to the wishes of those groups of Anglicans who have asked to be received collectively into the Catholic Church: I am sure this will enable the spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions that form the Anglican patrimony to be better known and appreciated in the Catholic world.”
From the moment of the announcement of the Ordinariate by Pope Benedict XVI I believed that it was an appeal for unity: an appeal from the Bishop of Rome, who has a particular responsibility for the charism of unity, to the Anglican Communion which his Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, once called the beloved sister of the Catholic Church. “There will,” Pope Paul VI said , “be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and usage due to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church … is able to embrace firmly her ever-beloved sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ…” He made it clear that what he called the “worthy patrimony” of Anglicanism would be preserved in a united Church. A few years later, he said that he believed that “these words of hope ‘The Anglican Church united not absorbed’ are no longer a mere dream”.
The Catholic Church is more cautious about using the term ‘sister Church’ now: the Anglican Communion (or at least parts of it) have embraced such things as the ordination of women and re-definition of marriage, which make re-union more difficult. The excitement about the possibility of Christian re-union has died down. In Britain the annual Unity Week service has become as dreary as the January weather. And there is no doubt that complex forces at work among both liberals and evangelicals have contributed to a strange renewal of ‘anti-Rome’ feeling in this country. The Christian unity scene had become stale, and Pope Benedict sought to break the log jam.
My generation of Anglicans grew up with hope of the re-union of Christians in one Church. I use the word “re-union” deliberately, and not “unity”, which is a looser word which can – and does – have several meanings. My generation hoped for re-union between the divided groups of Christianity. We could see that the journey was going to be difficult, but we did not believe it to be impossible – because it was clearly the will of God that the Church should be One. The Lord Jesus said so in Scripture and the Creed described the Church as One. Moreover, the Church had been one for a thousand years. It had struggled to maintain a common belief, a common ordained ministry, and shared sacraments – but for a thousand years, wherever you were in the world, you were one at the altar.
We applauded the work of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, and we were excited at the Agreed Statements on such key issues as the Eucharist and Authority. They were oh-so-carefully- worded, and they seemed to be willing to reach behind the Reformation years when division had been expressed by harsh words and closed ears. Much publicity was given on the Anglican side to the request for clarification on the Catholic side, with the implication that Rome was dragging its feet; Anglicans found it less easy to own up to a growing fearfulness among Anglican liberals about any statement of belief, and among Anglican evangelicals about these statements of belief.
Pope Francis’ statement acknowledges the shock, even dismay and anger among some Anglicans at the announcement of the Ordinariate structures. But he also reminds us of the many examples of understanding and accommodation as this process began. Many clergy will tell you of heartfelt conversations with their bishop, practical support concerning housing from their Archdeacon, and moving letters from laity on their departure. Of course, there are stories of occasions when this did not happen. The Pope reminds us that the first move was made by Anglicans who appealed to Pope Benedict. I’ve no doubt that there were senior Anglicans (Archbishop Rowan Williams among them) who were worried about the unwillingness of the liberals to reach any sort of accommodation with the Anglo-Catholics. Indeed, it might be said that the Anglo-Catholics found the Pope ready to listen and understand in a way which their own Church did not.
Lastly, Pope Francis looks into the future, and I believe he still has the hope of Pope Paul VI for the restoration of the full communion of all Christians in one Church. He sees the entry of groups of Anglicans bringing their patrimony with them, as a preparation for this restored communion. The legitimate prestige and usage of the Anglicans will not be lost. If there are some who feared that the Ordinariates might be ‘shut down’ then the Pope’s words will reassure them. For our part we need to do all we can to ensure that the bridge is not closed on the Anglican side. As far as we are able, then, let us keep our contacts and friendships, and let our words be tempered with the spirit of love and the longing for unity.