This week The Tablet reports that the ordinariate for former Anglicans has reinstated one of its priests, Fr Donald Minchew, who had been suspended for entering a civil partnership to help an immigrant remain in the UK. Such scandals should not be the group’s chief concern – integration should be, says a senior priest who has made the transition from Anglican to Catholic
It is more than 20 years since a significant number of Anglican clergy and laypeople became Catholics at roughly the same time; it is also over four years since Pope Benedict XVI established the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. I was in the former category.
I recall vividly from the mid-1990s the warmth of the welcome we received in the Catholic Church. One group who might have found it hard to be positive towards people like me who were married and destined to be priests were men who had left active ministry and got married, but we found nothing but kindness.
People affirmed our past and made use of our experience. We did not wish to bring with us Anglican liturgical traditions. Most of us said the Divine Office and used the Roman Missal. The Catholic bishops knew this and our background was reflected in our formation, which at least in the Diocese of Southwark took about two years. This was a good thing: many of us were emotionally exhausted by the time we became Catholics, and we had to get used to our new parishioners and fellow clergy. Because of incardination there is a different feel about a Catholic diocese compared to an Anglican one, and we felt we were joining a family.
We didn’t yearn for anything else. Therefore the different model introduced by the establishment by Benedict XVI of the Ordinariate in 2011 was a challenge. At the time I felt particularly annoyed by suggestions that the Church had got it wrong back in the 1990s, and that we had not been welcomed, together with claims (not borne out by evidence since) that setting this structure up then would then bring more people into the Church. Moreover, I was bewildered at the distinct liturgical identity which the Ordinariate has had. People seemed wedded to formularies which most of us had avoided as Anglicans as much as we could. Clergy were also ordained much more quickly.
These reservations needed to be set aside. In my parish we prepared a small group from a local Anglican church for reception into the ordinariate, alongside a small group on non-Catholics who had been coming to Mass, and this worked well. What I saw was that what matters for people interested in the ordinariate, as it did for people like me earlier, is the destination rather than the starting point.
What is important is that the ordinariate is integrated into the life of the Church, and this can be done through clergy formation. I run the academic formation of men training to be permanent deacons for most of the dioceses of southern England and Wales, and we now include in our formation community some outstanding ordinariate students, and an ordinariate priest is a committed member of our formation team.
This has enriched our group and the new deacons will minister both to ordinariate communities and diocesan parishes. As the ordinariate becomes more part of the Church, it will inevitably have to face difficult or scandalous news stories concerning its members, such as the case of Fr Minchew, just like any diocese or religious order.
Looking at both models for receiving Anglicans into the Church – and the route I followed is still possible – we can perhaps see more clearly in humility the different ways in which the unity of Christ’s Body on earth can be deepened.
Fr Ashley Beck is Assistant Priest of Beckenham, Kent, and Dean of Studies of the Diaconate Formation Programme for eight dioceses and the ordinariate. He is also a lecturer in pastoral ministry at St Mary’s University, Twickenham
Above: The ordination as Catholic priests of three former Anglican bishops at the founding of the ordinariate in 2011. Photo: CBCEW