The Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda is not a credible alternative

You may not have noticed it (I had hardly noticed it myself) but the C of E (having with deliberation decided not to make any “special provision” for those opposed to women bishops) is currently mounting a last-minute attempt to undermine the Ordinariate for Catholic Anglicans which is expected to be erected in the New Year. This scheme (which I have absolutely no doubt has the discreet backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury) would be laughable if there were not a real possibility that it might persuade some Catholic Anglicans who are seriously considering coming into communion with the Bishop of Rome to stay where they are. They should be warned: have nothing to do with this scheme. It seems to me to be dishonest, deceitful and both morally and intellectually bankrupt.

The name of the disreputable organisation which hopes to inveigle those Anglicans seriously considering the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus into staying exactly where they are is the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda. This was set up last month with the backing of 10 bishops claiming to be of Catholic mind; I can only say that I know some of these men of old and the ones I do know are about as “Catholic” in any real sense as a clockwork banana.

They claim that they are “committed to the full visible unity of the Church for its mission in the world and also to holding central the gift of the threefold order of ministry shared with others, received from the first millennium and held in trust for an ecumenical future” – a shared ministry officially rejected by their own Church nearly 20 years ago. They speak warmly of the Ordinariate, which, they say, is “an exciting initiative for those for whom the vision of ARCIC of corporate union has shaped their thinking over recent years”.

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So why don’t they join it? The sting in the tail is in the last paragraph of their creepy statement: “The crucial issue is the ministry of the Pope himself, as the successor of St Peter. Anglicans who accept that ministry as it is presently exercised will want to respond warmly to the Apostolic Constitution. Those who do not accept the ministry of the Pope or would want to see that ministry in different ways will not feel able to accept Anglicanorum coetibus.”

In other words, they really think that they can plausibly claim to be “committed to the full visible unity of the Church” (there it is, in the very first sentence of their mission statement) while absolutely rejecting any notion of being in communion with the pope. So their ludicrous outfit (which naughty Damian Thompson has dubbed “St Hinge and St Bracket”) will copy the Ordinariate in every detail but one: they will not be in communion with the pope (that is with over half of Christendom) but they will be in communion with all the women bishops the validity of whose orders they refuse to accept, and with the disintegrating Church which will have ordained them. Incoherent, or what?

They say: “It will require courage, and vision on the part of those who accept the [Pope’s] invitation, particularly amongst the first to respond”. True. And for those Anglican “Catholics” (and the dismissive quotations marks will now become inevitable) who do not have the courage or the vision there is always St Hinge and St Bracket. Is that really what they want? The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe rather than the Pope? Where’s the vision in that?

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