When Anglicanorum coetibus was announced at a press conference in London a year ago tense bishops faced aggressive questions from journalists. The Archbishop of Canterbury looked grave and uncomfortable. It was clear that the papal document had shaken people.
The headlines that followed had the Holy Father parking his tanks on Dr Rowan Williams’s lawn; there was talk of poaching and the barque of Peter casting its nets in other waters. Then there was talk of small groups: for a while it even seemed that an Ordinariate might never be established. Then there was silence. Then, little by little, the rumours started trickling out: 10 groups of Anglicans, no, 30. Twenty members of the clergy, no, 50. One bishop, no, suddenly there were five.
This morning Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Bishop Alan Hopes laid out the timetable which has been discussed behind the doors of the bishops’ conference’s plenary meeting, in quiet gatherings with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the shepherds of the Anglo-Catholic flock. There was a distinct shift of mood.
Perhaps Dr Rowan Williams’s comments yesterday prepared the ground. He told Vatican Radio: “I think if the Ordinariate helps people evaluate Anglican legacy or patrimony, well and good, I’m happy to praise God for it. I don’t see it as an aggressive act, meant to destabilise the relations of the Churches, and it remains to be seen just how large a movement we’re talking about.”
When Archbishop Nichols faced an aggressive question from a journalist, today, he alluded to Dr Williams’s remarks.
“It’s very interesting that yesterday, speaking in Rome, Archbishop Rowan said he did not view this as an aggressive act, so I don’t feel guilty,” he said.
“I think you have to be very sensitive to the point at which people arrive in their lives when they have a profound conviction about where and how they must live their Christian discipleship. It’s out of respect for that imperative of conscience that all of this takes place.
“This is not a process of rivalry or competition between our two churches and, indeed, we believe that mutual strength is very important because we have a shared mission, because we have a shared task. We are not in competition over the task of trying to bring the gospel to this society.”
His comments seem to illustrate another quiet shift. Perhaps Catholics are beginning be more sympathetic to the difficult process Anglo-Catholics often go through before they decide to take up Anglicanorum coetibus.
Come January, the Ordinariate will be announced by decree, the Holy Father will choose an Ordinary (who this will be remains unclear) and the three active bishops will be ordained into the Ordinariate in order to serve the lay people and clergy who will follow them. Come Holy Week — possibly even at the Easter Vigil — the groups of lay people and former Anglican clergy will be received. This is likely to be an poignant moment, both for them and for the Catholic Church in this country.