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Why we waited 15 years for an Ordinariate: the inside story

In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger then, ‘what are the English bishops afraid of?’

By on Monday, 22 November 2010

The late Cardinal Hume withdrew his support for parish-based conversions in the early 1990s because of the opposition of some bishops (Photo: PA)

The late Cardinal Hume withdrew his support for parish-based conversions in the early 1990s because of the opposition of some bishops (Photo: PA)

On Saturday evening, I received a telephone call from a Catholic priest, formerly an Anglican clergyman, who had been one of a group of influential Anglo-Catholics (the most senior being the Rt Rev Graham Leonard, formerly Bishop of London) who in the early 90s had entered into negotiation with a group of Catholic bishops led by Cardinal Hume, on the possibility of devising a method whereby Anglicans might convert to the Catholic Church not individually, but in parish-based groups. My caller was clearly excited, having learned in more detail than has yet been published, the terms under which the Ordinariate will be set up. “They’ve given us everything we were asking for,” he said. “It’s all there.”
I had been in contact with him throughout those long-ago negotiations, about which he had kept me fully informed as each meeting took place. I kept copious notes, later confirmed by the minutes of the meetings, which were leaked to me by more than one participant. This information formed the basis of a detailed and accurate account of what had happened, which appeared in my book The Roman Option some time after the whole thing had been torpedoed by the opposition of certain English Catholic bishops, as a result of which Cardinal Hume – who in the negotiations had been entirely supportive of the Anglican negotiators – lost his nerve and withdrew his support. The scheme foundered and sank, some thought without trace. In Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger asked “what are the English bishops afraid of?” Pope John Paul asked the former Bishop Leonard: “Why are the English bishops so unapostolic?”
When my book appeared the cardinal issued a categorical denial of my account (strongly implying that my report of Cardinal Ratzinger’s and the Pope’s words were a blatant fabrication) and a condemnation of my book – which he issued as a statement by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales even though few of the bishops can possibly have read it at the time.

So, I was publicly branded by my own bishops as a liar. I was able to have this statement withdrawn after a long correspondence with the statement’s author (one of Westminster’s auxiliary bishops), by insisting that if it was not I would publish the minutes of the meetings to show that I had been telling the truth. Since I was very unwilling to imply that Cardinal Hume had himself been lying, or even wholly in error, I was profoundly relieved when this was agreed, though the damage to my book had been done.
Why had I bothered? What was the use of those years of work on the book, I wondered. Far fewer people would know about the statement’s withdrawal than about the book’s formal condemnation. There was one interesting answer to that question, however, which made me feel a little better. I received a fascinating phone call from my publisher, HarperCollins: the papal nuncio had ordered six copies of my book: so, The Roman Option would be read in Rome. But by whom? It was an intriguing question.

Time passed. Women priests were ordained. A sort of church within the Church of England, which declared itself out of communion with women priests and those bishops who ordained them, emerged. It had its own non-territorial bishops, certain of whom, after more than a decade, reopened negotiations with the Catholic Church: not, this time with the English bishops, whom they now did not trust, but very quietly, in Rome itself.
One day, I received a phone call from Rome. It was from a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whose former prefect was now Pope. I was asked for an undertaking to mention to nobody either the name of my interlocutor or, at that time, even the fact that the conversation had taken place. Things were at an early and delicate stage, he said: but there was a real possibility of movement along the lines of the former negotiations. They had read my book. Could we talk?
I told them that I wasn’t as closely in contact with the Anglican side as I had been, for obvious reasons. But there was one thing I was sure of: that the whole thing would be sunk unless the English bishops were kept firmly out of the loop: they should be told nothing. There was a silence. “Your remarks are noted,” he said. But it was clear to me that if the English bishops hadn’t been told yet, that was a decision that had already been made.
Time passed again, though less of it, this time. To the astonishment and dismay of some Catholic bishops Anglicanorum coetibus was published. And now, we are told (I had to smile) that in the words of the Herald report, “The dioceses of England and Wales have pooled a quarter of a million pounds to fund the Ordinariate” and that in “places in which groups were formed, the local dioceses would provide help to Anglican clergy coming over both in terms of housing and financial aid”. Cor! Does that mean in every diocese, even on the south coast?
I have explained in previous blogs why I think this is an entirely desirable development. I just have one question. Why could this not have happened 15 years ago? And what is the answer to Pope John Paul’s and the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s questions: What [were] the English bishops afraid of? And, a tougher question: why [were] the English bishops so unapostolic?
Perhaps things are different now. We must all earnestly pray that they are.

