BBC Interview with Bishops Thomas McMahon and Stephen Cottrell: Transcript

23 01 2011

Breakfast on BBC Radio Essex

Ian Wyatt interviews Bishop Thomas McMahon on Sunday 23 January. A pre-recorded interview with Bishop Stephen Cottrell follows, as well as some discussion throughout the programme.

Here is a link to the whole programme on BBC Iplayer

Ian Wyatt: BBC Essex’s Sonia Watson reports:

Sonia Watson: The news follows an offer by the Pope for Anglicans unhappy with the possibility of women bishops to join what’s called an ‘Ordinariate’, where they can keep some of their Protestant heritage but become Catholic.

The Catholic Diocese of Brentwood says vicars in Chelmsford, Hockley, Benfleet, and parts of East London are being trained to become Catholic deacons, then priests. They’ll be ordained on 11 June. A seventh retired Anglican vicar is also converting. They’re bringing with them up to three hundred of their congregation.

In one Anglican parish, eighty are leaving, in another, seventy. They’ll undergo instruction in the Catholic Church and be confirmed as Catholics at Easter.

There are 50,000 Anglicans registered on the Church of England’s electoral rolls in the Chelmsford Diocese.

Ian Wyatt: The Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Revd Thomas McMahon says: ‘Those who are converting are doing so with a great deal of apprehension’.

Bishop McMahon: This is a very, very big move because they relinquish their present post and, leaving some of their people—and that causes a lot of heartache. It calls for huge faith and huge trust because the future isn’t that certain.

Ian Wyatt: And more to come on that story on BBC Essex this morning.

[Breaks for other news]

Ian Wyatt: News this morning from BBC Essex that up to three hundred Essex Anglicans are leaving the Church of England to become Catholic. They’re being led by six Anglican vicars who are being trained to become Catholic priests by the summer. A seventh vicar, retired, is also converting. The move follows the Pope’s offer to Anglicans upset at the possibility of women bishops to join what’s known as the ‘Ordinariate’, where they can keep some of their Protestant heritage but become Catholic.

The three hundred converts will be received into the Catholic Church this Easter. I’ve been speaking, exclusively, to the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Revd Thomas McMahon.

Bishop McMahon: Well it’s certainly true that in the diocese here we have the largest number of parishes who want to join the Ordinariate. That is we have six parishes: three in the London part of the diocese, and three in Essex. Altogether (each is bringing some of their parishioners), so I think the number of parishioners is between two and three hundred.

Ian Wyatt: Did it surprise you it was that many?

Bishop McMahon: When you take it up, I think the answer is yes. Because one had heard of individual numbers for each parish, but when you put them altogether, then yes it really adds up.

Ian Wyatt: Why is it such a big group of people? Is it purely down to the issue of women bishops

Bishop McMahon: I don’t think it is, quite honestly. In the same way as ten or twelve years ago it wasn’t just women priests. The central question that each of them is asking is ‘Does any church have the authority to change what is of the apostolic tradition?’ You know, going back to the time of the apostles. So it’s a question of authority and where that authority lies, and whether that authority has the ability, as it were, to change what is of the apostolic tradition. So I think that’s, much more, the heart of the question, rather than women priests or women bishops, actually.

Ian Wyatt: What’s happening to the three hundred or so parishioners at the moment? Are they being instructed in the Catholic faith as we speak?

Bishop McMahon: Yes, some have become in a very tentative way and others in a more intensive way during Lent. And they will join with any people in their parish (i.e. the local Roman Catholic parish near them) who are preparing either for adult baptism or to be received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. So that will go hand-in-hand with a programme that will be happening in the local Roman Catholic parish, and then they will be received into full communion at Easter.

Ian Wyatt: And when they are received as Catholics this Easter, will that be one big ceremony? Will that happen at the Cathedral?

Bishop McMahon: No, for the people it will actually happen in their own parishes—in the local Roman Catholic church adjacent to them.

Ian Wyatt: And when that has happened, Bishop, where do you think they will go to worship? Will they worship with Catholics or will they go to their Anglican churches that are local to them.

Bishop McMahon: No, what we anticipate above all is that, actually, they will move out of the Anglican church, marking that new step—and after all that remains the church of those who remain in that Anglican parish and that is quite right and proper—and so they will then worship in a Roman Catholic church but at their own service, not mingled (as it were) with the Roman Catholics who may be using the church that morning. They will have the service in their own special rite in the afternoon, let’s say.

Ian Wyatt: What about the seven Anglican vicars moving across, then? One retired, six serving at the moment. What’s prompted them to want to make the move?

Bishop McMahon: I think the same as their people, really. When I was speaking about trying to retain what is of the apostolic tradition, and the whole question of authority. So many people see the whole issue of women priests or women bishops as one of equality; in fact that’s not how we see it in the Church. It’s the ability to change, or not change, what is of the apostolic tradition. So, I think for them that is very central, and the main reason why they would like to join the Ordinariate.

