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An influx of Anglo-Catholics will add to the divisions of the Church

We may be about to witness the first fruits of Pope Benedict’s Anglicanorum coetibus. But not everyone is rejoicing

By on Thursday, 15 July 2010

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Now that it’s all systems go for women bishops in the Church of England there is once again excited talk of Anglicans coming over to Rome in their thousands, and bringing with them their own liturgical patrimony, their own bells and smells, and, in the case of married clergymen, their own wives, children and au pairs. We may be about to witness the first fruits of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus.

God bless our Pope and all that, but not everyone is rejoicing. Some of us have always had a problem with Anglo-Catholicism. Leo XIII declared that Anglican orders were “absolutely null and utterly void”, but Anglo-Catholics somehow manage to believe that they are part of a Church that has disowned them, and which, in spite of their birettas and maniples, regards them as Protestants.

Anglo-Catholics, in other words, seem to have no difficulty in believing impossible things, and some may be able to manage as many as six before breakfast. To add to their problems, and ours, the Church now faces the possibility of “single-issue” converts coming over en masse. With Rome, however, it is all or nothing. You can’t, for example, believe that the Church of England was part of the Catholic Church until it decided to ordain women and create women bishops. A Catholic must believe that, in spite of its many virtues, the Anglican Church was always defective.

Bottom line: any Anglican who accepts the claims of Rome and has come to believe that the Church of England is and always has been Protestant should seek instruction immediately and forget about waiting for his pals to join him, and any Anglican who clings on to the belief that he was in the right place until women started getting out of hand should stay where he is, and try to influence Anglicanism from the inside. That, in the end, is what a lot of Anglo-Catholics will do.

Many will Pope, however, and when they arrive on this side of the Tiber they will, of course, be welcomed, but especially by mainstream traditionalists, who tend to be rather keen on Anglicanorum coetibus. Why? Well, they like the idea of the Pope having his tanks on Rowan Williams’s lawn, but my impression is that some of them hope that the Ordinariates will provide them with tasteful liturgy in a tasteful setting. What this suggests is that the influx of disgruntled Anglicans will add to the divisions within the Church.

Last autumn I was having dinner in Cambridge with a don and a very engaging Franciscan priest, when the subject of Anglicanorum coetibus came up. The don asked whether, if the Anglicans were to form their own Ordinariates, we could fulfil our Sunday obligation by going to a nice Anglican “uniate” church and listening to good music and praying in matchless liturgical English.

“Yes,” said the priest.

“And they could come to our churches, too?” asked the don.

“Yes,” said the priest. “But they won’t.”

Do we have another sect in the making?

  • Guest

    I'm grateful to read something that isn't all Triumphalist optimism and that reasserts that conversion/reception into full communion is an individual act implying full, personal assent to what the Catholic Church teaches to be true. Personally, I don't think there will be masses of Anglicans converting. Those who did not see in 1994 that the ordination of women to the priesthood must necessarily be followed by ordination to the episcopate must have been burying their heads in theological sand. We must pray for the Anglicans, we must welcome those who come over as ex-Anglicans, but I hope we'll also be supportive of our existing clergy (some of whom find the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution hard to take) and cherish the unity we share. Sectarianism, whatever form it takes, is a very protestant notion which already seems to affect some parts of the Church.

  • Peter Kingsley

    The New Anglo-Catholic Ordinaries that the Pope seems keen to create does sound a little like Roman Catholic Flying Bishops. Few would suggest that Flying Bishops created greater unity within the Anglican Communion so why export this style of disunity.

  • W Wheatley

    No, not a new sect in the making. The Elizabethan Settlement tried to maintain a church in which Protestants and Catholics could coexist. It never really worked. The Oxford Movement resulted in a “rediscovery” of the Catholic roots of Anglicanism, but many of those who rediscovered them realized that the settlement didn't work and went to Rome instead. There is tremendous value in Anglican “high” liturgy and spirituality. It is a spirituality very similar to what existed in the Catholic church prior to Vatican II but which was largely destroyed by the perversion of liturgy that followed Vatican II and that did not respect the teaching of Vatican II. Anglicanorum Coetibus will receive into communion with Rome will bring a liturgical and spiritual richness to the Catholic Church that it desperately needs.

  • Guest

    I don't think there's anything to fear. God brings people to the true faith in all kinds of ways and this may be one of them. Yes, the motives may not individually be pure, but then which ones are? And once they're in, I think we can be confident they'll realize it is the true Church of Christ. It's simply another way of casting the net.

  • W Wheatley

    Of course, individual conversion is necessary for one to be truly Catholic. Those who are knocking on the door are already converted, already believe that the Catholic Church is truly the core of Christianity, already believe everything taught in The Catholic Catechism (how many Catholics do?) and have been trying for years to cross the Tiber while retaining what is compatible with Catholicism in the Anglican Tradition. It is for that reason that the Pope is welcoming them with open arms. That is much more than many American bishops have done in the past. The “Anglican Use” movement faltered because too many times bishops refused to allow Episcopal parishes to enter the Catholic Church and function under the Pastoral Provision. That is why the Ordinariates were created, to remove the Anglican Catholics from the jurisdiction of willful and antagonistic local Roman Catholic bishops.

  • Elias Agamba

    To me the problem is how the catholic church can resist the influence of the Anglo – Catholic faith as they are likely to grow stronger within the church. They may want to introduce rules which will make life easier and confortable for themselves. As an african and a catholic, a woman does not perform libation in the African Traditional Religion, libation is performed by men not women, just like priest who are men perform the mass ceremony. But they are as well recognised in other fields. We should be careful and develop catholics who are worthy of emulation but not numbers. Allow me borrow this African proverb, “So much water with little ingredients in soup does not not taste good” In short quality matters not quantity.

