The journey begins
Ordinariates and the Church of EnglandAbigail Frymann
- 23 October 2010
A flying bishop and a small parish in Rowan Williams’ own diocese are the first of the Church of England rebels ready to turn their backs on Canterbury and make for Rome via the special structure of an ordinariate. But could progress be stymied by salaries, pensions and buildings?
One bishop and a small parish in Folkestone have independently announced that they will leave the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church and be the first into the ordinariate offered to them by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago. The exodus has begun.
The apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, “On groups of Anglicans”, was simultaneously unveiled at the Vatican and in London a year ago, when it was thought that up to 500,000 traditional Anglicans and 50 of their bishops from around the world, prompted by their disaffection with the direction of their own Church, could enter into full communion with Rome. The Church of England’s move to allow women to become bishops is just one example of change that they oppose.
At the end of his visit to Britain last month, the Pope reminded the Catholic bishops of England and Wales to be “generous” in implementing Anglicanorum Coetibus, which he called “a prophetic gesture” that “helps us to set our sights on … the restoration of full ecclesial communion”.
Just how many will now join this exodus is hard to assess, but the prelates most likely to accept the Pope’s offer were always going to be the Church of England’s “flying bishops”, who were installed to minister to those who could not accept the 1992 decision to ordain female priests: Bishops Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, Keith Newton of Richborough – who are both on “study leave” – plus John Broadhurst of Fulham, and Martyn Jarrett of Beverley. Burnham, Newton and Broadhurst have said they will join the ordinariate at some point, and last Friday Bishop Broadhurst reaffirmed that decision. Never one to do things quietly, he described his employer and spiritual home of 44 years in an interview with The Daily Telegraph as “vicious”, “vindictive” and “fascist” over its refusal to accommodate more effectively opponents of women’s ordination. Bishop Burnham and Bishop Newton’s predecessor, Edwin Barnes, last month told The Tablet they would also join the ordinariate, which is to be set up in January.
Meanwhile the first parish announced its desire to join the structure. The Parochial Church Council of St Peter’s, Folkestone, a small traditionalist parish of 40 or so worshippers, voted to instruct their churchwardens to contact the diocese and start negotiations for moving to the ordinariate. A church member said they felt “fobbed off” over the Church of England’s promise of pastoral oversight because their bishop, Trevor Willmott of Dover, was one of those at General Synod who were “really not very helpful to any measures to ameliorate things as seen from the Anglo-Catholic side of things”.
In the next few weeks, the pace of these apparently isolated decisions may quicken. A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said each Anglican priest who, with a group of faithful, is considering joining the ordinariate has been asked to speak to his Anglican bishop about his interest by the end of October.
“At that time, the bishops’ conference will begin to know the likely number of groups that wish to avail themselves of … Anglicanorum Coetibus,” said the spokesman.
The initiative presents awkward issues for congregations, either those that are divided on whether to join the ordinariate, or those whose priest wishes to join while they do not. “I can see that it might split parishes,” said Bishop Malcolm McMahon, a member of the commission set up by the Catholic bishops to oversee the establishment of an ordinariate.
An estimated half of St Peter’s, Folkestone, want to join the ordinariate and, if they do, the question will arise of what happens to the pastoral oversight of the rest, and of the local community. If a priest’s parish doesn’t want to join, “he would have to attach himself to another group or come [into the Catholic Church] by the normal route – but if he does that, he can’t join the ordinariate later,” explained Bishop McMahon, who draws a parallel between the incoming Anglicans and the Polish communities which shared church buildings with English catholic parishes and used very similar liturgy.
Bishop Alan Hopes, an auxiliary in Westminster and a former Anglican, is to head the ordinariate in its early days before relinquishing control to an ordinariate member selected from a governing council of six priests, three of whom are thought to be Anglican bishops who will be reordained as Catholic priests next spring.
Bishop McMahon said fears of a major rift within the Church of England were overplayed because the numbers of Anglicans wanting to join the ordinariate were relatively low. Where a parish applied to the ordinariate, he said there was genuine pastoral concern from both the local Anglican and Catholic bishops to find the best way forward.
It is still a learning process for all concerned. What has become clearer in the last year is that Anglicans won’t be able to take their buildings with them – under ancient common law an Anglican church building is seen as “a legal entity, having a perpetual existence, which is distinct from the individuals who are incumbent from time to time”, according a statement by the Church of England.
Another important issue to be resolved concerns the funding of the clergy. Some Anglican clergy own properties; some don’t. But all will leave behind their Church of England final-salary pensions. Priests within the ordinariate will be paid and housed by it, and there are rumours of Anglo-Catholic benefactors bank-rolling the operation to make it viable.
But wherever the money comes from, the stipends will be relatively small and ordinariate priests will be allowed, and may even be encouraged, to take on secular work. The St Barnabas Society, which looks after Anglican clergy who are reordained as Catholic priests, said it will offer financial and pastoral support to ordinariate clergy.
Secretary of the society Fr Robin Sanders admitted that finding employment might be hard for clergy who hadn’t worked outside the Church for years.
One thing the ordinariate is not likely to do, said Bishop McMahon, is ease the shortage of Catholic priests, given that ordinariate clerics are intended to minister first and foremost to their own. Even so, the strictures of Rome may prove a shock to some Anglican clergy. The secretary of Forward in Faith – a grouping of Anglo-Catholics within the Church of England – the Revd Geoffrey Kirk, said that reports about the suitability of applicants to the ordinariate are being sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said he thought that those in civil partnerships would not be deemed suitable, and there might even be a reticence to admit younger married Anglican clergy who have no children.
“There may well be moral questions about relationships that have to be considered,” said Fr Kirk, adding that such concerns could be linked to the attitude of an applicant. “There’s bound to be an anxiety that they’re taking on a bunch of difficult individuals,” he said.
However, this week there was an unexpected fillip for those “difficult individuals” and others whom Rome may feel are unsuitable for the ordinariate, as well as those disaffected but reluctant to leave the Anglican Church. An analysis of the composition of the new General Synod of the Church of England shows that the number of Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals – who have formed an alliance of opposites – could produce a large enough bloc to defeat the legislation for women bishops. To succeed, it needs a two-thirds majority when it is voted on by the whole synod in 2012, and that is now in some doubt.
This is good news for Canon Simon Killwick, chairman of the Catholic Group in the General Synod, who said he would like to remain in the Anglican Church “indefinitely”, and to that end he would like to see the legislation amended to include alternative oversight for those who cannot accept women bishops.
“There’s a fight on our hands, but once provision is established it should be possible to engage in our shared mission without these battles in the way,” said Canon Killwick, who is a member of the newly founded Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, set up by Anglo-Catholic bishops who wish to remain in the Church of England. The society, which shares offices with Forward in Faith, was dismissed by those wanting to move quickly to the ordinariate but it is already proving a popular haven with those who wish to stay.
Soon we will know whether the Pope’s gesture has been taken up by five parishes or by 50. For now, Anglicanorum Coetibus and the soul-searching it has provoked has strengthened in some their sense of Anglican identity while giving others a long-awaited method by which they can replant theirs.