Joan Lewis (EWTN): Interview with Archbishop Vincent Nichols on the Ordinariate

19 03 2011

In the context of a longer interview, the following questions were asked of the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, by Joan Lewis of EWTN:

JL: What has been the reaction in general of Catholics to the Ordinariate and how have they been informed about this?

VN: Well clearly the 15 January was a very important moment, and in preparation for it, we’ve put out over the months a number of indicative statements as to what this means, but immediately before it we gave fairly a comprehensive set of questions and answers to try and catch some of the points of misunderstanding, some of the points where clarity was lacking, and some of the points of anxiety. And of course when the Holy Father was here he spoke to bishops, he spoke to us bishops about the Ordinariate, and I think made his mind very, very clear as to what he intends and what he hopes for. And his explanation, which I repeated in the homily on 15 January, is very simple; he says this is a gesture; this is step, which is designed to serve the greater cause of full visible unity between our churches. And I think what he means is this: is that this Ordinariate creates a space, creates if you like a workshop, where the great patrimonies of the Catholic tradition and the more recent one of the Anglican tradition, can see how they fit together, where they do indeed compliment, where there is indeed a rich patrimony from Anglicanism, which is consonant with Catholic faith and which enriches it. And in a way that’s what the Ordinariate is. The Holy Father, with huge generosity, is creating a space within our visible Catholic life for those who want to come into full communion but stay together with a historic identity which they love and which has formed them, in that identity which is truly Catholic. The word that we use if ‘Anglican Patrimony’ – it’s not a terribly good expression, but it’s a kind of shorthand for recognising some of that character, feel, identity, that people love about themselves because it’s an enrichment. He’s asking us to see how it works out – and nobody knows how it will work out, frankly – but it is now a bridge, and opportunity, for those within the Anglican Communion who are convinced – and this is the crucial thing – who are convinced of the necessity of the Petrine Office as it is now exercised, to come, with their faith, into full communion with that Office.

JL: You mentioned ‘bridge’ and of the titles that I love most that a Holy Father has is pontifex maximus – he is a bridge-builder because that’s what pontifex means. Now, again, recently in December the Holy Father spoke of John Newman – because if we go back to the Oxford Movement we look at now Blessed John Henry Newman trying to bring closer to unity the Anglicans and the Catholics – the Catholic heritage. The Pope spoke of him in December and he kind of repeated words really – and I believe you mentioned this in your homily – he repeated words that he had said at the beatification, when he said ‘the path of Newman’s conversion is a path of conscience – not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but a path of obedience to the truth’, and you say his conversion – I mean you’re quoting his words – his conversion ‘to Catholicism, required him to give up almost everything that was dear and precious to him: possessions, profession, academic rank, family ties and many friends’. I’m discovering why there is much joy – and I’ve seen and felt it and heard it at the parish in particular that I’m more familiar with – the Anglican, Catholic one almost –  there is much joy involved in the Ordinariate but there also involve a sense to quote Newman of, like a ‘parting of friends’. What would you tell someone today who has doubts about this parting, someone who says ‘Please help me Father, help me understand that this is what I should be doing’, that is to say, joining the Ordinariate.

VN: Well there is no point in pretending that it isn’t a difficult step to make, and it’s difficult at all sorts of levels; it’s difficult because it will, most probably, mean the leaving of a church building that people love, it will mean a change of relationships with those probably with whom they will have been worshipping – at least some, it depends on those who make an individual decision, but in a body, to come into full communion. I think – what could I say? – I think, in the end, like John Henry Newman, it is a question of following that pathway, of a truth which is slowly unfolded to us.

It’s very interesting that the Pope reflected in December, an analysis that I first came across from Fr Avery Dulles, that Newman’s life was characterised by three conversions. The first, when he was about 15, when he said he came to understand in a month-long process of prayer, that there were two – I think the word was ‘irreducible truths’, in his life: the truth that he existed and that God existed. And, as it were, that exploration of that relationship – that call and response between himself and God – was the inner dynamic of everything, then, that he did. So that’s where we have to go back – we have to start there. And to say it’s only in that arena that Newman’s meaning of conscience – which is that kind of conversation, that exploration, that attentiveness to the reality of God – that’s where it must begin.

Then Newman’s second conversion, was his, if you like, conversion from a more evangelical stand to one that recognised the importance of dogma – so the one that said this Christian gift is given, and protected, and enhanced through the teachings of the Church, the dogma of the Church. You can’t just leave it to personal opinion, you can’t just leave it to the ebb and flow of the influences of society, you can’t just leave it to personal inspiration by the Holy Spirit – it has to have this framework of teaching to it.

And then his third – which is the one which brought him into the Catholic Church – the second one kind of started that Catholic renewal within the Church of England, the Tractarian movement. But his third conversion was to recognise the importance of the principle of primacy as a lynchpin, if you like, to the cohesiveness of the doctrinal framework that religious truth and experience needs, which is rooted in that personal call between the individual and God.

