Translation: Die Tagespost Interview with Bishop John Broadhurst

10 12 2010

Living in Unity with Rome for Jesus

John C. Broadhurst (68) is an Anglican bishop in the diocese of London (in the Fulham area) and president of Forward in Faith, an international Anglo-Catholic society with several hundred thousand members. He is one of the five Anglican bishops who have announced their entry to the Catholic Church. Heinrich E. Bues spoke with him.

Your Excellency, you are one of the five English bishops who, towards the end of this year, announced their entry into the Catholic Church. You will then be ordained a Catholic priest at the beginning of 2011, and will be among the first to enter the new Ordinariate in England. The Telegraph newspaper spoke of an “earthquake in Anglo-Catholicism”. Is this true?

Only a little earthquake. That said, I think this step is quite significant. Never before has an active Anglican bishop resigned and become a Roman Catholic. Of the five bishops who will go over at the end of the year, three are still in active service. That is significant: a signal, because so many Anglican Christians have waited for this step.

Your conversion to the Catholic Church has also been termed “the first wave”. Do you hope for a second and a third wave of conversions?

And a fourth and fifth wave of conversions. I have around a hundred priests in my diocese. I asked them “what do you think about the Ordinariate?” One said: “that’s absolutely out of the question for me. I will never become a Roman Catholic”. Ninety-nine percent, however, were interested. But only six said, “we’ll do it now”. The others are still thinking about it, and may perhaps take the step later.

You’re also the president of the international Anglican organisation Forward in Faith (FiF). How is the situation in Australia or the USA? Are there groups of faithful, priests and bishop preparing for conversion and for the establishment of the Ordinariate?

The Australian branch of FiF is very interested in and occupied with the idea of the Ordinariate. Many, many conversions are expected there. In the United States the situation is more mixed, and openness to the new Ordinariate is more varied. In both countries, however, an Ordinariate will be set up – and that will happen quickly.

Some time ago, you met with Pope Benedict. It is said that the Ordinariate is “close to the Pope’s heart”. Would you see it that way?

Yes, absolutely. The Holy Father sees the unity of the Church as a Gospel imperative. I believe that the Pope has long been disquieted by the lack of Church unity. For over 20 years I have organised, on the Anglican side, initiatives in support of unity with the Holy See. More than a thousand priests have been involved. If the Holy Father has now provided the chance for unity throughthe Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, then we really have no choice.

Have you had positive signs from Catholic bishops in England about your upcoming conversion?

Yes, but even here there are mixed reactions. Some voices are constructive, others negative, and others again are enthusiastic. That’s quite natural, as it has to do with a very profound change. But we have encountered absolutely no hostility.

Pope Benedict visited England and Scotland in September. Did this visit have a positive effect on the decision to convert?

Yes, very much so. One of my priests, who wanted a couple more years to think about the decision to convert, said to me after the Pope’s visit, “now I’m coming straight away”. That is really very interesting. The question in our society is “who really speaks for Jesus?” And there’s no doubt about it. When the Holy Father was in England, he spoke for Jesus. And that’s central. Nothing is more important than truly speaking for Jesus Christ.

What difficulties do you expect when, through Anglicanorum Coetibus, large groups or communities of Anglicans can be taken into the Catholic Church for the first time in history?

The difficulties for the priests are: where will they live? how will they be paid? For the laity above all the question is: where will they be able to worship? Anglican parishes are not large groups. We are talking about maybe five hundred Christians in a parish, who are also responsible for the finances.

How are parishes financed in England?

Unlike Germany, there is no church tax in England. Priests are really paid by their congregations – that is, the parish hands over the money they have collected to the diocese, and the diocese pays the priests and the building costs out of that. We work on the assumption that 100 faithful, with their monthly giving, can support one priest. Stipends are considerably less than in Germany. With regard to the new ordinariate, we have, at the moment, absolutely no money.

