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.