Kathweb: Profile of John Broadhurst

14 01 2011

From KathWeb, the Austrian Catholic Press Agency:

Vienna, 14/01/2011 (KAP) “I have come home.” If his schedule these days allows little time for emotions, they nevertheless break out from time to time: he is John Broadhurst, the 68-year-old former Anglican Bishop of Fulham. This is so even, and especially, because of his ordination as a Catholic priest tomorrow, probably the most drastic step in relations between Anglican and Catholic Church, which have been heavily burdened since 1994 with the introduction of the ordination of women. Broadhurst will be ordained together with his two colleagues, former bishops Keith Newton and Andrew Burnham. And he notes: “Is that what we always wanted – yes, it is!”

The ordination is not only a symbolic act of entry into the Catholic Church – but, from tomorrow, there begins a new ecumenical era when, almost simultaneously announced from Rome, the first “personal ordinariate” is established: the new legal form which makes it possible for Anglicans to convert to Catholicism while preserving their own traditions. The course is laid out in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, dated November 2009. Ecumenism, the critics say, will now consist of “you-come-in-ism”. Broadhurst rejects this – on the contrary, he considers the ecumenical talk of “unity in diversity” but to be nothing but “rubbish”.

It would be easy to see in Broadhurst a stubborn conservative; to see a reactionary, even: his position on ecumenism is striking, his rejection of female priesthood, and above, all of efforts in feminist theology, is blunt. One of his major themes is that the ordination of women bears part of the blame for the decline of Anglican parishes. The involvement of lay people is decreasing, a “clericalism” is in full swing: “And the women say, ‘we have fought hard to come here now, why should we let others do the work?”’.

Unbroken Anglican Biography

There is no question about it: Broadhurst polarizes. It runs in his blood, he says of himself, when he describes himself as “charismatic, at least in my younger years”. His biography reads at first like an unbroken textbook example of an Anglican careerist: originally baptized as a Catholic, he soon found a spiritual home in an Anglican environment, he attended the elite King’s College, London, and was ordained priest in 1967. His years of pastoral teaching and travelling were spent in various London parishes before he was elected in 1972 as the youngest member of the General Synod of the Church of England was – a position he held for more than 20 years. In 1996, he was consecrated Bishop of Fulham.

But to reduce the man – the husband of many years, the father of four – to his more striking utterances is to do him an injustice. The SSPX he rejects outright: in their cramped fixation on the liturgy, they paid homage to themselves instead of God, runs his damning verdict. On his bookshelf there are works by Karl Rahner, Hans Küng and feminist theologians. “I’m conservative but not reactionary, I know what’s going on in the world,” he says of himself.

For fifteen years he worked with a large dose of pragmatism – in response to the approval of the ordination of women in the Church of England – at the head of the Anglo-Catholic movement “Forward in Faith”, in a persistent approach to Rome. In England alone there are about 1,000 priests and 8,000 lay people in the movement – potentially the vanguard of a possible transfer to the Catholic Church.

The Council as a key experience

Their motive is, above all, one thing: the disappointment with the “double face” and the “lack of integrity” of the Anglican communion. “We had a consensus on most doctrinal issues with Rome”, but then came women priests and the consecration of a practising homosexual – Rome was right to respond, according to Broadhurst, with the statement that the ecumenical movement is one now “at the end of the line” – at the end of its story.

Exploring the personal motives that have moved Broadhurst, he readily refers to the Second Vatican Council. The council was “an eye-opener” for him, in that it “has offered the perfect synthesis between a Protestant -ominated personal faith principle and the idea of Church as ‘communio’ (community of believers).And suddenly he realized: “everything I’m looking for is here, made real in the Catholic Church”.

Pope Benedict XVI, whom he has always admired, played his part in this almost rapturous relationship. He speaks with some pride of a two-hour personal interview 14 years ago with Cardinal Ratzinger. Since then, he says, he has seen change in Ratzinger’s writings on ecumenism, especially with the Anglican Church.

On “his” church, Broadhurst has little to say that is positive. “The Anglican experiment has failed – the community is breaking down rapidly,” he notes. The community is more fractious than ever, the debates about women’s ordination and the ordination of openly homosexual priests has led the church into a crisis from which she will not recover. A conciliatory farewell is different – but for frustration there remains, however, no time. The Ordinariate must be filled with life, as Broadhurst knows: everything depends on it, because otherwise, in the end, it will not mark the failure of the “Anglican experiment”, but of the Anglo-Catholic model.

A detailed portrait of John Broadhurst by KathPress editor Henning Klingen appears on 23 January in the German Liborius Magazine.