Ian Wyatt: You’ve been spending time with them this week. How do feel, making such a big decision?

Bishop McMahon: Apprehensive, because this is a very, very big move because they relinquish their present post—and that’s a very big thing—and leaving some of their people—and that brings a lot of heartache—into a fairly unknown future, because after all this Ordinariate has only just been set up, and so it calls for huge faith and huge trust because the future isn’t that certain.

Ian Wyatt: Are they leaving behind bad feelings?

Bishop McMahon: I would say mixed feelings. I mean obviously, for those who remain, to see a certain number of their own congregation leaving fills them with dismay also. So understandably, I think, it can leave to mixed feelings on both sides.

Ian Wyatt: Are they receiving training to become Catholic priests at the moment?

Bishop McMahon: Yes, they’re going to our theological college, or seminary, at Allen Hall which is in Westminster, and then we will ordain them as deacon—I’m going to do that in the London part, because after all three of the six are from the London end so that is going to be in Wanstead in the month of May, and then finally all seven will be ordained priest in the Cathedral in Brentwood on the vigil of Pentecost. The Pope has given dispensation for them to be ordained quite speedily, precisely so they can be with, and minster to, their own people.

Ian Wyatt: Are any of them married?

Bishop McMahon: Yes, two are married, one is a widower and then three are single, so that brings special needs as well.

Ian Wyatt: Will these newly converted Catholic priests be given parishes of their own to run, ultimately?

Bishop McMahon: That’s a difficult question because, after all, they belong to a certain group (meaning the Ordinariate) with their own rite. Now of course, also, they are ordained also to celebrate the Roman Rite, that is, you know, the usual Roman Catholic Mass, but their main task—especially at the present time and their main purpose in coming over as part of the Ordinariate—is actually to minister to people of that rite. But, since that will not on the whole be a full-time job, they are very happy to help out doing locums for us in some of our parishes, so that is the way I see it developing, rather than them taking over and being in charge of one of our parishes.

Ian Wyatt: I know you don’t want to sound triumphalist about this, but this is a major transition isn’t it?

Bishop McMahon: Yes, I mean my word for it—it is a marking moment in the life of the Church, because for the Pope to have set up, in response to their requests, this special Ordinariate whereby they can bring something of their patrimony (which really means—the word on the whole involves—their own special Anglican liturgy and something of their traditions), in that way, is quite remarkable so, in that sense it is a marking moment. But I want to emphasise, and we are now in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, that we remain absolutely committed to seeking fullness of unity with all the Christian churches.

Ian Wyatt: Could this not weaken that unity, though, with those with a catholic leaning moving over, what will there be left to keep the two branches of Christianity together?

Bishop McMahon: No, we are determined that it will not and the letter that Bishop Stephen of Chelmsford Diocese and myself published, as a joint letter a week ago, was to demonstrate that very fact.

Ian Wyatt: What can you say to Bishop Stephen? He’s the new Bishop of Chelmsford, he’s just started out in the job and he’s been greeted with hundreds of his parishioners leaving.

Bishop McMahon: I think that letter said it all: that we remain committed to working very closely together for the oneness of Christ’s Church.

Ian Wyatt: So the Church of England in Essex shouldn’t feel weakened, in your view, by this?

Bishop McMahon: I hope not.

An interview with BBC Religious Affairs correspondent follows at 2:18:00.

Reporter Andrew Merchant then speaks to the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell:

Bishop Cottrell: Obviously, I’m always sorry when people feel thay they need to move from the Church of England, but I respect their conscience over that. And actually, you know, obviously I don’t want anybody to leave the Church of England, but, you know, it is always the case that there’s some people are joining other Churches, some people joining ours, and this is something that we learn to live with. You know, the Church that God wants us to be is way beyond all our present divisions.

Andrew Merchant: So, those people who are going across, do you think it will move the Church in a particular direction – say, if the Roman Catholic side of the Church of England were to go towards the Roman Catholic Church? Do you think that the broad balance that the Church of England has a reputation for is still there?

Bishop Cottrell: Oh, yes. I mean. As I say, although I’m sorry that these people are going, I do respect their decision, but it’s a small group of people, and … the Church of England remains the Church of this land, and the different bits of the Church are alive and well.

Andrew Merchant: And you’re still working alongside the Bishop of Brentwood?

Bishop Cottrell: Yes, we are. You know, we’re… Bishop Thomas and I are determined that this will not in any way affect our close friendship, and our longing – as I said a moment ago – our longing for that unity which is beyond our divisions. And, whilst there is a little bit of two-way traffic between our Churches and other Churches, we respect and understand that. But I  think I’m certainly trying to keep my eye on the goal of that unity which God wants for all his Church and, perhaps more important than that, the reason, which is the needs of the world.

The interview is then discussed at 2:27:00.