  • IanW

    And will a certain South Coast Director of Liturgy see this as an opportunity to extend his already striking sphere of influence? Not that he'll get very far …

  • NG

    Pope John Paul II asked why the English bishops were so unapostolic. I wonder why he did nothing to ensure that new appointments were not in the same old mould. I pray that Pope Benedict, who has clearly seen the wisdom of keeping Anglicanorum coetibus firmly under Roman control, will bear this in mind when making new appointments (including the first Ac Ordinary).

  • Winston Lewis

    Excellent article and how true. BVEW have for forty years persued a false root with theC Of E. Even in the face of the “ordination” women and now “Bishops” they are still reluctant to admit their error. It is about time they realised they will not be taking seats in the HOuse of Lords.

  • Alec

    Perhaps the opposition came from certain liberal-minded Bishops fearful of having more traditionalists in their dioceses, with some Anglo-Catholics having a reputation of being more Roman than Rome. Opus Dei, Neocatechumanate, Lefebvrists, and now Anglo-Catholics – they could only see troubles ahead.

  • Cor de Lion

    My dear brother in Christ, I am a middle-aged Anglican priest who for family and health reasons cannot at this time enter the Promised Land of the Ordinariate. I am so fearful of negative backlash from what you have disclosed here! God knows how I tried to make my way into the Catholic Church as an individual – and how difficult that became even though I had no presumptions about being a Priest – just wanting to be a faithful, traditionalist Catholic with no sharp edges or axes to grind! Please do not give our enemies any grounds to be critical or cynical about those who humbly rejoice at the offer of the Ordinariate! Do please avoid the temptation to be too triumphalist.

  • Margaret Yo

    I would think those questions have little bearing on the present. Best to move forward.

  • Magdalene

    Cor de Lion: we await you!

  • RT

    The Ordinariate is right and good, but it is for groups. What of those anglican clergy who wish to come as individuals. Will there be any arrangements for them as there were a few yeatrs ago? This is not a rhetorical question. I really want to know.

  • Kyriakos

    In addition to the things you have mentioned,the fear of public opinion(in a country where there is anti-Catholic prejudice)that they are poaching Anglicans could be the strongest reason.Liberals are infamous for trying to be always politically correct.

  • Kyriakos

    Dear Cor de Lion I am Catholic belonging to one of the Eastern Catholic Churches. We pray and welcome you to the Catholic Church. We Catholics have diverse rites, In the part of the world I come from we have three Catholic Churches(Latin and two Syriac Churches) all accepting the bishop of Rome(Pope) as their head.It is not uncommon to have on one side of a street a parish church of one Catholic Church and one the other side that of another.But we all know we belong to the one Catholic Church.My hope is that the Anglican Ordinariate become another 'sui jurist'(self governing) Church in the Roman Catholic Church.Also thank you for the advice NOT to be triumphalist.Praying for your health and family.

  • Alec

    I think in the first wave, groups of laity with their priests are forming the core of the Ordinariate to get it off the ground, but in future, anyone, an individual priest or layperson, should be able to join the Ordinariate, perhaps close to where they live. So far, parishes that have declared their public support are based in the south, an area pastorally overseen by the three active bishops, but one hopes as time goes on, there will be groups joining the Ordinariate in different parts of the country. Once the Ordinary is appointed, any priest or layperson should be able to apply to him direct to join.

  • Sigfridii

    A deeply unappealing account by Dr Oddie of his new denomination. No wonder there are so few rushing to join it.

  • PhilipH

    Alec – if that's what they thought about Anglo-Catholics, they must've been reading the liberal secular press and proponents of women priests too much. Likewise it was claimed by the same sources that Anglo-Catholics would meet a hostile reception from many Catholic parishes if they did convert. Yet those of us who did convert as individuals were warmly welcomed. In my local deanery there are many ex-Anglicans, I don't believe we are a hotbed of trouble.

  • Catholicgadfly

    Unfortunately many of our English Catholic Bishops are a bunch of liberal wasters with no back bone to with hold church teaching any more! I apologise for the guttural language, but it needs to be said and many will agree with me. Fortunately, they seem to be losing a few battles now and hopefully this is now 'the beginning of the end' for them. I believe that the new Nuncio will only advise Rome on Bishop's that will be sympathetic to Benedict's evangelising & orthodox agenda.

    I will explain that I am a Catholic who wholeheartedly supports the Ordinariate. It is an absolute disgrace that the Bishops of England & Wales are only 'stumping up' £250,000. They should have offered substantially more. Let me assure you they can afford it.

