Archbishop Nichols is less helpful to the ordinariate than he could be. Why is that?

At Westminster Cathedral this Saturday, another milestone for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will be reached, with the ordination of another 17 former Anglican priests as deacons on their way to the Catholic priesthood. The ordination Mass will be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Alan Hopes of Westminster. “I have been informed”, says the author of the excellent A Reluctant Sinner blog, “that it has been quite some time since Westminster Cathedral will have witnessed the ordination of so many men at the one Mass.”

This is a good opportunity, therefore, to ask once more a serious question, which I asked recently in Faith magazine: the answer I gave ought to have evoked some kind of response from the powers that be (at whom it was aimed): it predictably aroused, however, a resonant silence from that quarter. The question is this: what is happening, exactly, in and to the ordinariate, whose first anniversary has now passed? I had always assumed that the ordinariate would begin in a small way, consolidate over a year or so, and then find itself growing naturally as Catholic-minded Anglicans perceived it to be a real alternative to an Anglicanism increasingly under liberal Protestant domination. Is the ordinariate showing signs of fulfilling the potential many of us had hoped to see realised?

Well, it’s too early to tell. But there’s no doubt that there are certain things needed if Anglicanorum coetibus is to take concrete and permanent form here: one of them is that the existing hierarchy should in the early stages help and cooperate with it, while at the same time rigorously respecting and fostering the new jurisdiction’s absolute independence. The question now is whether this – or the reverse – is actually what the hierarchy is doing.

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As I have already written in this column, I am beginning to wonder if the warm welcome with which even formerly hostile members of our hierarchy greeted the establishment of the ordinariate was genuine. Was their conversion authentic? Or were they being devious? Is the truth that their warm words were what they knew the Pope wanted them to utter, but that their true intention, hidden this time, in contrast to their open hostility to the original “Roman Option”, was to allow the whole thing to get under way and then quietly and over time to strangle it? I think that is the real truth.

If it is not, why, unlike the new American ordinariate and the even newer Australian ordinariate (who were both assigned a church building on their erection), has the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham still not been given a principal church? In the words of Damian Thompson: “The failure to address the matter is so morale-sapping that I really can’t blame those Anglicans who are hesitating to take the plunge.… “

This is not the first time I have voiced these anxieties. The last time I did so, I attracted the following online comment. I have reason to suppose (I say no more), that the following anonymous writer has good sources:

The ordinariate haven’t got a clue with whom they’re dealing – their representatives sat round a table in the Vatican … formulating an ordinariate and expecting that His Holiness’s requests on their behalf would be fulfilled, all the time not having a clue that they were being whispered against, campaigned against by both Catholics and Anglicans who made it palpably clear that this initiative was detrimental to the “dialogue towards unity” and temporarily compromised their positions as oecumenical ambassadors – that this was a counter-productive “wacked-out” scheme by an ailing Pope who merely needed to be placated until he died – hence delaying tactics, obfuscations, procedurality, red tape and making everything as difficult and administratively untenable as possible; with patronising sympathy and hand-wringing at their lot while sneering, dismissing and chuckling to themselves that the whole thing will eventually come to naught… that the administration will crumble via crises and power politics and personality clashes and outright frustration at the situation… and ultimately the ordinariate will be re-integrated into the conference system and those not happy about it will crawl back to their friends in the C of E.

This certainly looks like a convincing answer to Damian Thompson’s question: “where is the London church that will serve as the ordinariate’s headquarters?” The answer is that it exists in the imagination and the aspirations of the Ordinary and his entourage: but that it has no existence in reality and never will without the firm intervention of the Pope. The following is the answer that Archbishop Nichols gave at a press conference, to a question about the provision of an ordinariate “cathedral”: “I think that is something probably beyond their resources at the present time, and I don’t think the ordinariate would thank us, actually, to simply give it responsibility for a church that it would have to then maintain and upkeep.

The fact is, however, that those who have crossed the Tiber to the ordinariate do regard a main church as a priority. The fact is also that those 17 new deacons (so many more than are usually ordained at Westminster Cathedral) weren’t being ordained for the Archdiocese of Westminster but for the ordinariate: they ought to have been ordained at the ordinariate’s principal church. The reason that they haven’t got one is simple: it is that Archbishop Nichols has decided that he will not make one available — not because he hasn’t got one but because he is hostile to the ordinariate . To say he won’t give them one because of the costs of maintenance is utterly ridiculous: the archbishop could easily help with that problem for a year or two out of petty cash: it would make up just a little for the extreme meanness of the financial help given by the mainstream English Church thus far. I would not be at all surprised if the very unusual recent gift by the Holy Father of £150,000 wasn’t at least partly intended by him as a rebuke to the English church for its parsimony, and also a way of reminding them of his own very strong support for this brave venture.

There is something else going on. I have a suspicion that there is a hidden ecumenical agenda here, behind the policy of keeping the ordinariate homeless. And behind that lies another intention. At the same time as the Anglican Bishop of London was making it plain that he would sooner demolish an unused Anglican building or turn it into a carpet warehouse than allow an ordinariate parish to use it, Archbishop Nichols was saying that the natural place for ordinariate Catholics to worship would be their local Catholic parish church. Well, it would certainly be the best place if you just want to absorb them within the local parish, while hijacking their clergy – at first to “help out”, and then, who knows? – rather than give them the independent ecclesial existence envisaged in Anglicanorum coetibus.

I really do hope that the nuncio Archbishop Mennini is keeping his eye on this one. For, if he isn’t, and if Rome simply assumes that Archbishop Nichols is doing everything that is necessary for the Pope’s vision to be realised, I fear that the whole enterprise may run into the sands. Everything depends on its maintaining its momentum. But it cannot do that entirely alone in the early stages. In the US and in Australia, the local hierarchy is getting behind the ordinariate. Not here. Why is that?

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