Maybe it’s going to be a tough struggle: but it can only end in one way

The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (a dedication long very dear to English Anglo-Catholics) still proceeds quietly and with deliberation on its way. There are almost frightening practical difficulties to overcome. But if you want to judge for yourself how frightened the leaders of the ordinariate actually are (not at all) have a look at the interview which the English Ordinary, Fr Keith Newton, recently gave to EWTN. Quietly capable as well as visionary: the vision in question being entirely inspired by the Catholic tradition (within which, as I have said before, most Anglo-Catholic priests I know have already undergone a more thorough and authentic formation than those emerging from some Catholic seminaries). Vision and competence: an unbeatable combination.

Of course, it’s all on a very small scale. But the potentialities are vast, not least because if the ordinariate grows where all about it is still shrinking, lessons will be learned within the Catholic mainstream.

Some interesting speculations are being entertained about the beginnings of the American ordinariate, by Brother Stephen Treat, O.Cist. The 36 groups who have already declared themselves in the US (twice the number so far officially declared in England) would enter a newly erected American ordinariate with an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 2,500: Brother Stephen thinks this “an incredibly conservative estimate”. This number assumes that no new groups form; that the current groups do not grow; that Anglicans who have already entered the full communion of the Catholic Church show no interest in the ordinariates, and that no cradle Catholics attend ordinariate services on a regular basis.

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“All of these assumptions,” he says, “would run contrary to our experience thus far.” By “our experience thus far”, he means the “Anglican use” parishes authorised by Pope John Paul: I can confirm this from my own experience. I know one of these parishes and its priest personally (I was present at his ordination): it has flourished numerically for all the reasons just suggested, and for one additional reason: its attraction for lapsed Catholics.

On the basis of his conservative estimate, Brother Stephen speculates that “in all, this would make an American ordinariate – in a worst case scenario – larger than 21 of the domestic dioceses of the Episcopal Church”. If it were to grow to an average Sunday attendance of 5,000, it would be either larger than or roughly the same size as 59 of the domestic dioceses of the Episcopal Church.

One reason the ordinariate will flourish (I speak now of England) is that it will begin fresh. It will benefit from the new atmosphere in the Church surrounding such Benedict/John Paul-inspired developments as the new translation of the liturgy, and also from the fact that ordinariate parishes can be at arm’s length from surrounding Catholic dioceses often exhausted and demoralised by the turmoil and faith-sapping blunders of the last 30 years, dioceses often still in the hands of bishops who may be approaching retirement but who are still far from their last gasp. For, though I rashly wrote on Monday that the attacks on the new English Missal were the “last expiring gasp of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’,” (not, as I had repeatedly to explain, of the Council itself but of those who distorted it), I of course was getting ahead of myself. This isn’t going to be easy. One battle-scarred correspondent, more experienced than myself, insisted beneath my piece that there will be a reaction:

“Now comes the siege mentality – now will come the purges – the ideological purity – the conformity to the grand schemes and the major conference initiatives – just wait for all the diocesan ‘renewal’ programmes where half the churches and almost all the schools are wiped from the maps – all sold off to fill their war-coffers so they can initate their grand building schemes for these superchurches and rel. ed. centres…

“I know how these people work : Beware of old men and women in a hurry !
… and DON’T FORGET !!
There are still hundreds of willing young acolytes who have sold their souls to the Tabletista/Vatican II way – they are still everywhere – especially in the Catholic administrative roles and quangos throughout the land – and Heythrop keeps spewing out hundreds more of the indoctrinated every year…”

My correspondent says that’s the future. I persist in my view that it’s actually the past, even though it all seems still to be so unshakeably in place (even now, however, not everywhere: not Lancaster, I think, and not, now, Shrewsbury) and that, powerful though these people still seem, they will melt away sooner than he thinks. Remember how Stalinism once covered Eastern Europe, irreversibly and forever so everyone, including the rulers of the Church, once thought – so that Pope Paul, for instance, abandoned the heroic Cardinal Mindszenty, forced him to resign as Primate of Hungary, and arrived at a compromise with the Communist rulers not only of Hungary but also of the rest of Eastern European Christendom – his so-called Ostpolitik. Then Pope John Paul II happened, and Solidarność. And not immediately, but sooner than anyone had foreseen in their wildest dreams, the evil empire melted away. My correspondent says: “We’re in this for the long haul – and it’s going to be a very lonely and tough fight…” Well, tough, maybe. But not lonely any more, surely: look how the internet brought down Mubarak – suddenly, everyone realised how powerful they were. We’re all in this together: and more and more you will see, dear friend, how many of us there are.

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