    From Navrongo, Ghana.

  • W Wheatley

    Elias, not being familiar with African customs, I am not sure what you mean by “perform libation”. Do you mean giving Holy Communion using the cup? Using women as “Eucharistic Ministers” to deliver communion — both the bread and the wine — is common in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. It is much less common among Anglo-Catholics, most of whom use only men to distribute communion.

  • Jerrybradley317

    In this 'phase' of our Life in Christ ' out comes' should be judged tentatively whenever possible, in my sometimes humble opinion.

  • catholic from Canada

    Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for one Catholic and Apostolic Church, if You have a problem with that
    perhaps You yourself are in the wrong church.

  • David Lindsay

    A splendid post.

    Unlike ten or even five years ago, no one any longer makes the absurd suggestion to potential Anglican converts to Catholicism over this issue that “Rome may change”. Everyone now accepts that that is not going to happen. “My RC friends are all in favour of it”, one used to hear, though less so now. Who asked them? No one. Nor will anyone ever be asking them. That is just not how it works.

    Instead, there is talk that such old 68ers as have not already either left the Church (or as good as) or at least more-or-less returned to orthodoxy might swim the Tiber in the other direction. I hope that they can put up with all the tasteful music and attractive architecture.

    In fact, I laughed out loud at last week's Church Times, a souvenir edition for this year's Petertide ordinations. The front page showed albed ordinands prostrate on a cathedral floor, with a man in a chasuble standing over them. Inside, there were gold chasubles and matching mitres all over the place, and women even more than men were clad in single-breasted Roman cassocks, although I cannot imagine who makes them with the buttons up the other side.

    What does any of this indicate? Self-definition against the Evangelical wing, because self-definition against its stand on sexual morality. But liberal Catholics would hate it all, not having been formed by the definition of Catholicism simply as these things, so that as long as they are present, then nothing else matters. A lot – not all, but a lot – of the opposition to women's ordination is in this same vein: the all-male presbyterate is a subcultural marker, and if you have it and all the others, then you can be or do anything else you like.

  • Suleyman

    Do we have another sect in the making? Perhaps. But then for many of us this will be a welcome development, given that in my neck of the woods at least, we are dominated by a sect that worships the 1970s “folk” service (usually renamed “family” or “childrens'” services these days). This is to the point of making it difficult for a child to make their Communion (and hence attend a Catholic school) unless they attend those services. Can we “fulfil our Sunday obligation by going to a nice Anglican “uniate” church and listening to good music and praying in matchless liturgical English”? Yes please.

  • RJ

    It could be that the ordination of women bishops will clarify the thinking of some Anglo-Catholics, so although it could be a catalyst, it need not be the only factor in their decision. In other words, the decision could be for genuine reasons.

  • Hoops

    I know that where I'm from (Australia) liturgies include people who though devoted to the Eucharist and Mass are not using the sacrament of reconciliation. I think a vast nominalism is nominal under whatever banner its waved.

    Liturgies that keep people out of trouble are useful in that regard. I think the Vatican II year A,B,C weekdays I and II liturgical form is a deep and brilliant resource. I did some Adrian Van Kaam formation work way back when. I am not sure how to treat the effectiveness of liturgies in purifying and elevating souls. I know given the right attitude to them sacraments as effective. Jesus also pointed out the Jewish temple practice could be effective in bringing forgiveness – the parable of the pharisee and the sinner testifies to that.

    Still this issue of inclusion en masse does raise questions about faithful engagement with sacramental signs… but then so does everything else about our contemporary world.


    Are the disenchanted Anglicans converting to Rome a Trojan horse? Anglicanism emptied of it's traditionalists will be rapidly filling with priestesses. Becoming more and more an attractive option for young Catholic women seeking the priesthood.

  • Cheap GHD Straighteners

    God bless our Pope and all that, but not everyone is rejoicing. Some of us have always had a problem with Anglo-Catholicism. Leo XIII declared that Anglican orders were “absolutely null and utterly void”, but Anglo-Catholics somehow manage to believe that they are part of a Church that has disowned them, and which, in spite of their birettas and maniples, regards them as Protestants.

  • WheatleyUSLltd

    I get your point; but what you are ignoring is that one wing of the Church of England (and of Anglicanism) has always been Catholic. Although dwindling in the 1700's, it was revived by Blessed John Newman and the Oxford Movement. After Leo XIII's pronouncement on Anglican Orders, those of the Anglo-Catholic wing (not to be confused with the “High Church” wing) took pains to ensure that their Orders would be valid by arranging for co-consecrators from the Old Catholics. You are ignoring also that there have been serious Catholic theologians at the time of Leo XIII and to the present day who argue (rather convincingly, I feel) that Leo XIII was wrong. Serious and legitimate doubt exists regarding the validity and invalidity of Orders of individuals within Anglicanism who can trace their lineage through the Old Catholic line. Accordingly, when Bp. Leonard, Bishop of London in the Church of England, was received into the Catholic Church he was not “re”ordained, but conditionally ordained Priest without “re”ordination or conditional ordination to the Diaconate.

    The reason few Anglican Catholics in ordinariates will go to Catholic masses is the sorry state of the liturgy in most Catholic parishes. You will find them enthusiastically attending Masses in the Extraordinary Form, however. The reason you will find Catholics attending Anglican Masses in the Ordinariate is the superb attention given to the seriousness and holiness of the liturgy in Anglo-Catholicism. Anglo-Catholics are not a “sect” and will not be, any more than Greek Catholics are a sect. Anglo-Catholics will be restoring the Anglican patrimony to the Catholic Church, and restoring their Catholic Patrimony to their own group.

    Yes, the Church of England is largely Protestant, and that is why there will be an Anglo-Catholic exodus. It will be slow at first, but will grow with time.