New Oxford Review: ‘The Extraordinary Ordinariate’

22 01 2011

From the New Oxford Review:

The last time we checked in on the happenings in the Anglican Communion was on the eve of the Church of England’s quinquennial General Synod in mid-July (“City of Confusion — Part II,” New Oxford Note, Jul.-Aug. 2010). Up for debate was draft legislation that would approve the consecration of women bishops. (Women bishops have already been installed in the Episcopal Church, the American wing of the Anglican Communion, which is seen in many quarters as a rogue church.) We wrote: “The liberal­izers are again preparing for victory, sixteen years after the first woman was ordained a priest.”

Sure enough, the legislation passed the debate phase, though not without contention. Anglican traditionalists, especially of the Anglo-Catholic stripe, fought for the inclusion of legislative safeguards that would provide them with male bishops to work alongside women bishops or with separate dioceses altogether led by male bishops who do not ordain women. Their requests, however, were shot down in flames on the synod floor.

The liberalizers argued that such measures would undermine the authority of women bishops. A compromise addendum was instead tacked on that requires female bishops to delegate some episcopal duties to a male bishop where this has been requested by a traditional parish. Many traditionalists, however, have said that this is not enough.

The legislation has now been sent out for consideration to the Church of England’s forty-three diocesan synods. A majority of them must approve the legislation in order for it to return to the next General Synod, which convenes in 2012 (the diocesan synods are not allowed to make substantial amendments to the legislation, but may suggest changes). Presuming the legislation advances to the 2012 synod, it would then need to receive a two-thirds majority from the three voting blocks — bishops, clergy, and laity — in order to become church law. Once that is ac­complished, the first women could be consecrated as bishops in 2014. That, folks, is ecclesial democracy in action.

Upon the close of the July synod, fifteen Anglo-Catholic bishops penned a “Letter to Clergy” lamenting these “grave times” in their communion’s history. “We must now accept that a majority of the members of the Church of England believe it is right to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops,” they wrote. It is neither “the intention nor the desire” of “those in authority” to “create a structure which genuinely allows the possibility of a flourishing mission beyond this generation.” Anglicans who hold to traditional and biblical understandings of the priesthood and episcopacy, they say, are faced with three choices: (1) remain in the Church of England, albeit with “a deep sense of unease about the long term future”; (2) join the English ordinariate once it has been established according to the structures set forth in Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus; (3) convert to the Catholic Church individually, without recourse to the ordinariate.

One of the bishops who signed the July 31 letter, John Broadhurst of Fulham, chairman of the Anglo-Catholic group Forward-in-Faith International, decided not to wait on the uncertain outcome of the 2012 synod vote. At Forward-in-Faith U.K.’s national assembly on October 15, he announced his intent to resign his episcopal office, convert to the Catholic Church, and join the English ordinariate once it is established. His announcement was greeted with cheers and applause.

Bishop Broad­hurst has characterized the General Synod as acting “viciously” and “vindictively” toward traditionalists, mar­ginalizing those who oppose women bishops. “I don’t feel I have any choice but to leave the church and take up the Pope’s offer,” he told the assembly. Broad­hurst emphasized that he is not so much being pushed out of the Anglican Communion as he is being pulled into the Catholic Church: “You can’t become Catholic because you don’t like being something else.”

Damian Thompson, religion editor of London’s Tele­graph (Oct. 19), wrote that Bishop Broadhurst, a major player who worked for decades to preserve the Anglo-Catholic tradition in the Church of England, “knows that the battle is lost.” But Rod Thomas of the conservative Anglican group Reform thinks Bishop Broad­hurst decided “too early” to join the ordinariate. Members of Reform are among the many traditionalists who have begun campaigning at the diocesan level, hoping to swing the voting tide to their side. But for battle-weary Anglo-Catholics like Bishop Broadhurst, the writing is on the wall.

