John Allen interviews Fr Mark Woodruff

6 08 2011

John Allen interviews the Priest Director of the Catholic League, Fr Mark Woodruff, about the Ordinariate at the National Catholic Reporter:

While I was in London recently, I had the chance to speak with several people about the new “Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham,” a structure provided for by Pope Benedict XVI two years ago to welcome groups of Anglican clergy and laity into the Catholic fold, which is now a going concern in the U.K.

The ordinariate currently numbers roughly 900 laity and 60 clergy, including some newly minted Catholic priests who had already retired from Anglican ministry at 70.

One of the more interesting conversations came with Fr. Mark Woodruff, a former Anglican who entered the Catholic church long before the ordinariate, but who has served as an advisor for some of its groups. A veteran ecumenist and a deeply thoughtful soul, Woodruff sketched some of the promise, and the challenges, facing the new venture.

Woodruff not only took the time to answer my questions in person, but he also fleshed out his thinking in e-mail correspondence. The following are excerpts from our exchange.

What does the ordinariate mean?

I think it’s genuinely an attempt to signal that in the universal church, which we believe subsists in the Catholic Church, there is endless space, with the possibility of embracing Christian tradition in its entirety and its integrity. … This is an immense affirmation of Anglicanism and its riches. It’s possible for them to be in communion, united not absorbed tout court. Furthermore, we as a Catholic Church to some extent internalise Anglican tradition and make it our own. This is an immensely valuable tool ecumenically that we have not had before. It’s not about poaching, it is about internalising in the Catholic Church what already belongs to it, the ultimate dimension being the visible unity of the whole of Christ’s body.

What’s the background to the ordinariate?

The practical shape and detailing of it has been under discussion for twenty years or more. There were negotiations for something along these lines in the late 1980s. A grouping called the Congregation for the English Mission was involved in discussions with Cardinal [Basil] Hume when there was a crisis for Catholic-minded Anglicans and papalist Anglicans in those days.

At that time, the Catholic bishops here didn’t want a multiplication of jurisdictions. They wanted an integrated diocesan structure. The effect was that, when there was an influx of Anglicans in large numbers in the early 1990s — since that time we’ve had about 500 priests in England and Wales who have come from the Anglican tradition — it broke up relationships, traditions and shared outlooks, as people made their own way. They did so in great number, but you lost that esprit de corps.

What did that say about what we really thought of ecumenical reconciliation? Our message was that, to be in communion with the Catholic Church, you had to relinquish your old life together and simply ‘convert’ to Roman Catholicism. As we lost sight of the principle of corporate reunion, we also lost sight of our own principle that the church is a community of communities. That communion has not been broken up this time around. You’ve got some kind of ecclesial, Eucharistic, corporate identity, and that’s something to build on.

There are 900 laity and 60 clergy in the ordinariate. Ten years from now, what will those numbers be?

Partly, it depends on finding resources and buildings from which the Ordinariate parishes can conduct their mission. Perhaps there will be some sharing with other denominations, or existing Catholic parishes. A big concern is how to pay the clergy too, not least those with families. There are hospital, school, and prison chaplaincies that can help with this, and some have arranged to take secular employment, as permitted by the norms.

The liturgical rite is being developed and hopefully will be in use early next year. In my view, it’s a risk not to have it ready now, as inevitably people may drift from their groups into the parishes where they are now getting accustomed to church life. But when it is in use, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a draw to other Christians who want to be built up in this way. Other Catholics will be free to attend and take part and, it may even be that, with this rite as normative, the Ordinariate will be among the most enduring manifestations of the Anglican tradition in this culture and country.

I believe that God has not gone to all these lengths for something that is merely transitional.

Is it an open question how large the ordinariate may become?

I happen to think that if the ordinariate project gets its liturgical life together, and it maintains a distinctive Anglican theological and spiritual tradition, it will be a great addition to the Catholic church in this country. It will embody something to which people will respond. It will have classic Anglican liturgy, it will express Catholic faith in a classic Anglican way, and it won’t have the sort of dichotomy within itself between orthodoxy and relativism that I think is troubling the Church of England.

Are the members of the ordinariate right-wing ideologues?

No, I don’t think they are. I think most people are ordinary Anglican churchgoers coming from the broad range of Anglican-Catholic traditions. Externally, some will be used to a fairly elaborate liturgy, others will be coming from more choral-civic ‘Prayer Book’ tradition, others will have been very consciously ‘Vatican II’ and not theologically all that different from Roman Catholics. Sociologically and demographically, they will have different perspectives, but from what I have seen there is both the sheer normality of the people and clergy, and also a range of views and their expression – from very conservative, to very academic, very ‘Anglican’, very pastoral, very spirituality-focused, to very social gospel-focused, to everything else that we can find in our regular Catholic churches.

What’s been the Anglican reaction?

I think there has been a great deal of neuralgia. In the English situation, the Church of England does not quite occupy the position in national life that it once did, but it still has this important position of leadership and engagement with the state and with civil society that is vital, I think, also to the mission of the Catholic church. We are absolutely bound to work together and, besides, we respond to different parts of society, and they respond to us. There has to be a partnership.

We mustn’t settle for the Ordinariate as the last word in somehow embracing an Anglican tradition within the Catholic community. The work that still needs to be done is the union of all Christians, and that has to be happening because it’s the will of Christ. The Church of England entire and the Catholic church entire have at some point to be in complete union.

I’ve stressed time and time again to these friends of mine who have come into the Catholic church: I do not want you to come in and pull the ladder up. This is not about you finding a safe haven. You are now somebody who is embedded within us, who adds something to us in terms of our understanding of Anglicanism, which helps us reach out and embrace and be friends and collaborate even more deeply. We want you, therefore, to be part of that ecumenical outreach and engagement.

It is clear to me, too, that the church in this country cannot simply go on as it is, with all of our ‘denominations’ experiencing a declining grip on the imagination of people. No one church can address the deepest longings in those imaginations on its own. We need each other, we relate to people differently, and even though we are disunited we urgently need to collaborate and realise more and more an ecumenism of life.

There’s also an ecumenical vocation to the ordinariate?

If it forgets that, it must fail. It has to be about unity, because it really does have to be about the struggle for the soul of Europe and re-evangelization. It has to be at the centre of that. Otherwise, it’s just going to be an ‘ecclesiastical granny flat’. No one wants that.


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