The forthcoming establishment of an ordinariate for Australian Anglicans wishing to enter the Catholic Church has ignited hope for greater peace and unity, says Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott of Melbourne.
Bishop Elliott, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference episcopal delegate for the ordinariate, and himself a former Anglican, told ZENIT that there is a sense of enthusiasm and anticipation among those who seek to join the ordinariate, as stipulated in “Anglicanorum Coetibus.”
The Australian Ordinariate Implementation Committee was formed only last month. Next month, a national gathering will take place for those interested in learning more about it. The hope was expressed that the ordinariate will be established this year.
In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Elliott spoke about the challenges and hopes surrounding this ordinariate, its impact on ecumenism, and how it can encourage all Catholics to grow in their faith.
ZENIT: Could you tell us more about plans for the establishment of the new ordinariate in Australia?
Bishop Elliott: The plans are moving more slowly than in the United Kingdom. But the situation is more complex.
First there is the challenge of geography — Australia is the same size as mainland United States.
We have to bring together groups that are scattered, even isolated. As episcopal delegate for the bishops’ conference, my frequent flyer points are rising fast!
Then, two somewhat diverse groups have to come together: Some Anglican clergy and laity in the official Anglican Church of Australia (ACA) and most members of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia (Traditional Anglican Communion: TAC). Both groups share an Anglo-Catholic heritage, but their history is different.
One of the fruits of the ordinariate will be their coming together in one community.
ZENIT: How will the community of former Anglicans in Japan be included into this ordinariate?
Bishop Elliott: This possibility is only in its earliest stages, so I cannot provide more details.
ZENIT: What has the general environment been like among those who seek to be part of the ordinariate?
Bishop Elliott: There is a sense of enthusiasm and anticipation among these Australian Anglicans.
Over the past 20 years they have suffered for their Catholic principles, confronted and torn apart by serious doctrinal and moral issues.
In this country, no pastoral provision was made for these good people in the official Church. They had to accept the new order or fend for themselves. They are still unfairly labeled as “disaffected Anglicans.”
At the same time, those who set up independent Anglican dioceses and parishes (TAC) suffered rejection and ridicule, and they have made great sacrifices to follow their consciences.
In both circles, they are coming to see that the Holy Father’s generous offer means peace and unity. They are diligently studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church — a good example to us all.
ZENIT: Could you say something about the interreligious relations with the Anglican Church in Australia? What kind of response have you heard from the Anglicans who have no desire to become Catholics?
Bishop Elliott: On a broad level, relations between Catholics and Anglicans in Australia are good.
The ordinariate will not harm ecumenism.
Last year I had the opportunity to address the official dialogue circles of Anglicans and Catholics. When I explained the ordinariate there was a friendly and gracious response. An interesting theological conversation followed, but no negativity.
We need to make distinctions among Anglicans who have no desire to become Catholics. The evangelicals have sent messages of good will. They rightly see that all Anglo-Catholics should return to unity with Rome.
Most liberal Anglicans seem indifferent, knowing that the ordinariate will be small, at least initially. One Anglican bishop expressed anger about the papal offer, but he was promptly contradicted by an evangelical bishop.
Here we detect the “elephant in the front room” in the world of Anglicanism, the large numbers of evangelicals, particularly in Sydney and Nigeria, but also elsewhere. What these committed Bible-believing Christians plan to do is mysterious. After the ordinariates take shape, these evangelicals may well determine the future of the Anglican Communion.
ZENIT: What does this mean for you personally as a former Anglican?
Bishop Elliott: I have a much stronger sense of what Blessed John Henry Newman called a “particular providence” in my own life.
My reception into the Church in Oxford back in 1968 makes more sense than ever.
My task now is to help Anglicans of the Catholic tradition to take the same path to unity and peace in Christ.
But my episcopal motto is “Parare vias eius” — To Prepare His Ways. Those words from the Benedictus now have a deeper, more focused meaning for me.
There is a touch of human sorrow too — if only my dear parents, Reverend Leslie Llewelyn Elliott and June Elliott, had lived to see these days. Yet I know that now they are praying for the ordinariates. There are no suburbs in Heaven.