Church Union: Message from Fr Edwin Barnes

28 07 2011

Fr Edwin Barnes, President of the Church Union and a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham writes:

I was very pleased to take on the Presidency of the Church Union on the retirement of Bishop Eric Kemp. It seemed to me that there was still a task for a Catholic Society within the Church of England, especially one which sought reunion with the Holy See. When the Pope’s offer to us of Anglicanorum Coetibus was revealed, it seemed to me just what we had been seeking for so long – a way for groups of Anglicans to become members of the larger Catholic Church. United but not absorbed, for the Holy Father asked us to retain elements of our distinctive Patrimony.

It also seemed to me that this was a wonderful opportunity for the Church Union itself to bridge the gap between continuing members of the Church of England, and those who had joined the Roman Communion. The means for doing this had, I thought, been prepared a few years ago when the Constitution of the Union had been broadened to include those outside as well as those within the Church of England.

It came as an unwelcome surprise when the Union received a Legal Opinion from a QC suggesting that although the Constitution might have been altered, the foundation documents had not, and they trumped whatever the Constitution might intend. They seemed to say this was a Society for Church of England members only. I therefore took it on myself to seek other Legal Opinion. This arrived at a different conclusion from the first, and suggested we might indeed function ecumenically.

Clearly Legal Opinions depend very much on the questions being asked. I recall somewhere in my Latin studies that there were two sorts of questions, one began “Nonne?” and the other “Num?” That is to say, you could ask a question seeking a positive answer, or a negative one.

Since those opinions were received, there has been an election, and it is quite clear to me now that even were I to continue as President the weight of opinion in the Councils of the Union would be against any notion of assisting those who have joined the Ordinariate. This has been achieved partly by refusing to accept nominations of members of the Church Union who are already in the Ordinariate. In other words, the question has been settled before the opinion of our members has been sought.

So, sadly, I shall not stand again for election to the Presidency of the Church Union. I hope whoever takes over will find it possible to fulfil the hopes and dreams of Lord Halifax and the Union’s other founders. Their first task, I am sure, is to amend the Scheme which set up the Union, for unless they do so they will find, in the end, that the name and endowments of the Union will be taken over by those who have opposed all we have stood for – the truly Catholic nature of the Church of England.

Please be assured, members of the Union, of my poor continuing prayers for you and for the Church of England at this difficult time. I hope you too may find it in your heart to pray for those of us who have joined the Ordinariate, certain that this is the only way of securing an Anglican Catholic future. God bless you.