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The Holy Spirit is at work in the ordinariate

William Johnstone explains how he overcame his initial misgivings about Pope Benedict XVI’s historic offer to groups of Anglicans

By on Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The three ex-Anglican bishops are ordained at Westminster Cathedral (Mazur/

The three ex-Anglican bishops are ordained at Westminster Cathedral (Mazur/

When the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus was first announced I had a few reservations. I was sceptical about the idea of group reception into the Church. My experience as a former Anglican clergyman has convinced me that it is not possible to sugar the pill of conversion. It is a process that involves giving up familiar things for the sake of the truth.

I also wondered if this was an option for the majority of Anglo-Catholics that I knew. The High Church wing of the Church of England has become more Roman in recent years. Many clergy have used Catholic liturgies for the whole of their ministry. It would be ironic if converting to Rome meant adopting Anglican forms of worship for the first time.

Quite recently, I happened to read some of the original Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) documents. This gave me a new understanding of the ordinariate and a conviction that it is a profoundly ecumenical gesture. The explicit desire of ARCIC – initiated by Archbishop Michael Ramsay and Pope Paul VI in 1966 – was for visible unity between Catholics and Anglicans. It was not about remaining in separate bodies while appreciating each other’s traditions. This is the mistaken mindset of much that has passed for ecumenism in recent years.

The desire was to fulfil the Lord’s command that we should be one. It was to be done without the Anglican tradition being absorbed.

This seems to be what Anglicanorum coetibus has achieved. The original aim of ARCIC involved the whole Church of England rather than a small section of it. But with developments in the Anglican Communion over the last few decades this vision is now unrealistic. As Cardinal Walter Kasper pointed out at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Anglican self-understanding seems to be more rooted in the 16th century than the first millennium. This does not mean that we should cease striving for unity. But the fulfilment of this goal will only happen with Christians who have a shared understanding of faith and morals.

The strand of Anglicanism most compatible with this vision is the body which grew out of the Oxford movement. Rather than the disaffected and disgruntled people they are often accused of being they are an immensely positive group of Christians. The communities that developed under the “flying bishops” were dynamic and missionary. Dignity in worship was matched by good pastoral practice and effective preaching. Traditionally, Anglo-Catholics have ministered among the urban poor. Often they served in areas where nobody else would go. This is just something of the patrimony that will be discovered over the months and years ahead. It is not simply a liturgical patrimony. Different groups will be either more or less Roman in practice. But it is a genuine Anglican tradition that can enrich the Catholic Church.

This new development could also help with our peculiar religious history. Most English people have a complicated attitude to Catholicism. On the one hand there is a degree of hostility. This often stems from ignorance about what Catholics believe. There is also suspicion of an uncompromising Church authority. On the other hand there is a fascination with the Church and a recognition that England was once a land of saints and martyrs. The warped genius of Henry VIII in implementing his plan of secession was to rebrand the Catholic faith as un-English. Those who adhered to the old faith were disloyal. This attitude has remained deeply embedded in the English psyche.

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham could provide a solution to this historical wound. There are significant numbers of Christians who are doctrinally Catholic but culturally Anglican. Many of these cultural elements have their roots in the pre-Reformation English Church. A mechanism is now available for people to enter into full communion with Rome while retaining something of this heritage as well as their group identity. This is not going to be a soft option. The conversion required is real and individual. But there is no reason why an identity rooted in a legitimate English tradition cannot be maintained.

The real gift of the ordinariate will be the restoration of communion to those groups that seek it. Many Anglicans have hungered for this for years. Such people will be coming home – restored to the rock from which they were hewn. An authentically Catholic existence is not possible without communion with Peter. This was the Achilles’ heel of the Oxford Movement and in their hearts most Anglo-Catholics knew it. The treasures that were nurtured outside the Catholic Church can now find their true fulfilment from within. These gifts will be purified and transformed by grace.

My own journey into the Catholic Church was a momentous step in my life. It involved a parting of friends and the abandoning of many things I held dear. As I stood in Westminster Cathedral nearly 10 years on – at the ordination of three former bishops and the beginning of the ordinariate – I was confronted by my Anglican history. The cathedral was full of familiar faces. Some I had studied with, others had taught me, many were old friends and parishioners. It suddenly felt as if the fragments of my past were being gathered up in that single moment.
As the ordinariate begins to gather momentum it seems that the Holy Spirit is at work. The chief shepherd – with gentleness and love – is gathering in the sheep.

