Joan Lewis (EWTN): Interview with Fr Keith Newton (Part One)

14 02 2011

EWTN Vatican Insider presenter, Joan Lewis, interviews Fr Keith Newton. This was first broadcast on Saturday 12 February 2011. Part two will be broadcast next Saturday.

In the introduction:

Before I say another word I want to urge you to stay tuned for my conversation with a man who is making history in the Catholic Church: Fr Keith Newton. A former Anglican bishop, Fr Newton was ordained a Catholic priest on January 15 by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, and named that same day by Pope Benedict as the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the new structure in the Church to welcome Anglicans who are entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. The Ordinariate, instituted by Pope Benedict, is an historical and extraordinary development on the path to full Christian unity.

The Interview (Part One):

JL: Welcome to Vatican Insider where my special guest this weekend is Fr Keith Newton, the new Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Fr Keith was, until recently, an Anglican bishop, and after 35 years of ordained ministry entered into full communion with the Catholic Church and was ordained a Catholic priest on January 15 by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. At the same time Pope Benedict named him as the first Ordinary for the Ordinariate, which Father will explain to us in a minute. And just to clear something up for my listeners: although he was an Anglican bishop, Father cannot be a Catholic bishop because he is married. He does wear the pectoral cross of a bishop but he was ordained as a priest and, thus, I will be calling him ‘Father’.

So welcome to Vatican Insider, Fr Keith.

KN: Thank you very much indeed, Joan.

JL: Unity between Rome and Canterbury has been an ongoing process, and we can actually go back to the Oxford Movement of the 19th century when now Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, still an Anglican, was searching to bring Rome and Canterbury into full unity. And for decades there had been meetings between Popes and the Archbishops of Canterbury, but only in 2009 did Pope Benedict gives us Anglicanorum coetibus and what we now call the Ordinariate. And of course some ask if this had been a long-forgotten issue, as nothing seemed to come of talks over the years. So, Fr Keith, can you tell our listeners what the Ordinariate is and how it came about?

KN: Well the Ordinariate is a new structure for the Catholic Church which will, in a given Episcopal Conference (a Conference of Bishops area), will set up a structure will allow groups of Anglicans—that’s priests with their people—to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, but within this structure which is a bit like a diocese but is not geographical. So it’s ‘personal’ in that people belong to it individually (in the groups and congregations), not by being in a geographical area.

What is very interesting about it is that the Ordinary, who is the person who has the governance and jurisdiction of the Ordinariate, doesn’t have to be a bishop, it can be a former Anglican bishop who is ordained to the priesthood—which it is in my case.

I think the Ordinariate, to go back to the remark you made just before, is actually the fruit of all the conversations that have gone on between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church over four decades. Until now nothing concrete had happened—there’d been agreement about certain aspects of the Christian faith that we held in common—but I actually think that this structure is a fruit of those discussions: without them we would have never got to this point. But also the Ordinariate is a response because many Anglicans have been to see Vatican officials to say “Is there not something the Vatican can do in order to help groups of people who believe they’re already living the Catholic life, who believe Catholic doctrine, can come into communion with the Catholic Church?” And this is what the Holy Father has provided through Anglicanorum coetibus: an imaginative and new structure to help that happen.

JL: And so those who really say “Oh, the Pope/Rome is just trying to convert Anglicans—bring them over to Rome”: it was the Vatican’s answer to an Anglican question, as you’ve just stated, so it did not originate in the Vatican and that is, I think, important to note.

KN: That’s absolutely right.

JL: Now, is it fair to use the description of this phrase—which I’ve used and I’ve said and I’ve heard said—can we say “Anglicans which were disaffected with the way in which their church was going—getting further from its’ Catholic roots”? Is that a fair description of why this came about? I mean, things like the ordination of women priests were probably more a symptom than the actual problem…

KN: That’s absolutely right. I mean I don’t like the title ‘disaffected Anglicans’ because it rather suggests that those who are going to join the Ordinariate do so simply because they’re unhappy with the Church of England or the Anglican Communion generally and that actually is not the reason.

The reason that those of us were unhappy with the ordination of women bishops was because that was seen to be an obstacle in that more important goal of communion with the Holy See. And, therefore, anybody who joins the Ordinariate should be joining not because they want to escape the Church of England, but they want that greater goal of communion with 1.4 billion people, communion with the Holy See, communion with the Bishop of Rome.  They’re the important things, they’re the positive things and people must become Catholics for positive reasons. So I don’t like the word ‘disaffected’; I’m not particularly disaffected, I see this as the end of a lifetime’s pilgrimage.

JL: Now, Fr Keith, you said in a statement on January 15: “I don’t see my reception into the Catholic Church as a radical break, but part of the ongoing pilgrimage of faith that began at my baptism”. So could you tell us a little more about that journey, that pilgrimage, and what made you take the final step to becoming Catholic?

KN: Well ever since I was quite a young priest I’ve longed for unity with the Catholic Church. I can remember as a teenager going with my girlfriend, who is now my wife, to a service in Liverpool Cathedral when Cardinal Willebrands, who was the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, preached for the first time in England, I think. And that inspired me, although there were lots of Protestant demonstrators who tried to disrupt the service. And right the way through my life this has been a passion and something I’ve prayed about. And what’s upset some of us, who think like me, so much over recent years is that there have been more and more obstacles put in the way to that unity—a unity which was the goal of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission over several decades; a commission which produced lots of reports about common beliefs between Anglicans and Catholics, but despite all that agreement, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion has done things which has actually set back that goal and made it less realisable in the medium or short term. So I’ve been very upset about that, and in the Church of England when we ordained women to the priesthood, a structure was set up in order for those were opposed to remain Anglicans but I always felt that it was only giving us time in order to try and do something about that larger unity, and I have at times considered becoming a Catholic individually, but as a bishop I felt it was really important to lead people: if you’re a shepherd you can’t just forget your flock.

