Transcript from the PM programme on BBC Radio 4, 1 January 2011
Interview with Ruth Gledhill
At midday today a special Mass was held at Westminster Cathedral: the moment marked the conversion to Catholicism of three former Church of England bishops, two of their wives and three Anglican nuns. They became the first to take part in a scheme set up by Pope Benedict, allowing Anglican opponents of women bishops to defect to the Catholic Church. Some predict that these first conversions could be followed by many others, from up to twenty Church of England parishes, in the months to come. Ruth Gledhill, the Religion correspondent for the Times is with me. Ruth, you’ve spoken to one of those who took part. What are their reasons?
They are responding to an offer made by the Pope which they believe is very generous. But their reason is that they believe that the Church of England, despite claiming to be part of the one holy, apostolic and catholic church in the Creed, has in fact departed from apostolic teaching, particularly over the issue of women’s ordination.
Will they be followed by many others?
Well there were many priests in the congregation at Westminster Cathedral today who are likely to join the Ordinariate. I think it will be a small stream at first; the question that nobody knows the answer to, is whether that will turn into a river or a flood.
In practical terms, what happens to the parishioners they’ve left behind?
The parishioners they’ve left behind will be able to keep the churches and it will be their job, then, to rebuild their congregations, almost from scratch in some cases. The ones who are going will, in some dioceses perhaps, continue to share the use of that church, but for the most part they’ll probably be offered some kind of accommodation in a local Catholic parish.
And what happens—there may be a clear answer to this—the wives of these bishops?
Well, the wives have converted with them in two cases out of the three bishops. And there’s no problem there really because, just as in the Eastern Rite Catholic churches, the clergy are allowed to be married, so the clergy are in the cases of former Anglican clergy in England who convert—and these aren’t going to be bishops in the Catholic Church, they’re going to be priests.
What will this do, in terms of unity of the Anglican Church? Would it be better for them to leave in this way in order to restore and maintain unity, rather than being a more divisive presence if they stayed?
The Pope believes that this exercise is a pathway to unity. It’s a little bit tragic, really, for the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose goal in office has been to try and maintain unity in the face of schisms over gays and women’s ordination.
Because the Pope’s offer was considered to be controversial at the time, wasn’t it?
It was, yes, it was seen as even possibly an aggressive act, but in fact the Pope wouldn’t see it like that, and neither do the people see it like that who are going. In fact it is a form of bridge, really, between the two churches and, I think, rather than being seen as divisive, it might in the end turn out to be a bringing together—as implied by the name of the constitution itself, Anglicanorum coetibus—bringing them together: a union of the Anglicans and Catholics, particularly the catholic wing of the Anglican church, which is really unprecedented—ever—since the Reformation: it’s never been known before for serving Anglican bishops to convert while they’re still holding office, or, you know, during their working lives—they’ve all just resigned—but, during their working lives they’ve gone, they haven’t waited to retire before going, so it’s really unprecedented. No one really knows what shape it’s going to take or how it’s going to work, but it does seem to be happening, confounding the sceptics who believed it wouldn’t.
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent for The Times, thank you very much.