Il Sussidiario interviews Bishop Andrew Burnham

2 12 2010


From “Flying Bishop” to the Catholic Personal Ordinariate

The Right Reverend Andrew Burnham, bishop of Ebbsfleet, is one of the four English Anglo-Catholic bishops who expressed their intention to leave the Church of England and join the Catholic Church in the Personal Ordinariate that Pope Benedict XVI established in 2009 with the constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.

Bishop Burnham is one of the so-called “flying bishops”, officially named Personal Episcopal Visitors, whose task is to take care of parishes and individuals who do not accept the ordination of women priests. He is exercising his functions of PEV in the diocese of Canterbury, the same of the Right Reverend Edwin Barnes, bishop emeritus of Richborough, who was also interviewed by

You have always been a member of the Anglo-Catholic movement. Could you describe the stance of this movement within the Church of England?

For much of the twentieth century, the Anglo-Catholic Group was the largest party in the Church of England.  In liturgy and spirituality it was very close to the Catholic Church.  In ecclesiology it was more like the Orthodox (no pope and bishops are all equal).  Since the beginning of the ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) conversations a generation ago, Anglo-Catholicism has shrunk, Evangelicals have increased.  Modern Anglo-Catholics are much more likely to look to Rome and many use the Roman Missal.

What were the decisive factors that led you to decide to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church?

ARCIC has been the method of working towards unity of Anglicans with Catholics and actual contacts between the two have been very fruitful at local levels.  The campaign to ordain women priests in the early nineties and now women bishops, together with tensions in the Anglican Communion over gay partnerships, have meant that the two churches are drifting apart.  It was because of this that some bishops approached Rome, two of us in April 2008.

What role did the Anglicanorum Coetibus, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to England, and the beatification of Cardinal Newman play in your decision?

Having approached Rome, we were assured of a listening ear and when Anglicanorum Coetibus came out in November 2009 it was a response to us which we felt we must accept. The Pope’s visit, the beatification of Cardinal Newman, all added to the sense of this being the right time to move into the new Ordinariate structure.

The Anglo-Catholic beliefs coincide almost exactly with those of the Catholic Church. What does following the Pope and the belief in his infallibility add to this?

Papal infallibility is not easy for Anglo-Catholics to understand but there is real progress in understanding what role the ordinary and the extraordinary magisterium play in the Catholic Church.

What situation is the Church of England in now? What facts and experiences make it alive and incisive in the lives of those in England, and what factors risk putting it in crisis?

I think the Church of England is not really in crisis but it is changing fast.  It is staffed by more and more unpaid volunteer priests, many of whom are in second careers or retirement.  There is less awareness nowadays of the history, doctrine and spiritual traditions of classical Anglicanism.  There is a significant rise in Alpha-style Evangelicalism.  This adds to the feeling of change.

You spoke above of the ordination of women as one of the factor of your decision to leave the Church of England. What makes these ordinations unacceptable also for Anglicans?

Those who do not accept women’s ordination do not do so – as I myself do not – because it is against the teaching of the ancient churches, East and West and those churches have asked Anglicans not to do it.  Pope John Paul II said that even the Pope has no authority to make such a change.

In his Choruses from the Rock, T. S. Eliot described the drama of the emptying of the English churches. Up to what point is his reading still accurate today and what are the causes of this situation?

Increasing secularization – as in Italy and throughout Old Europe.  The lure of ‘post-modernism’ in place of an over-arching metaphysical narrative.  The change in the nature of Sunday.  The failure of the churches to judge quickly enough the cultures and needs of communities.

One last question. In the past, belonging to the Church of England was considered a fundamental part of the national identity, with Catholics considered somewhat second class citizens. Do you think that the passage into full communion with the Holy See still causes problems in terms of national identity?

No.  Since Cardinal Hume (who, though he had Scottish and French parentage, was thought to be very English), Catholics have become part of the English mainstream.  The Queen referred to Hume as ‘my cardinal’.  There are tensions about the Established Church falling behind the Catholic Church in communicants though, to be truthful, it has been the influx of devout East European Catholics which has re-invigorated some Catholic parishes.



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