  • Fr Levi

    ‘Catholic in name – Anglican in practise’, which would be one way of describing the Ordinariate, will only have a limited success towards unity … at least in a numerical sense. Do you think it is to be considered a stepping stone on the path to the Oneness which Christ prayed for? And if so, what do you think further steps might be?

  • Dr.Wolfgang

    I had to abandon reception into the Roman catholic church as a prospective candidate via the ordinariate because I learnt the Roman Catholics indoctrinate it’s acolytes that the pope is equal to God himself on earth. I am now considering the orthodox church as a way to escape women bishops and Roman catholic falsities

  • Vince

    Hum, I learnt that the Orthodox Church sacrifices children and worships an donkey – why don’t you consider Raël or Moon instead ?

  • Mario Chavez

    Interested in the traditional Catholic faith? Want to know what really happened to the Church after Vatican II; the truth about Benedict XVI; who John Paul II really was? Visit, or

  • Tony

    The thing is your speak with jest and insult, but everything wolfgang mentions is roman catholic doctrine.

  • Fr Levi

    Wolfgang and Tony: perhaps you could cite a reference from Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or some other Church document to back up your claim? I’m having a little trouble verifying them …

  • Paul

    The Church does not teach that the Pope is equal to God himself on earth. Quoting from ‘YouCat’ (2011):
    “Every bishop of Rome has been, like Peter, the supreme shepherd of the Church, whose real Head is Christ. Only in this capacity is the Pope “Christ’s Vicar on earth” (141).
    Coming from the Anglican tradition I am sure that you appreciate and understand that a ‘vicar’ is a representative. In the case of the Pope he is Christ’s representative on earth as supported by Matthew 16:13-23. But he is only Christ’s representative in union with the whole Church (YouCat 143).

    With respect to your comment re: escaping women bishops, this surely should never be the sole criteria for ‘converting’. Within both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (I speak as an ex-Orthodox who ‘converted’ to Catholicism) there are significant factions in favour of women’s ordination. The Catholic, or indeed Orthodox Churches, are not refuges for people fleeing ordained women but rather the destination of a faith journey that believes that the Church (be it Catholic or Orthodox) holds the truth in unity throughout the world. The Pope, as Vicar of Christ on earth is a visible sign of this unity. He is not ‘de facto’ God on earth.

    YouCat (2011) Catholic Truth Society. Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  • Anonymous

    no it doesn’t

  • AJ

    The pope is equal to God on earth? What a nonsense. This is barrowed from an old, worned-out  protestant book of lies. Try reading the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church and not from hearsays or any looney out there. 

  • Tony

     “The Pope is of great authority and power, that he is able to modify, declare, or interpret even divine laws. “Prompta Bibliotheca Canonica, Juridica, Moralis, Theologica, Ascetica, Polemica, Rubristica, Historica”, Volume V, article on “Papa, Article II”, #30, published in Petit-Montrouge (Paris) by J. P. Migne, 1858 edition.

    “Those whom the Pope of Rome doth separate, it is not a man that separates them but God. For the Pope holdeth place on earth, not simply of a man but of the true God….dissolves, not by human but rather by divine authority….I am in all and above all, so that God Himself and I, the vicar of God, hath both one consistory, and I am able to do almost all that God can do…wherefore, if those things that I do be said not to be done of man, but of God, what do you make of me but God? Again, if prelates of the Church be called of Constantine for gods, I then being above all prelates, seem by this reason to be above all gods.”

  • Michell Eves

     ‘For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (Washington, DC: US Catholic Conference, 1994, 1997) #882.]The world again has a man in the position of “Vicar of Christ,” so it is biblically imperative to examine the true office of the Vicar of Christ and it meanings:

    [Definition: “vicar”—in the broadest sense means someone who is authorized to act as a substitute or agent for a superior / compare “vicarious”—serving in the place of someone else; assuming the position, place, or office of another person] This is a clear distinction of Roman catholic church teachings that its head assumes the position, Place /Office of Christ himself.

    The Lord Jesus Christ entrusted the universal care of souls into the safekeeping of the Divine Person of the Holy Spirit. Concerning this Third Person of the Trinity who was to be His substitute, the Lord promised that, “when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). The Holy Spirit convicts of sin as He makes the sinner realize his lost condition and convicts him of his need of Christ’s righteousness. He it is who brings a soul dead in sin to life.

