Only days after the Pope's visit, Anglican traditionalists meet to discuss the future

Britain could have an Ordinariate by the end of the year, it emerged today.

Sources say that the Rt Rev Keith Newton, the flying bishop of Richborough and the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, the flying Bishop of Ebbsfleet will take up the special canonical structure, which allows groups of Anglicans to come into full Communion with Rome without losing their Anglican identity, before the end of the calendar year.

Groups of Anglicans are already forming across the country in preparation for joining an ordinariate, according to the blog of the retired Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Edwin Barnes.

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In his October pastoral letter, Bishop Burnham wrote that ordinariate groups would likely be small congregations of thirty or so people.

Traditionally-minded Anglican clergy from the South of England were gathering at a Sacred Synod in Westminster today to discuss the future direction of the Church of England. The meeting was called by the Rt Rev John Ford, the Anglican Bishop of Plymouth. He invited the signatories of a 2008 open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, which expressed reservations over women bishops.

The meeting was being held only days after Pope Benedict told Catholic bishops in England and Wales and Scotland to see the offer made in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus as a “prophetic gesture”.

The apostolic constitution was a topic discussed at the Synod, according to Bishop Burnham.

In a statement Bishop Burnham said that Anglicanorum coetibus offered “Anglo-Catholics the way to full communion with the Catholic Church for which they worked and prayed for at least a century and it is a way in which they will be ‘united and not absorbed’.”

He said that discussions were under way about how the “vision of the Apostolic Constitution” could be implemented” and said the first people to take up the initiative would require vision and courage.

He quoted Pope Benedict’s speech to the bishops of England, Wales and Scotland, saying the Holy Father set his offer to Anglicans “firmly within the developing ecumenical dialogue” and said it was an “an exciting initiative for those for whom the vision of Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) of corporate union has shaped their thinking over recent years”.

The issue, he said, was “the ministry of the Pope himself, as the successor of St Peter. Anglicans who accept that ministry as it is presently exercised will want to respond warmly to the Apostolic Constitution”. He said: “Those who do not accept the ministry of the Pope or would want to see that ministry in different ways will not feel able to accept Anglicanorum Coetibus.”

Bishop Burnham added: “The decision to respond to the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution is not dependent on the decisions of the General Synod or on any particular issue of church order. The initiative should be judged on its own merit. It will require courage, and vision on the part of those who accept the invitation, particularly amongst the first to respond.

“Although there are few practical details at present in the public forum, discussions have already been taking place as to how the vision of the Apostolic Constitution can be implemented. It is expected that the first groups will be small congregations, energetically committed to mission and evangelism and serving the neighbourhood in which they are set.”

In the pastoral letter, the third in series about the ordinariate, Bishop Burnham described two reasons for taking up the offer made in Anglicanorum coetibus and said that it taking up the offer was not a matter to be considered lightly.

He wrote: “Joining the Ordinariate is not a matter to be considered lightly. Clergy who do so put their stipends and pensions, their homes and their security at risk. In some cases the response of laity will be so enthusiastic that whole congregations might be able to move together, with their parish priest. In most cases, the Ordinariate groups will be church-planting new congregations, congregations of perhaps only thirty or so people to start with, but thirty enthusiasts nonetheless.

“Such congregations of activists will probably grow rapidly, but there, of course, lies another risk. There are many clergy and laity who would love to possess the courage for this pioneering venture but they simply do not. Not everyone is at heart a risk-all pioneer. Not everyone can be: we all have real responsibilities to families to balance against the radical demand of the Gospel.”

There is some speculation that October 9, the feast of Blessed John Henry Newman, Britain’s most prominent Anglican convert to Catholicism, could be the date on which an ordinariate will be announced.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus in November 2009. It came as a response to requests from prominent Anglo-Catholics and offered a new canonical structure, similar to military dioceses called personal ordinariates in order to allow groups of Anglicans to enter into communion with Rome without losing their Anglican identity. The personal ordinariate covers a geographical area but has its own leadership and answers to the Pope.

Bishop Alan Hopes, an auxiliary of Westminster Archdiocese and Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham are in charge of the Bishops’ conference commission dealing with Anglicans wanting to take up the ordinariate.

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