So that’s the journey that Newman made and, in a way, that’s the journey that we all make. And often, you know, I and other people sometimes feel resentful about the central authority of the Pope, and that kind of ability to call us to order, but you have to get over that and you have to see that this is part of the way God unfolds truth for us. That’s the journey that we all make, and certainly those who are on the verge of coming into the Ordinariate, that’s the pathway that they too are following. Which is why it’s so lovely that the Ordinariate has as its patronage, Our Lady of Walsingham and Blessed John Henry Newman.

JL: Just before we go, can we look maybe at a couple of the practical aspects that I’ve been learning about? So in coming months, at Lent and so forth, the people will be studying and then coming into the church and then priests will be ordained closer to Pentecost. But there are going to be practical problems – a priest who has a home and a parish and everything else right now – where do they go to live? And of course there are some that are married priests, they will still be priests in the Catholic Church, but where do they go to live? Who takes care of a salary – because there’s many practical things to think of? Is there kind of a fund or foundation that’s going to be there to create the financial means for them to function? It is a whole new structure – and how’s that going to work?

VN: Yes it is. And one of the things that the Holy Father said to us when he was here, that we as the dioceses of England & Wales, he appealed to us to be very generous, to help to bring this to life, as it were. And that’s what we’re doing at the moment. Every Catholic bishop is alert and ready – ready to have a conversation with an Anglican clergyman and a group of people, when they make that decision and when the Anglican priest speaks to his bishop and says, look, this is what I’ve now decided I want to do. And our bishops will do their utmost to start that process and to find places where those priests, who sooner or later will have to leave their rectories and their accommodation provided by the Church of England, and come. Now, fortunately, as far as we know, the spread of the groups of Anglicans with their clergy, who are seemingly likely to come, are fairly well spread out. So that it means that our dioceses are… – no one diocese is dealing with a big number; it’s feasible. Now, I think they’re the first steps.

We’re looking at possible points of employment for them, because you will see in the constitution for the Ordinariate there’s a greater openness to its priests earning a wage than there would normally be in a diocese, but that’s to make it possible – so we’re looking at these possibilities. The longer view is, of course, that the Ordinariate will – a bit like a diocese – support its own priests and that’s going to take some time to get there. So it’s a corporate effort – it’s a joint effort at the moment, and I’m very glad of that because I wouldn’t want the Ordinariate thinking of itself at a distant from the dioceses – it is very much overlapping an intermeshing with the dioceses, because we’re all Catholics, because that’s exactly what we’re coming together for. But we have put in a quarter of a million pounds into a fund to get it going, and I know other people are contributing in different ways. I know of some of our Catholic parishes, who have had collections for the Ordinariate, so it will get going, and we should be very trusting in the Lord.

JL: This is history. You’ve said it and we all agree – this is a very historical move. And like anything that is history-making, the first steps are going to be tentative and you do have – (VN: It takes courage) – it takes courage, you have challenges to face, so. Just one last question, because I do know you have appointments. The Anglicans who come into the Ordinariate – they will be Catholics – they’re going to have the wealth – the history, the buildings, the Vatican – of the Catholic faith. What do you think is going to be their contribution?

VN: Well it’s actually quite difficult to tie down, but these would be strands: I think many of them have a different spiritual tradition. So, if you like their spiritual fathers from the Anglican tradition have a particular insight to offer to us all. So there’s a kind of pattern of spirituality, a pattern of prayer, which obviously is not radically different but has different tones. They often have a rather different pattern of theological formation which probably pays more attention to patristics – to the writings of the fathers, to the patristic tradition. They have – and space is allowed for this in the new Personal Ordinariate – probably a different balance of how decisions are made within the Church. They will probably have councils and consultative bodies that come from a tradition of having a much stronger part to play, so I think that will come. And I think, also, there will be a rather different feel to their sense of mission. An Anglican priest instinctively believes his mission is everybody, now we instinctively believe our mission is to Catholics, as priests. I think they will help us to be a bit more confident in the public sphere of saying, well the call of the gospel, the invitation of the gospel, is towards everybody and it is towards everybody that we should be looking and caring. That’s what we might receive.

JL: And that’s exactly what I’ve heard, these five days, that’s the impression I’ve received of these ministers that are coming in; how they perceive their mission and what you’ve just said to me. I’m going to ask my listeners to remember all these people who, with great courage, are coming into the Ordinariate; to remember you obviously in their prayers – I know you have appointments. We’ve been speaking with Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and we’ll be seeing you again here and perhaps some day in Rome, and I look forward to the first ordinations and I’ll be back for those.

VN: Thank you very much indeed and God bless all your listeners, and thank you for being here.