    ‘The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls’ ccc, para 937

    It is true  women bishops are not the only reason. Nonetheless, it is the same false gospel that is brandished in there reasoning that links them all and is the nemeses for many. The orthodox catholic church does at least seem to exercise its authority to the glory of God and his pleasing Son rather than to its own humanly and fallible leader.

  • Tony


    Go read the holy bible!

  • Tony

    yes it does

  • Anonymous

    Whoever, told you that information has not got a clue what they are saying and are dangerous. The Catechism of the Catholic Church will explain all.

  • Michell Eves

    Dr Wolfgang clearly states comments from the catechism!
    I think the point being made is Roman Catholics shouod stop reading the Roman catholic book of indoctrination known as the catechism and start reading the Holy Bible. That assumes of course you wish to follow the teachings of Christ rather than the pope.
    Mth 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon

  • Chris Lee

     I wonder how escaping from the Roman Papist can make Dr Wolfgang feel any better if he knows that in the Orthodox tradition, he has to subscribe to a hierachical system too. I am unsure if what he writes is genuinely truthful since the Church never teaches that the Pope is equal to God on planet Earth. This is very perplexing especially coming from a learned gentleman.

    I believe Dr Wolfgang has a huge misconception about the Dogma in the Papal Infallability. I am sure any informed Catholic will be in a position to explain to you on this Dogma which has become a major source of misinformation among Anglicans and Protestants.

    In any case, Dr Wolfgang, I wonder how you will be ready to reconcile the misgivings you have of Catholicism with Orthodoxy. This is because in spite of the reported differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy (which is completely magnified and overblown), the Orthodox shares many beliefs with the Catholics and are even more fervent adherents of tradition. Tell us your experience when you become one.

  • Michelle Eves

    Are you denying the quotes from the catechism, the words of Popes themselves and his Bishops?

  • Eva

    It’s always proper, when acting in good faith, never to take anything out of context- nothing is a better illustration than this right here. The Catholic Faith teaches that the church is a single body- It’s not just metaphor, it’s a real single body, mystically united. Like a man, there’s a visible component and an invisible one. The Catholic Church believes that it is “God the Holy Spirit” and HIM ALONE who rules the Church from Pentecost to the culmination of the age, as Christ had ruled his followers on earth. Pentecost is celebrated as the birth of the church, because this is when the third person of the Blessed Trinity came descended to the community of believers, constituting them a single body- Before they were a community held together by a common belief, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, they were one entity- literally- and not just any entity but an entity that was also mystically and truly the body of the ascended Christ.

    I’ve given that introduction as the context within which the role of st peter and the papacy- indeed the entire magisterium descended from the apostles- is to be understood. Without this understanding, there’s likely, as shown above, to be gross misrepresentation.

    Now God the Holy Ghost rules the church, but he is not a visible leader, so how does he speak? Enter the college of apostles and the magisterium. They are the visible heads, and their visible unity culminates in st Peter, chosen by Christ- All of these offices are passed down in perpetual succession, as long as the church remains visible on Earth- until our lord himself shall “visibly” come to it at the end of the age. So we have a visible body, with a visible head, which is at the same time, mystically, the ascended Christ himself, ruled by the invisible yet perpetually present- God the Holy Spirit. So how do these visible heads speak, teach, preach, head the body as commissioned by the Lord, knowing very well that they are a bunch of sinners?- The protection of God the Son as given “Whatever you bind, loose on earth is bound, loosed in Heaven” which protection is only possible because God the Holy Spirit descends and remains with the visible body as God had done with the temple at Jerusalem. This guarantee “whatever you bind..etc” is what is taught by the Church as the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks ex- cathedra (Remember the guarantee was first given to St Peter alone) and the magisterium in unity with him (It was later given to the entire college of bishops). So yes, the pope indeed is a representative of christ- so are the Bishops. Afterall, the body he’s heading is not his own but someone else’s! (Remember- Feed my sheep, tend my lambs) If he were not a vicar, an ambassador, a representative, we would be saying he is the rightful head-the King himself! Of course we know he’s merely a representative, that’s why he’s called vicar of the universal church. Each bishop is also vicar in his own diocese. As a body in unity, that college is also vicar- They head a body that doesn’t belong to them after all- They’re merely servants working for their lord.

    This are the quotes from the chatechism

    The episcopal college and its head, the Pope

    880 When
    Christ instituted the Twelve, “he constituted [them] in the form of a
    college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter,
    chosen from among them.”398 Just as “by the Lord’s
    institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single
    apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s
    successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related
    with and united to one another.”399

    The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his
    Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd
    of the whole flock.400 “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.”401
    This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the
    Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the
    primacy of the Pope.

