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Some senior Anglicans wish they could strangle the ordinariate at birth

But they cannot: this is an idea whose time has come

By on Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Fr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic bishops' conference, says that the ordinariate will need a 'principal church' where the ordinary is based (Photo: Mazur/

Fr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic bishops' conference, says that the ordinariate will need a 'principal church' where the ordinary is based (Photo: Mazur/

The ordinariate is proceeding at a deliberate pace which shows more and more that this is no distant pipe dream, but a present reality. It will have endless problems, of course. One of them is buildings. The first priority is to find what is being called a “principal church” which will serve a similar function to a diocesan cathedral. According to Fr Marcus Stock: “They will need a place to meet, to have meetings and gather as a group. Not a cathedral as such, but a principal church, it’s called in the constitution, where the members of the ordinariate can gather for the celebration of liturgies and where the ordinary will be based.” This will have accommodation for the ordinary and, presumably, office space for his, well, Curia, I suppose you could call it, why not?
Another immediate problem will be faced by the parishes or parish groups which will lose the right to continue using their Church buildings. Last November I quoted William Fittall, the secretary general of the General Synod of the Church of England, who said it would be “entirely possible” for them to be allowed to share their former churches with Anglicans who remain in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury also indicated, in an interview he gave in Rome, that he thought this would be possible. I commented that I thought it highly likely, given how successful the experiment of the two parishes where this had happened in the early 90s (notably at St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road) had been. “The fact is,” I pointed out,  “that maintaining its historic buildings is one of the Church of England’s biggest problems. Nothing is more logical than that the members of congregations who (in the Telegraph’s elegant usage) “defect” should share the building they are used to with those who elect to stay in the C of E, and should continue to contribute to its upkeep.”

Logical, yes: but I had failed to appreciate the viperous loathing for the ordinariate of some senior Anglican clerics, who have now made it plain that so far as they are concerned, they will do everything they can to strangle the venture at birth. Take the case of St Barnabas, Tunbridge Wells, in the Anglican Diocese of Rochester. This was a parish of around 75. This is quite healthy by Anglican standards – they have many more churches to fill, and they tend to be smaller than ours. Three quarters of the congregation voted to join the ordinariate: the voting was 54 for and 18 against. So the building, unless shared by those leaving, would have to maintained by only 18 people – not a practical possibility. Despite this, the Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Venerable Clive Mansell, has ruled out a shared church agreement, to the fury of the leader of the Romeward group, Fr Ed Tomlinson, who understandably thinks that “the whole thing stinks to high heaven”, since “a solution based on unity exists, but those with authority seem more intent on division”. So, inevitably, it has to be faced, the building is doomed: there just aren’t enough people to keep it up. In the end, it will be torn down or turned into a Carpet Warehouse.
Particularly illogical (and I would say hypocritical) has been the most senior active opponent of the ordinariate, the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, who said unambiguously that he had “noted the Archbishop of Westminster’s comment that his preference is for the simplest solutions. The simplest solutions are for those who come into Catholic communion to use Catholic churches. I am also mindful that the late Cardinal Hume, whom I greatly revered, brought to an end the experiment of church-sharing after the Synod’s decision of 1992 because, far from being conducive to warmer ecumenical relations, it tended to produce more rancour”.

The fact is, that the only “rancour” that was caused by church sharing was when the successful experiment was closed down: it had in fact worked particularly well, notably in St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road (in the Diocese of London), where relations between the two congregations, between those who became Catholic and those who remained in the Church of England (and between their clergy), remained warm throughout: you may read a detailed account of this in my book The Roman Option (1997).

The reason Cardinal Hume closed the experiment down was that he had lost his nerve over the “Roman Option”, and the successful continuing existence of ex-Anglican Catholic parishes was a standing reproach to him – evidence that what we now have, thanks to Pope Benedict, could easily have been in place 15 years ago with a little more courage and statesmanship from him.
The fact is that the ordinariate, though it has good will from some Anglicans who can see the benefit to themselves of shared church agreements, has deadly enemies who would rather cut off their noses to spite their faces than do anything that might help the ordinariate. They would love to destroy it at the outset. But they cannot do that. This is an idea whose time has come. Those who join the ordinariate know that life isn’t going to be easy. But they are determined; they are also buoyed up by the exhilaration of this great adventure and by the prayers of many, including the Holy Father himself. These are stirring times: and nothing that Bishop Chartres and his ilk can do will achieve anything but demonstrate their own pettiness and spite.

  • Father Ed

    Actually the number heading for the Ordinariate has risen to 65 adults (80 with children). And we are ready and willing to leave with nothing. But it is so sad and silly. What makes the spite even worse is that the Diocese already had plans to cut one church in this town. From S. Barnabas you can walk to four other Anglican churches in five minutes. They have no need of it. They cannot afford it. But still they throw us out!

    Still Peter left everything and followed and so will we…

  • Fred Johnson

    I think you forget how difficult will be the task of the next Vicar who has to rebuild St Barnabas when there is a larger congregation meeting in the same building. I am sure that is the reason for the Diocesan decision.

  • Victor

    But isn’t that the point? As Fr Ed said, the CofE wanted to close down one church anyway. So why not give St Barnabas over to the Ordinariate, with the remnant CofE congregation keeping the right of use to the premise? That is, if the remaining one and a half dozen wouln’t prefer joining one of the other four CofE churches in walking distance…

  • Little Black Censored

    The diocesan management are dogs in the manger. They would accept the closure of St Barnabas if it were to continue an ABC FiF parish. But now all of a sudden they can’t bear to lose it – they would rather close a different church than see a sharing arrangement succeed.

