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As a Catholic, the Church of England’s troubles sadden me

And we should not think we are immune from such problems

By on Monday, 26 November 2012

Vote on female bishops

Whatever a Catholic’s views on the matter, it has been a sad spectacle watching the Church of England falling into increasing disunity, this time over the question of women bishops. Once you allow the principle of female ordination, you can’t, as someone remarked, then try to impose a stained-glass ceiling. I feel sorry for those women priests who, with sincerity, see the problem as one of continued inequality with men; I feel sorry for those who voted against women bishops on the grounds that this development is unscriptural; I also feel sorry for those who voted against the motion because they believe provision for conscientious objectors is not good enough; and I feel sorry for Justin Welby, future Archbishop of Canterbury, who is soon to enter this minefield. It is all a mess and does not serve the vigorous Christian witness that this country desperately needs.

Yet there is still – from a Catholic perspective – good news. I attended the Towards Advent festivities at Westminster Cathedral Hall on Saturday and stopped at the Ordinariate stall. A young priest there, who told me he was once an Anglican curate, gave me some literature on the Ordinariate and we both agreed that the best thing to do is to pray for Anglicans, distressed by this latest Synod vote, to “come home”. The Gospel for yesterday, the Feast of Christ the King, John 18, 33-37, quotes Jesus’ answer to Pilate: “I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Thus I pray that those Anglicans who are seeking the truth and who are currently at a loss within their own Communion find it within the Catholic Church.

In Memorare, the newsletter of the Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which I was handed at the stall, there is a reflection by Fr Christopher Colvin, Rector of St James’, Spanish Place. He writes that “When the General Synod of the Church of England agreed to the proposal to ordain women to its priesthood [in 1992], the decision was for many of us a watershed.” At that time Fr Colvin was part of a small group which met with the Catholic hierarchy to try to find a way forward to move into full communion. He writes that “it was fortuitous that the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published at this time”; it was to form the basis of discussions that took place over a period of two years. Finally he, along with 36 others, was received into full communion just after Easter 1996. “What was unusual about our reception was that we made the attempt to stay together as Catholics…while maintaining as close relations as possible with those who had chosen to remain Anglican”, he says.

Fr Colvin likes to think that Pope Benedict’s initiative in creating the Ordinariate for groups of Anglicans coming into full communion within the Church “is building on what we tried to do… in the 1990s.” Thank God this is in place for others who might decide that now is the time for them to join with their fellows. The newsletter reminds us, in a message from the Ordinary, Monsignor Keith Newton, that they need funds to continue their special apostolate within the Church: “”We have received much good will and a warm welcome from our fellow Catholics, but now we need significant financial help to ensure we are able to grow and flourish.” I shall put my money where my pen is and make a regular donation.

With these reflections in mind, we in the Church still need to be vigilant. A fellow parishioner and friend, who recently attended a meeting organised by members of the National Board of Catholic Women and our bishop, Peter Doyle of Northampton, tells me that at the end of the day (the Bishop had left by this stage) people were asked to put up their hands if they thought “the Catholic Church would one day ordain women priests.” Apparently many hands immediately shot up.

  • Benedict Carter

    On the contrary, ecumenism is a “policy”, not “authoritative” in the sense of dogma or doctrine. 

    I do think, like most Catholics, that it is – in the form we have seen it since 1965 – a betrayal of Christ’s own words to convert the whole world. 

    “Ecumenism” is not at all a part of the Deposit of Faith that I must (and do) adhere to in order to be saved. 

    If only Alan you and other similar writers were able to differentiate.

  • Benedict Carter

    I don’t hope (I hope) for the demise of any individual Anglican nor of anybody else; but the demise of the Anglican sect is well overdue.

  • savvy

    UK: Half of women bishops opponents in Synod were women

  • Alan

    Of course I wish to convert the whole world to Christ.  This would be made much easier without the divisions within Christianity.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (para. 821) that prayer in common, fraternal knowledge, ecumenical formation, dialogue, and collaboration are REQUIRED.  It could not possibly have been part of the “deposit of faith”, for the simple reason that the divisions did not occur until much later.

  • Peter

    “There might be lots of perfectly orthodox Catholics who, in principle, would like to see women priests but accept the teaching of the church that it is for ever impossible.”
    If such Catholics choose to follow the Church with their head and not with their heart, then the Church is so much the poorer.  Better that they go outright to their genuine spiritual home in Cantebury.

  • Jon Brownridge

     People were asked if they thought the Catholic Church would one day ordain women – not if they thought that would be a good thing. They are hardly “enemies within” for seeing the writing on the wall. Perspectives can and do change and it is entirely possible that the RC Church will one day ordain women. What I see at Mass these days is: Women readers, women giving out communion, girl alter servers, women taking up the collection, and a predominance of women surrounding me in the pews. The lone male on the altar is saying the Mass. Who would have thought that could happen 50 years ago?

  • nytor

    Semantics. The Church has definitively pronounced on the impossibility of the ordination of women and also that all Catholics must assent to this teaching, and so in declaring that they think the Church will do this one day then these people are declaring that they do not assent to this, they are expressing an ideological opinion contrary to Church teaching on the subject. I’m prepared to bet that they would all “approve” of this impossibility.

    As for the way you describe your church – it must be infested with liberalism, as none of those things happen at the church I go to except of course for the women in the congregation and there are plenty of men as well.

    Girls serving at the altar are contrary to the Church’s clear preference that boys should do so and were only made permissible as liberals disobeyed until they got their own way. It is still perfectly licit to refuse to permit it and priests of orthodox inclination do not permit it – as indeed the Holy Father himself does not.

    As for extraordinary ministers, the way they are used in so widespread a manner is a serious abuse as they were not intended to be so used. They are supposed to be used in extraordinary circumstances only, not everywhere every Sunday to make the laity feel included or to save the priest a few minutes.

    Many things have happened to the Church over the past fifty years which should not have happened, but God willing these abuses are now in retreat as a new generation of orthodox clergy are emerging.

  • nytor

    Maybe they would – but in this country they look to the Anglican example, and so in that sense it is encouraging these dissenters.

  • savvy

    I take the middle way on this issue. I am not opposed to women volunteering church as lectors, readers, altar servers, etc, but not as priests.

  • savvy

    This means that women have more than enough to do in church. Why fight for the priesthood that belongs to Christ alone?

  • Jonathan West

    What about theologians? Can a woman be a Catholic theologian and teach theology to priests in a seminary?

  • stan zorin

    “The C of E desperately needs to tell the State to back off,…”

     Oy mate, you are almost 500 years late with your advice.

  • S_bowley

    Long live the Anglican faith and all the free churches that sprang from it, are they all heretics as well?