    882 The Pope,
    Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible
    source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole
    company of the faithful.”402 “For the Roman Pontiff, by
    reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire
    Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a
    power which he can always exercise unhindered.”403

    883 “The college or body of bishops has
    no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as
    its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over
    the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the
    agreement of the Roman Pontiff.”404

    884 “The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council.”405 But “there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter’s successor.”406

    885 “This college, in so far as it is composed
    of many members, is the expression of the variety and universality of
    the People of God; and of the unity of the flock of Christ, in so far as
    it is assembled under one head.”407

    886 “The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches.”408 As such, they “exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them,”409
    assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal
    college, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches.410
    The bishops exercise this care first “by ruling well their own Churches
    as portions of the universal Church,” and so contributing “to the
    welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view,
    is a corporate body of Churches.”411 They extend it especially to the poor,412 to those persecuted for the faith, as well as to missionaries who are working throughout the world.

    887 Neighboring particular Churches who share
    the same culture form ecclesiastical provinces or larger groupings
    called patriarchates or regions.413 The bishops of these
    groupings can meet in synods or provincial councils. “In a like fashion,
    the episcopal conferences at the present time are in a position to
    contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the
    collegiate spirit.”414

  • Davidrugambwa

    Dr. Wolfgang, the teaching of the Pope being equal to God himself is a blatant lie that only you seems to know about. I wonder where you heard that from!!!! God bless you

  • Imjustsayin2

    My own journey out of the Catholic Church was a just as momentous step in my life. It involved a parting of friends and the abandoning of many things I held dear…my crystal rosary beads, my statues, my missal, my holy cards, my idolatry, my ritual,  and superstion….praying to Mary and Joseph and Theresa and Francis, Anthony and Michael, and Blaise and Valentine…and lets not forget Jude(not the one the Beatles wrote a song about) Saint Jude the patron saint of hopeless cases (lost dogs,car keys etc)….. repetitive prayers to patron saints of anything and everything…..I had to give up falling to my knees when a ‘man in a dress with a big hat walked up a ornate church aisle with a gold encrusted vessel encasing a wafer , the room reeking of incense and choking on smoke, I had to give up paying money to light candles in front of statues so my prayers would be answered…I had to give up praying for the ‘DEAD” and praying to the dead…..I had to give up my catechism, my lives of the saints and my missal and open up MY BIBLE,,,,,I had to give up “religion’ and enter into a personal relationship with JESUS CHRIST….I had to move out the book of Exodus and step into the book of Acts.

    Jesus loves me this I know….for the Bible tells me so.  I read the one small passage about Peter(Matthew 16:17 the rock)…..but I also have read the rest of the book… I have seen the Church of Rome(Roman catholic) list of popes……Peter was the only one Jesus spoke to…He didn’t gather the apostles together and select him and I can find no where in God’s word where he instructed the apostles to get together and select a “new rock if Peter should die”….HOWEVER……be that as it may…

    the Holy Bible also tells me…..We all sin and fall sort of the glory of God….the wages of sin is death…but the gift of GOD is eternal life through Christ Jesus.  It reads “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
    .There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun and I don’t have to go to a devils hell because over 2000 years ago on Calvary’s cross My Jesus, My Lord, My Savior, shed His blood for the remission of my sins. JESUS the name above ALL names…..every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD..
    I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD….

  • Imjustsayin2

    the HOLY BIBLE explains the Roman Catholic catechism….especially in Timothy and Revelation…READ YOUR BIBLE!!!!!

  • Imjustsayin2

    The man dies and goes to heaven….he meets St,. Peter at the golden gates and is being given the grand tour….as they walk the they pass a door where there is a piano playing and many voices sweetly singing…St Peter explains those are the Baptists…they pass another door and there is much ruckus and loud music and singing and laughing and shouting…St. Peter explains those are the Pentecostals…they pass many doors and St. Peter tells the man who is inside….then they come to this big gold encrusted ornate door….the man can smell the incense and see the candles flickering through the stained glass windows…..St. Peter puts his finger to his lips and whispers shhhhhh! The man waits until they pass the door and asks St. Peter….is that where God is?????? to which St. Peter replies…..NO….thats where the Catholics are….they think they are the only ones here.