On New Year’s Day, three Church of England bishops were received into the Catholic Church. John Broadhurst, Keith Newton, and Andrew Burnham were joined by two retired bishops, David Silk and Edwin Barnes. All five had been ministering to those Anglican clergy and people who had stood apart from the liberal innovations in the Anglican Church. Broadhurst, Newton, and Burnham were termed “provincial episcopal visitors,” or “flying bishops,” because their jurisdiction was wider than a normal geographical diocese.
Under a provision established in the mid-1990s, when women were first ordained to the Anglican priesthood, clergy and congregations could decline the ministry of their diocesan bishop in favor of one of the flying bishops. While this provision was in place, the Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England felt they still had an honored place. In fact, they were a church within a church — and, since women’s ordination in the mid-1990s, they were becoming increasingly marginalized and excluded. Last year, as legislation allowing women to become bishops moved through the synod of the Church of England, it became clear that the provision for provincial episcopal visitors would be withdrawn.
At the same time, the Vatican was responding to requests from the Traditional Anglican Communion for some sort of structure to allow Anglicans to come into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining some of their traditions. The Traditional Anglican Communion is a global federation of autonomous denominations within the larger Anglican family. Sometimes called “continuing churches,” they are some of more than 100 little breakaway Anglican groups. Not-so-secret visits were paid to the Vatican by the three Church of England flying bishops, and sources believe that it was the request of the flying bishops (in addition to the already existing requests from the Traditional Anglican Communion) that convinced Pope Benedict XVI to take action and set in motion the now famous document Anglicanorum Coetibus, which allows for the erection of Anglican ordinariates worldwide.
That the ordinariate will be set up by the end of this month in England is astounding. Most of us who have been watching the ordinariate develop imagined that it would first be erected in the United States. However, it is right that the Anglican ordinariate be established in England first, since the entire Anglican Communion looks to England for its inspiration and origin. Still, the move is astounding, as the grey-shirted liberal bishops of England and Wales are so notoriously nonchalant in their attitude to Rome, and so “ecumenical” — code for “embarrassed by mass defections from Anglicanism to Catholicism.”
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