Already the first parish in the Church of England has peeled off. On the same day Bishop Broadhurst made his momentous announcement, St. Peter in Folke­stone declared its intent to join the ordinariate. According to Tim Ross, writing in the Telegraph (Oct. 19), “Some are now talking openly of an ‘exodus’ from the Anglican Communion next year, with thousands following Folke­stone’s lead.”

As if on cue, four more Anglican bishops announced on November 8 that they too would resign their posts at the end of the year and enlist in the ordinariate. They were joined by fifty Anglican clergymen who have pastoral care over hundreds of believers. By the time the ordinariate is firmly established and the 2012 synod rolls around, the number of British Anglicans who choose to seek refuge in the Catholic Church could indeed be tremendous.

For Anglicans caught in the breach, there are practical as well as spiritual matters to consider — namely, the inevitable wrangling over property rights and pension funds. “The Church of England is highly unlikely to give up its assets without a fight,” wrote Ross. “The authorities have made it known that the buildings remain the property of the Church, regardless of the actions of those who occupy them.” Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, has been characteristically vague about the question of property. But Richard Chartres, Anglican bishop of London, is unyielding: In early December he told the London diocesan synod that “as far as the Diocese of London is concerned there is no possibility of transferring properties.” Moreover, the General Synod rejected calls in July for compensatory financial packages for clerics who dislodge themselves from the Church of England and head for Roman pastures.

For Anglicans who feel the pull of the Catholic Church yet who fear the price they must pay to cross over, a sterling role model has been given them. It is no coincidence that the first chips have fallen in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s September visit to the United Kingdom, where he beatified John Henry Newman, the famed Anglican convert and spiritual leader of the nineteenth-century Oxford Movement. Perhaps applicable to this moment in time, Newman said of the venture of faith: “Our duty lies in risking upon Christ’s word what we have, for what we have not; and doing so in a noble, generous way, not indeed rashly or lightly, still without knowing accurately what we are doing, not knowing either what we give up, nor again what we shall gain; uncertain about our reward, uncertain about our extent of sacrifice, in all respects leaning, waiting upon Him, trusting Him to fulfill His promise…in all respects proceeding without carefulness or anxiety about the future….” Newman himself undertook the venture of faith, the risk of conversion, at great cost, but to a greater reward.

Mindful of the urgency of this unique historical opportunity, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, at its annual meeting in November, hammered out and approved a focused, accelerated timetable for the implementation of the English ordinariate. It will be the first of its kind in the world. The first applicants — five bishops, fifty priests, and thirty groups of laymen (an estimated 300-400 people) — have already begun receiving “intense instruction” in the Catholic faith. Three of the bishops will be ordained as Catholic priests in early January (the other two are retired); around that time, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to issue a decree establishing the English ordinariate and announcing its ordinary, presumed to be one of the three former bishops. Next, during Holy Week, the former Anglican priests will be ordained to the diaconate and the laymen received into the Church. The new deacons are scheduled to be ordained as Catholic priests at Pentecost 2011. Whew! Austen Ivereigh, London correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor, has said, without overstating the import of these impending events, that “the ordinariate looks set to reshape the contours of Western Christianity” (Dec. 12).

Newman once said, “Every great change is effected by the few, not by the many, by the resolute, undaunted, zealous few.” Cardinal Newman certainly knew something about effecting change. The “resolute few” of our day have begun to assert themselves. Time will tell if we are standing at the threshold of a twenty-first-century Oxford Movement.

What is certain is that a new springtime is turning in Catholic England. Oftentimes, the euphoria that accompanies papal visits peters out soon after the pontiff departs. But in England, with the establishment of the or­dinariate, the effects of Pope Benedict’s visit could be felt in concrete ways for years, even decades to come. And that’s not the only sign of renewal: In September, English seminaries enrolled the highest number of new candidates for the priesthood in over a decade. Rumors of the demise of the faith in England have been greatly exaggerated. The Catholic sun is peeking out over the horizon; music, laughter, and good red wine are close behind.