    For good people like Cor de Lion. Try not to worry too much about William's article – there are now people at the top of the church who are now challenging our liberal bishops and lobbying Rome for only non-liberal candidates to be appointed in the future! Indeed this article highlights another defeat for these liberals.

    Alec was right in saying that the Bishop's of England & Wales did not want the Ordinariate because they were scared of more traditionalists. The good news is that they'd better get used to it!

  • RJ

    Well, in the real world, there are such things as difficulties, even in the Catholic Church. An idealised picture of the Church on earth is not helpful.

    We believe the Christ founded it and promised to remain with it but a quick look at the letters of Saint Paul and the history of the Church would show that sin within the Church, and human limitations, are part of the reality as well. It is said that even some saints have found it difficult to live side by side.

  • NG

    Dear Cor de Lion, I suggest you make yourself known to one of the Anglican bishops who are spearheading the England & Wales Ordinariate. You can rely on their complete discretion, and the fact that family and health reasons are currently an impediment will be sympathetically understood. At the same time you will be kept abreast of developments in the New Year, and helped to see how a way forward may open up for you.

  • NG

    Dear RT, there are two routes open for individual clergy at present. (1) Approach a Catholic Bishop and seek reception followed by a period of discernment in the usual way. (2) Join up with one of the emerging groups (some of which may be quite geographically scattered, and most of which will not be from a single parish) and follow along the path being developed in forming the Ordinariate.

  • Kyriakos

    You are wrong Sigfridii, the Catholic Church does not excist in England or Europe only.And situations are not like this elsewhere.

  • W Oddie

    I have been a Catholic for nearly 20 years; it is hardly for me a new “denomination” (actually, it's not a denomination at all, simply “The Church”). And my article wasn't an “account” of the Church: simply of the behaviour of some of the people in it who are, like all of us, sinners in their own way. I can assure Sigfridii that life in the Catholic Church is not merely “appealing”; it is a joy which never fades. I was a member of the Anglican Church for over 25 years, mostly as an Anglican clergyman: I could tell stories of that experience, including stories of Anglican bishops, which far exceed anything I could say about the Catholic Conference of Bishops. As for “so few rushing to join it”. it is, world-wide, the fastest growing Christian Church.

  • Sigfridii

    So, how many of these Anglicans (the subject of your article) are rushing to join it?

    By all accounts, it is many thousands short of an Exodus. And little wonder, the way your denomination treats them.

  • Kevin

    Cor de Lion

    I came in 25 years ago – not because of the E&W bishops, but in spite of them. Since then, on the whole, it has been my experience that they betray the Faith. I met Cardinal Hume and spent an hour with him once, trying to show him the error of his ways on another matter with which he was at loggerheads with the Holy See. Waste of time. With deeply flawed men like this in charge, we have nothing to be triumphalist about, but we are assured of the Indefectibility of the Catholic Church by Christ Himself – despite all the problems and all the treachery, He is with us always. This book explains it well:-

  • David

    I welcome the Ordinariate but cannot think that it will be home for a large number of people.Speaking as a former Anglican (converted 1992) I know that most of the genuinely 'catholic' anglicans have already left the CofE. There is just a remnant left behind.

    I suspect we will hear lots of excuses based on family/finance/age over the coming weeks.

  • Little Black Censored

    Saying that most of the genuine catholics have already left presupposes a static situation, but the C of E is getting worse and worse, which will encourage more and more Anglicans to accept the Pope's offer of rescue. Ideally it will not only be the catholics who come out, but increasingly the ordinary middle-of-the-road members who wish to find somewhere where they can continue as faithful orthodox Christians; if the Ordinariate is properly organized it will provide a home-from-home for such people, of whom there are already a number in the small Traditional Anglican communion parishes.

  • Lucan

    I read Theology at Oxford in the 1980s, with a view to ordination in the CofE. In fact I sometimes came to your breakfasts at Pusey House, where you celebrated an Anglican Mass which looked very much like the Novus Ordo. From you, and your brand of Anglo-Catholicism, the English Catholics had nothing to fear. But across the road, in St. Mary Magdalen, Mass was celebrated in a form which can only be described as the Tridentine Rite translated into English. For the post Vatican II generation of English Bishops, this is very frightening; they still hope that the Extraordinary Form will wither away because it is in Latin. But if the Extraordinary Form, with all its theological symbolism, came into church in a language “understanded of the people”, it could create a liturgical and cultural movement which would sideline the ghastly Ordinary Frorm as we now have it.

