Five bishops and fifty Anglican priests are to become Catholics in early 2011. But some practical issues remain unresolved, including church buildings.
“Relieved.” Dr. John Broadhurst, who has recently resigned as an Anglican bishop, displays a huge sense of release since he announced in November that he would leave the Anglican Communion to join the Catholic Church. “This finally brings clarity,” says the former Bishop of Fulham.
With four other Anglican bishops, he decided “to respond to the Pope’s invitation.” Benedict XVI in November 2009, had created a stir by publishing the Apostolic Constitution establishing an “Ordinariate”, which allows groups of Anglicans to join the Catholic Church.
For conservative Anglicans, who fought for years against the ordination of women priests (permitted since 1992) and their episcopal ordination (the law authorizing it should be passed in 2012 by the Church of England), the announcement opened an unexpected door.
Many years on the Anglican margins
“For thirty years I have prayed for the unity of the Church” (note: between Anglicans and Catholics), said John Broadhurst. “But the Anglican Church has distanced itself, first with the ordination of women, then with the ordination of homosexuals in America – these are the problem areas. ”
The five bishops – four British and one Australian, three in post and two retired – paradoxically justify their departure from the Anglican Communion in the name of “unity” of the Church. The ordinariate “is a new ecumenical instrument for moving towards Christian unity,” they explain in their letter of resignation .
These bishops were, for many years, on the Anglican margins. Unlike the hundreds of priests who joined the Catholic Church when the Church of England had allowed the ordination of women, almost twenty years ago, they had remained. To respect their choice, a system of “flying bishops” had been created in the parishes who do not want a woman priest.
“The Church of England is not keeping the promises that were made to us”
This system, by the admission of John Broadhurst, was hardly satisfactory: “I found no joy in spending my time fighting against the rest of the Anglican Church, just to be tolerated. I will not be considered a madman on the sidelines. ”
Moreover, this parallel system is collapsing. The possible approval of women bishops will end the “flying bishops”: The objective is not to create junior women bishops who would not have the same authority as male bishops. Therefore, the parishes which had accommodated the compromise feel rejected. “The Church of England is not keeping the promises it made to us,” said John Broadhurst.
Ironically, his reaction is similar to that of the liberal party – the majority – of the Church of England. “Their departure clears things up,” said Hilary Cotton, vice president of the group Women and the Church . However, she relativizes the importance of their decision: only 2.8% of the parishes of the Church of England were supervised by “flying bishops” – a total of 363, with approximately 13,000 faithful. “Many parishioners will not follow the movement, she believes knowledge. Often, the clergy is much more attached to these problems than are the simple faithful. “
Who will lead the Ordinariate?
For now, the numbers seem to prove her right. Bishop Alan Hopes, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, speaks of around “fifty” priests who would go, followed by thirty or “groups” of parishioners, but he did not specify the number of people found in each group.
John Broadhurst confirmed that the movement is not comparable to what happened in the early 1990s, at least for now. “But I think that eventually it will exceed it,” he adds immediately. He said there are at present too many uncertainties about the Ordinariate for people to make their decision easily.
Its operation remains as yet unclear. The only certainty: the five bishops formally resign on December 31. Then, “beginning in January”, they will be ordained Catholic priests. Who will lead the ordinariate? One of the three Anglican bishops still in office – including John Broadhurst – but the choice is not yet public.
Most priests joining the Catholic Church are married
As for the fifty priests who will join the ordinariate, and whose names are not yet revealed, they will be received before Lent, and will be ordained at Pentecost. Their parishioners, in turn, become Catholic “as a group” during Easter week.
It still remains to find them places of worship. Parish property belongs to the Church of England. Recently, the Anglican Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, has denied the possibility of sharing the churches and presbyteries. Nearby Catholic churches will have to be found.
That leaves a final paradox: most priests joining the Catholic Church are married. “Celibacy is not a doctrine, it is a discipline,” defends John Broadhurst, a father of four children. He recalled that there are already, in England, fifty married formerly-Anglican Catholic priests. The contortions of the Anglican Communion have not finished causing a stir on the Catholic side.
Sébastien Martin, London