Martin Beckford writes for the Daily Telegraph:
Hundreds more disaffected Anglicans will cross over to the Roman Catholic Church this year as the Church of England prepares to take another important step towards the ordination of women bishops.
At least 20 clergy and several hundred of their parishioners are already lined up to join the Ordinariate, the new structure set up by the Pope a year ago that allows them to remain some of their Anglican heritage while entering into full communion with the Holy See.
But many more members of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England are likely to defect following a critical meeting of its governing body, the General Synod, if traditionalists who cannot accept the ordination of women are denied special provision.
The head of the Ordinariate, Mgr Keith Newton, told The Daily Telegraph: “There are in the region of 15 to 20 people who I think will be coming over this year. These are ordained Anglicans who wish to petition the Holy See for ordination.”
He said they are likely to bring a “couple of hundred” worshippers with them in a second wave of defections, following the 60 clergy and about 1,000 lay people who crossed the Tiber last year.
Mgr Newton, a former Anglican “flying bishop” who is now officially known as the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, went on: “Then next year it depends a little bit on what the Synod decides to do.
“But you can’t become a Catholic because you simply want to escape the problems of the Church of England – you have to want to become a Catholic.”
He believes the Synod vote on women bishops, at which all three “houses” of the Church’s parliament must back the historic move by a two-thirds majority, is on a “knife-edge” with only a handful of votes needed to swing it either way.
However he warned Anglo-Catholics trying to oppose the change that even a victory in July would likely be short-lived.
“If anybody thinks if it doesn’t go through that the issue will go away, they’re actually fooling themselves.
“If it got to a situation, which it will, that you have a House of Bishops of the Church of England where some of the bishops are not in communion with other bishops, I just think that’s an impossibility. You could hardly call that a church.”
Mgr Newton said the provision made for opponents of women priests in the 1990s, the flying bishops of which he was one, was only a “short-term solution” that enabled traditionalists to “hang on by our fingertips” in the Church of England.
But he said none of the elaborate proposals suggested for those who do not wish to be under the care of a female bishop would be “adequate” for him, and pointed out that the Ordinariate is “exactly” what some Anglo-Catholics had once proposed as a solution but with the added feature of being part of the Roman Catholic Church.
“If you’re longing for staying in the Church of England, then you’ll stay. But if you’re actually longing for that greater goal of being in communion with the Holy See, then what is the point of waiting? I don’t quite see what is the point of hanging on.”
Mgr Newton admitted the Ordinariate had encountered challenges in its first year, not least finding jobs and homes for the newly ordained Catholic priests. Some of the former Anglicans have wives and as many as nine children, as they are not bound by their new church’s vow of celibacy.
The clergy look after the congregations who crossed over with them but only a handful have been given existing Catholic parishes to minister to, with most being found chaplaincy work in hospitals, prisons, schools and universities instead.
A charity to support the Ordinariate has received some donations and it has been given some help by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, but it needs about £500,000 a year to keep going.
It is hoped that the organisation will receive more funds, and converts, once it acquires a principal church, likely to be in central London.
On New Year’s Day an Ordinariate will also be created in the USA, followed by another in Australia in the spring, both of which are likely to have more members than the British one.