The English ordinariate, it seems, will be well on its way by the middle of this month. Three former Anglican bishops were received into full communion with the Catholic Church during a Mass at Westminster
Cathedral on January 1. One of the comments following the Herald online report, noting that they were received in secular clothing, opines that “For Bishops to wear ties is simply saintly and to lose all that prestige they once held is stunning to the mind of a Catholic Bishop”.
Well, indeed. But I think that their former prestige is the least important aspect of what they are giving up: they are abandoning certainty and recognition within an established institution, for uncertainty within an institution – the ordinariate – that doesn’t even exist yet. What this shows is an absolute faith in the Catholic Church of which it will be a part, especially as it is embodied by the present Holy Father.
I last saw the most senior of the three, John Broadhurst, formerly Bishop of Fulham, splendidly caparisoned in full episcopal fig (I have known him, on and off, for over 30 years, and have never seen him except in clericals: I can hardly imagine him in a secular collar and tie) at the 150th anniversary of that great Anglo-Catholic institution, Pusey House, Oxford, just after the publication of Anglicanorum coetibus. I asked him for his reaction to the document (it was pretty clear that most of those present were elated by it): his reply had to do, not with the visionary excitements of the proposed ordinariate, but with its practicability: “it’s doable”, he simply replied.
Now, it’s being done (by him and others), and at a dizzying speed. After their ordination on January 1, the three former “flying bishops” will be ordained to the Catholic diaconate on January 13, and to the priesthood two days later. This, I am pretty sure, is unprecedented: Anglican clergy have previously had to undergo a period of seminary training before they are accepted for ordination in the Catholic mainstream.
What this new development demonstrates, apart from anything else, is the degree of knowledge, gained by the former Cardinal Ratzinger after a decade and a half of discussions with these men, of their already existing understanding of and belief in Roman Catholic doctrine and practice (entirely based, since its publication, on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and on other essential Catholic texts). The Pope is well aware that the Anglo-Catholic clergy who will inaugurate the world’s first ordinariate already have a degree of authentically Catholic priestly formation which some of our seminaries are today far from achieving or even attempting.
Andrew Burnham, John Broadhurst and Keith Newton will be the first former Anglican bishops to be ordained as Catholic priests under the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus. They will be ordained and
incardinated directly into the ordinariate: this means that it has to be erected before January 13. According to the Herald’s report, “Speculation suggests the decree of erection will be published on January 11”.
The next stage will be the ordination of a larger group of former Anglican clergy (it is said this Easter) who will be pastors to an uncertain number of parish groups: there are already 24 such groups in existence, but it is thought that this number will be at least doubled by the end of the year. So the ordinariate will begin in a small way (one of the former flying bishops has told me that this is deliberate policy: “we don’t want to frighten the horses”, ie the Catholic bishops) but will have huge potential for growth. This, I think (there
is some evidence for this from American Anglican Use Parishes and elsewhere) will be not only among Anglo-Catholics but among returning lapsed Catholics too. I have in earlier blogs explained what I think the attractions of such small but closely-knit parishes will be to such people.
This is a brave and exciting venture; its contribution to the revitalisation of Catholicism in this country is potentially enormous. We in the Catholic mainstream should pray for its unqualified success.