Now not everybody’s going to follow the lead that I’m making, but nevertheless I think it’s very important that people have an opportunity, if they think the way I think, to actually become Catholics together with other like-minded ex-Anglicans. And so it was the publication of Anglicanorum coetibus that made me say, this what we prayed for—it may not be exactly what we prayed for because God doesn’t always answer your prayers the way you expect him to, but it is something we prayed for and therefore we had to respond to that generous initiative of the Holy Father, which was—as you said—his own response to Anglicans going to the Vatican, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and saying to them: “Is there not something you can do to further this unity between those who already practice the Catholic faith within the Church of England”?

JL: You know, Father, when you think of the many titles that a Pope has—one of them is Pontifex maximus, and of course the Latin root of that is ‘bridge-builder’ and that’s really what was being done with Anglicanorum coetibus, was building bridges.

KN: That’s certainly the Holy Father’s vision, I think.

JL: Yes, exactly. Now during the 2010 visit (just, of course, months ago) to the UK by the Holy Father, I got to know Fr Christopher Pearson of St Agnes Anglo-Catholic Church here in London, and I’ve learned (in talking to him and other friends) many, many things about the Anglican Church; the Ordinariate; the journey to Rome. And you came to his parish recently to speak (in fact really that’s why I’m in London—because of that event) you came to the parish to speak to those interested in joining the Ordinariate—in fact we should also say that there are pastors and their parishioners throughout the UK and in other countries where the Anglican Communion (the Anglican Church in America it’s known as the Episcopal Church) where they are all interested in joining the Ordinariate. Now what did you tell these people about the Ordinariate? Basically what you just said to me now, or…? What did you say?

KN: Well I talked about how we’ve got where we are, the history that had brought us to this point, the actually offer of the Holy Father, and about the practical steps that are necessary in order to come into full communion with the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate. And I then responded to lots of questions that people had about the practical details. I mean one of the things I want to always say is that you’ve got to become a Catholic for positive reasons, not for negative reasons, which is why I said before I don’t particularly like the term ‘disaffected Anglican’.  And this is something which is very positive—it is a joy to be in communion with 1.4 billion people.

What worries me about those who remain in the Church of England to try and stop women bishops, is that even if they are successful, all they will create a enclave within the Church of England which is in communion with nobody but itself—now that can never be a description of the Catholic Church. And it’s always seemed to me, anyway, that actually Catholicism without the papacy is a Catholicism in which something essential is lacking, which is the reason that I’ve always longed to be in communion with Rome.

JL: Well, then, following through on what you just said now, actually, what would you tell someone—or maybe someone came to you at that meeting at Fr Christopher’s—what would you tell someone today whose still making up their mind; someone who says: “Father, help me make sure that this is the right thing for me to do”?

KN: Well, you’ve got to ask people what is their vision; what is it they want to achieve. I mean, obviously, if they want tot remain in the Church of England then this is not the answer for them. If they want to live out their Catholic life within the greater part of the Catholic Church: this is the answer. But what people are most concerned about, generally, who come to these sorts of meetings, is not the theological issues, it really is the practical steps and how difficult it is personally to move from something in which they’re secure—they know how things work, they feel happy—and to move into something which is totally unknown for them. It’s quite a step of faith, it’s quite a difficulty. And it is actually to say them: just trust in the Lord, actually. It is about Jesus, this, it is about being faithful to him. If God is leading you this way, things will work out.

JL: And that’s actually going into my next area of interest, my next question. Some of the practical issues involved in getting into the Ordinariate—we’ve got bishops, priests and laity, but how will newly ordained Catholic priests work? What will be the church, the physical church, for their parishioners? Because that’s a problem in some cases—if you’ve only got half of the parish going, if you’ve got sixty members and thirty are joining the Ordinariate, others remain—so where will they be? Where will they live? Who will pay their salaries?

KN: Well there’s lots and lots of questions to be answered there and they’re the sort of question that I’m wrestling with at the moment. The question of where does a group worship: well we had hoped there might be some possibility of sharing Anglican buildings; that looks less and less likely. I think there will be lots of difficulties about that, even in cases where the majority of the congregation wish to become Catholics. I think most of the groups will worship in Catholic churches. In some cases that will be easy: if there’s a small Catholic church that doesn’t have many parishioners and only one Mass on a Sunday, then it’s quite easy to have an additional congregation worshipping in that building. It’s much more difficult in one or two places, particularly in London, where the Catholic church is almost overused—you know, there’s lots and lots of Masses all day. But those are the sorts of practical issues for congregations to be worked out.

As for the clergy, there are questions about where they are going to be housed, and the diocesan Catholic bishops promised to try and find housing for the clergy. How their going to be paid: ultimately the Ordinariate needs to be self-financing but it can’t be immediately, and one of the new things about the Ordinariate is it gives the possibility of employment for priests which has not been allowed before in the Canons of the Church. And so some will have to find jobs; I think local bishops are trying to find some people part-time jobs as chaplains in schools or hospitals or prisons. There are one or two Catholic charities which are offering some part-time work, then of course there’ll be assisting in the wider Catholic diocese in which they live so they might get some Mass stipends, they might get some stole fees for doing funerals or doing supply at parishes where the priest is on holiday or ill. So there are a number of ways—each priest is going to have to be looked at separately to make sure there are sufficient funds for him to be able to live in a reasonable manner. And that’s particularly a problem is a man becomes a Catholic and he’s got a young family, and there are several of those.

The interview continues next week.


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