  • Michael

    “Unfortunately many of our English Catholic Bishops are a bunch of liberal wasters with no back bone to with hold church teaching any more!” – difficult to be certain but it is my “gut feeling” too. Let’s hope that the Ordinariate will develop into a Sui Iuris Church, and that everyone will be permitted to change sides.

  • Michael

    Lucan, the classic Tridentine Low Mass is said silently, and for man in a pew there wouldn’t be different if in vernacular. Those parts which are sung in a High Mass, are supposed to be sung in Latin in the Novus Ordo too, but the rule is ignored. If translated, the chant would have to be adopted to vernacular and the Tridentine Mass would turn into a disco concert. The only thing that should be translated are the readings, but that would not be a novelty – in many areas this was a practice prior to Vatican II.

  • Arthur

    I am glad you ask this question. There must be many in this situation, and laypeople too. I am an Anglican priest who has being living as a layman since 1998. Whilst I greatly valued the ministry to me and my flock of our PEV, I could no longer live with the contradiction of owing my canonical obedience to a heresiarch. Logically I should have converted, as an individual to the Roman Obedience. But there were a collection of personal circumstances which held me back. For a year or two I even lapsed from the faith. Now I belong to an Anglican congregation. I belong, but I do not really belong, as they see their way forward within the Society of St. Wilfred and St. Hilda. I live in the diocese of Chichester – the very heart of the Society. There are virtually no groups seeking membership of the Ordinariate. I am in my late 60′s and my wife is in her early 60′s and is severely disabled with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. We have little hope of attaching ourselves to a group seeking the Ordinariate, but that is where I feel I belong. I could seek individual conversion at our local Roman Catholic Parish, but that is not really where I feel I belong. I really am in the wilderness.

  • PopishCrank

    I’m even more concerned that the bishops of the English speaking Catholic Church haven’t spoken out and refued to accept the Roman Missal (3rd) edition. To be foisted upon us this coming Advent. What a pity they didn’t display the courage and the backbone to send it back to Rome as the Germans did with their vernacular missal.

  • Neville DeVilliers

    How right you are Alec. Cardinal Hume had every reason to fear the English Church would suddenly become a sanctuary filled with whining, disenchanted former members of the CofE (as there are in the U.S.A. and elsewhere). Taking with them their laundry list of complaints and demands. As some of the Anglican clergy do now when they convert to the Roman Church in the U.S.A.

    Cardinal Hume wasn’t going to be bullied by Cardinal Ratzinger, or by John Paul II. God bless him. RIP. The criticisms of the late archbishop of Westminster are disgusting and thoroughly revolting, especially as they are being aired now. As I feared, the Ordinariate is turning out to be more a fount of disunity and a well spring for in-fighting than a bridge for non-practicing Catholics and most Anglicans for crossing to Rome.

  • Neville DeVilliers

    After two days in existence, “the fastest growing Christian Church” ? The rhetoric and promises are the only things that can be measured at this juncture.

  • Neville DeVilliers

    If the Extraordinary Form were to be translated into “a language ‘understanded of the people’” (a wonderful thought actually) there would be such a sudden rush of Latin-rite Catholics to the Anglican Use parishes, entire novus ordo dominated parishes would be depopulated overnight. Which explains why English speaking hierarchs are dragging their feet, and in no great rush to embrace the Ordinariate, particularly in the U.S.A. I can just read the articles and letters to the editor in the “National Catholic Reporter”. LOL LOL LOL

  • Neville DeVilliers

    Kyriakos, There is no great rush in America either. Only the highly advertised whiners from the Anglo Catholic wing. The Episcopal Church and other break-away Anglican bodies are not rushing to the gates to embrace it. In time perhaps, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

  • Neville DeVilliers

    and the biggest excuse of all: “I don’t accept the primacy of the bishop of Rome, nor do I accept transubstantiation, the eucharist as a sacrifice, or the rejection of women for the priesthood”. As painful as this may be for Rome and the admirers of the Ordinariate, the overwhelming majority of Anglicans throughout the world still see themselves as “Protestants”. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

  • Adrian

    What were the English bishops afraid of? That’s easy: English people. Especially traditionally-minded intelligent English people.

  • Keith Silveira

    My dearest bro Kyriakos, I have just returned from the Easter Vigil and so I wish you a very Happy Easter. I would just like to clarify that since the Ordinariate comes under the Latin Rite family it wont be able to form a ‘sui jurist’(self governing) Church…but will be a special form of that Rite itself.