What do younger Anglican clergy think about possibly entry into the Ordinariate?

That is something quite remarkable. My young priests say, “yes, let’s do it now”. And they really have a lot to lose. And the older priests, who can actually keep their pensions, say “let’s do it tomorrow. Let’s wait and see how things shape up”. Interesting, isn’t it?

As well as you, another four bishops are seeking unity with the Catholic Church at the end of the year. How many priests and laity will take this step with them? Can you give figures?

To begin with, there will be around fifty priests in England. How many laity will come, I don’t know. A priest said recently to me, “I’m very worried, because some Christians are suddenly vanishing”. And another priest reported “suddenly there are laity coming to us from other parishes who want to join us” (laughter). Some very unexpected things are happening, which one just can’t explain. I think we’ll just have to see.

So it will be small to begin with?

Yes, we won’t be many in the first wave. But there’s an opportunity in that. If a small beginning is successful, then we can grow. That also meets the Roman expectations. In the Vatican, they are interested in good relations with other ecclesial communities and do not want to see these too greatly undermined. So, a relatively small beginning helps.

Despite its small beginnings, will the establishment of the Ordinariate result in a change in the ecclesiastical map?

Yes, certainly, it will. There is something quite special in England which you have to understand first of all. After the Reformation, the Catholic Church in England consisted mostly of aristocrats and the middle classes. Only through immigration from Catholic Ireland did other classes come into the Church. The Anglican Communion has always had a certain feeling of superiority towards the Catholic Church. If we have Anglican-Catholic Ordinariates, that will change this assessment, psychologically speaking.

Will the new Ordinariates perhaps change the Catholic Church in England itself? Will, for example, Catholics from liberal parishes want to come to the Ordinariates?

In America, there is already an Anglican Use in the Catholic Church, which has been authorized by the Vatican for the last fifteen years. This Use is only practised in six or seven parishes, with a few thousand members. I know one of these parish priests personally, and he told me of the following problem: many laity from neighbouring Catholic parishes come to them, because they value this more traditional rite.

Since the protests against women’s ordination in the 1980s, many Anglican priests have converted and been ordained. How many are they, and how do they work?

I don’t have the precise numbers in front of me, but it is between 300 and 400 priests. Around 50 of them are married. As a parish priest, I led different, usually very large parishes, and around 20 curates worked with me. Of these 20, three are Roman Catholics, two live as celibates and one is married. The married priest is today a parish priest in North London.

What’s the salient point: why do you want to become a Catholic? Have you become angry with the Anglican Communion? Are you disappointed?

No, I have always been Catholic. I think that the Anglican Church was always basically Catholic, if not in union with Rome. But in the last 15 to 20 years, much has happened. The joint Anglican-Catholic ARCIC Commission has worked for almost 40 years without reaching their hoped-for goal of Church unity. So the question for me was: where do I really want to be? And I didn’t want to be an old man weeping in the corner, so to speak. That is perhaps a bit pathetic. But I felt that I had to come to a decision – with regard to the unity of the Church. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you have to make a decision today.

So the decisive point was unity with the Holy See?

Yes. I asked myself what I actually wanted to do with the rest of my life. My motivation has always been to live for Jesus Christ. And for Jesus, I can only live in unity with the Holy See. That’s the point. Although the call for the unity of the Church is unbroken, the expectations have changed. Originally, the expectation was that there would be Anglican-Catholic unity. That has not come to pass. Should I therefore convert as an individual? That made no sense to me.

So the new papal Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus has decisively changed the situation?

Yes, suddenly there was a perspective that made sense for us. An individual conversion wouldn’t have made sense in the sense of the Church, but now we can restore unity with the Holy See and the Catholic Church with large groups of laity, for whom we are responsible as bishops.  Perhaps it isn’t all perfect, but I can no longer see any reason to say no any more. When I think about the coming months, I’m not afraid, but rather hopeful. I am delighted to be able to be part of this important process on the way to unity.