This interview between Sarah Julian and Fr Simon Ellis took place on Sunday 20 February 2011 on BBC Radio Nottingham:
SJ: Tears and shock and disbelief greeted an announcement by a local Anglican vicar that he was leaving to become a Roman Catholic priest, last Sunday. Well Fr Simon Ellis has resigned his job as a priest at St Laurence in Long Eaton, and a second church in Ilkeston, because he says the Church of England is ‘no longer the conscience of the nation’. Some of his congregation will be transferring with him but not everyone and his decision – as you can imagine – divided opinion. In a moment we’ll be hearing from Fr Simon but first, here’s what some of his parishioners had to say:
“Personally I think the resignation of Fr Simon and people going, that is a blow to me because I lose friends that I hold very dear. And if I stay, I stay with friends, but if I go, I lose friends here as well so I’m in the middle”.
“I think it’s a decision which has been forced upon us by what’s happened in the Church of England. I regard going to the Ordinariate as a kind of adventure. Things aren’t quite clear yet but I think things will get much clearer in the next few weeks. I think it’s something that I, personally, have to do”.
“The Pope was very welcoming to us, wasn’t he? Open arms”.
“I don’t think anybody’s denying that at all. For me, and I fully respect the opinion of people who are going, I want to carry on fighting, I’m afraid. And there are people who have been in this church their entire lives, as you know perfectly well, and I feel desperately sorry for them, I think it’s appalling what’s being done to people. And, for me, I’m going to stand and fight for as long as I can, and we may well lose, however I’m going to try”.
SJ: Well this decision to convert to Catholicism was made easier by the Pope’s offer to set up a special Ordinariate within the Catholic Church, which three people, three bishops, have already joined. Fr Simon Ellis is on the line this Sunday morning. Hello…
SE: Good morning, Sarah, good morning.
SJ: So what’s made you go? Is it the furore in the Church of England about women bishops?
SE: The most important reason is, simply, we always wanted unity with the wider Church, that was one of our top three things really. But we recognize that this was an important moment in the church’s history and, yes, the Pope’s offered something pretty historic. But I think also we feel we’re walking away from a church that is in great difficulty.
SJ: You were ordained as an Anglican priest after the Church of England had already decided to have women as priests. So you knew it was on the cards, you knew where the Church of England was going with this, so why did you do it? Why didn’t you become a Catholic at the beginning?
SE: We certainly did know at the time and priests have been ordained subsequent to my ordination, which was 1997. But the things was, in 1992 and then later in ‘94, when the ordination of women occurred for the first time and then from then onwards, it was decided in the Church’s parliament – what’s called the General Synod – that in fact, if you like, two tracks would run and that in order to keep the best relationship with the wider church possible, there would simply be, if you like, two sets of bishops and it doesn’t sound an ideal arrangement but it kept everybody on board and it kept open the possibility of dialogue with the wider church.
SJ: But it’s come to a point where it just can’t carry on, then?
SE: That Act of Synod, as it was called, is now going to be removed and other safeguards, too, so that really the parishes that are, if you like, traditionalist, will have nobody to look to.
SJ: So what does it mean personally for you to leave the Church of England?
SE: Well it’s a great sadness because, obviously, of friends that you’re going to say goodbye to. But as you know when you make any job change, you do have to make sacrifices, but we will keep in touch with so many people and I’m just very grateful for all the many blessings that I’ve received over these past 43 years in the Church of England, which has been fantastic.
SJ: It’s a huge kind of responsibility and perhaps a burden, though, isn’t it? You know the church has been divided by this decision, you’re taking some of them with you; you’re leaving some behind; it’s a massive step.
SE: It is a big step but we feel – it might sound strange to say this but we feel we have the blessing of our Anglican colleagues and friends and also of our Roman Catholic new friends, because I’ve received so many letters and emails and wishes – it’s just overwhelming.
SJ: But you’ve got family. What about your wife and two children? They’ll be in an unusual position – being the wife of a Catholic priest is not that common is it?
SE: Well it’s becoming more common in the sense that, again since 1992, there’s been about 400 Anglican priests that became Catholic – not all of them were married but a good number were – and also in the wider context, if you go across other parts of Europe – for example Ukraine – there’s been married priests for centuries. The Roman Catholic Church has always said that it’s really a disciplinary issue, not a purely doctrinal one, so they are really going the extra mile to welcome us and, notwithstanding them, I’m sure there will be some people who may feel slightly anxious about receiving a married priest but, again, once you get to know people face to face, these worries usually evaporate.
SJ: Fr Simon Ellis, thank you so much for talking to us so honestly this Sunday morning.
SE: Thank you.