  • Richard Purchase

    If the response continues to be like the negative response of the American Episcopal Church to the new North American Anglican church, they will sell the buildings. Presiding bishop Shori has said that the churches can be sold to any group- even for a bar or nightclub, but may not be sold to the dissenting church. One was turned into a Muslim Information Center in NY State, after the dissenting congregation moved out.

  • Kentuckyliz

    At least some of the buildings are Catholic churches! My English Catholic grandmother used to tour cathedrals and mutter under her breath, “Stolen property!” OK that’s not ecumenical but she passed away before the Council concluded.

    Cutting off noses to spite faces…just leaves you with a noseless face.

  • Connor

    A lot of the church buildings used by the C of E legally do not belong to them. For instance, Westminster Abbey (dedicated to St. Peter) is really a Catholic Church. It was interesting that when the Pope was in England, the Anglican leadership clearly treated him as the VICAR of CHRISTIANITY. If you don’t agree, watch the service at the Abbey. The incense, symbols, processions and sign of the cross by many in the congregation shows the strong Catholic movement in the C of E.

    Its time for Anglicans to come home to Rome. We need eachother to defend against secularism, athiests and all the others who want Christianity to be destroyed.

    Henry the 8th died a Roman Catholic, not an Anglican. England did not become loyal to the C of E until well into the early 1600′s ( see religious stats fro england, late 1500′s and early 1600′s. Its funny how so many in England have forgotten how their families were Catholic for over 1000 yrs and C of E for barely 350 yrs.


  • Mike

    Very Interesting commentary. Many in England just need to say we are leaving the C of E for good. Its not only the approx 1 million looking to join Rome in the next 2 years. There are many more who will now consider the move. Myself as a former Anglican, came to Rome 4 years ago, it was the best move i could have made.

    Have the courage to make the move that i know many more want to make!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Surely this is just creating an ‘exclusive’ church within The Catholic Church.

  • W Oddie

    No, that isn’t what happens in practice; we know that because of the American “Anglican use” experience. It is on the contrary inclusive, drawing in lapsed Catholics and others as well as ex-Anglicans.

  • John-of-Hayling

    Regarding the need for a large church to act as a focal point – perhaps there will be an ex-Anglican church over by some diocese (Oxford?) – but there is another solution – The TAC.
    The TAC in Portsmouth already has a huge church – St Agatha’s. It is conveniently situated within easy walking distance of the Catholic Cathedral (for all sorts of resources) and may be inspected at the forthcoming Feast of Title on Saturday Feb 5th when the preacher will be Fr Colven of St James’s Spanish Place.

  • Anonymous

    You set us such a wonderful example of faith-filled willingness to follow the Lord wherever he leads you. I am sure great things will come of this.

  • Neville DeVilliers

    Rome and Venice, in fact, many of Italy’s churches, are filled with “stolen property”. Roman Catholics stole them from the Orthodox Church during the crusades. Let us not get into this tiresome quarrel with the Cof E over stolen goods. Parliament and the monarch hold them under law. Possession is nine tenths of that law.

  • Neville DeVilliers

    I would love to compare the number of lapsed Catholics being attracted to the Ordinariate with the number of Roman Catholic converts to the Episcopal Church USA. My former parish, St. Thomas on 5th Avenue in New York was filled with them.

  • Kennyp

    People can change adherence anytime. I always found that Roman Catholics who left the Mother Church never really believed in it anyway, and feel much more at home where you can believe anything or nothing.,

  • Paul P, Burnley

    Good luck with finding a new home.

  • Afuy02

    And what makes the dear old C of E think that it owns the property? They pay none of the bills and in most cases did not even pay for the church to be built. The ownership has never been tested in law and perhaps some brave soul will call the bluff of the hierarchy! Just because the property has been claimed does not make it a fact – theft by law can still be struck down.

  • Eamon Magee

    I can understand the opposition some Anglicans may have to sharing their former totally Anglican owned and operated properties with those who wish to become united with Roman Catholicism. Though not germain to this particular aspect of the transition, I would like to put a word in for the so called “uniate” Eastern rite Catholic people (Ruthenian, Ukrainian) who were forbidden to continue the practice so dear to them of having married priests in their parishes when they came into the new world. A shame.

  • Kennyinliverpool

    I don’t think there is a problem – THE CATHOLIC CHURCH OWNS LOTS OF EMPTY CHURCHES – also the CHURCH OF ENGLAND SELLS CHURCHES EVERY YEAR – the Ordinariate will just move into empty Catholic churches…. it’s actually quite simple.
    But yes, the issue of being thrown out of their buildings is problematic – but what were they expecting?

  • Kennyinliverpool

    I think the C of E is just really annoyed that you have betrayed them like wolf –

  • Skipper

    But, in so far as we know, he never set foot in Rome

  • rockfall

    Now that the Ordinariate has taken off the ground so to speak perhaps one of London’s City Churches could be shared and eventually purchased.

  • Tony

    Its always sad to read of division, especially within our Christian heritage but perhaps a measure of entrenchment is a necessary step for the one church principle.

    I suspect its not going to be easy, but the thought we are amongst fellow travellers of like minded devotions to scripture makes the whole thing similar to walking a path along a cliff top rather than an edge.

    To our RC Friends, Clergy, the Pope and all involved with Saturdays ordinations at Westminster, I offer my thanks for a truly wonderful and remakable experience of devotion to God.

  • Pope

    Billy writes “… demonstrate their own pettiness and spite.” Well, Billy Boy, you should know as you are a past master of both.

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