Anglicans who take up the Pope’s offer of an Ordinariate may be allowed to continue worshipping in their Church of England buildings, it emerged this week.
Until now commentators had assumed that groups wanting to join the new structure set up by the Pope would have to abandon their Anglican churches.
But William Fittall, secretary general of the Church of England General Synod, said it would be “entirely possible” for these buildings to be shared between the new members of the Ordinariate and Anglicans.
Mr Fittall said: “It would be a matter for the local Anglican bishop concerned whether he was content for that to be the case.”
He said that in some areas Anglican buildings were already shared with Baptists, Methodists and Catholics.
But commentators fear that church-sharing between Anglicans and new Ordinariate groups could exacerbate tensions if the parish has just been split in two.
The buildings could also be leased on a long-term basis. In this case they would still be owned by the Church of England but would be used and maintained by Ordinariate parishes.
Fr Peter Geldard, a former Anglican and chaplain at the University of Kent, said that such a compromise on church buildings would greatly help Ordinariate groups starting out.
He said: “It would be helpful for two reasons. First, many [Anglo-Catholics] have a strong affinity with their particular local church.
“Second, the fewer burdens they have to resolve the better. They are already going to have to pay for and house their own priest, and pay the rent of whatever church they use. This would lessen the number of responsibilities [they face].”
Fr Geldard said that once Ordinariate groups had survived a difficult first year they would “very quickly become viable and sustainable”.
He said they may well draw Catholics from neighbouring parishes who are attracted by the liturgy.
Meanwhile, an Australian bishop has disclosed exactly how Ordinariates will be established – and said the Ordinariates in Britain will be the model for bishops’ conferences worldwide.
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Elliott of Melbourne, who has responsibility for liaising with groups of Australian Anglicans who want to convert, told the Messenger newspaper that the first step would be re-ordaining Anglican clergy as Catholic priests.
The next step, he said, would be the “first reconciliations of the lay faithful”.
“The clergy will therefore be in place to welcome and minister to former Anglicans in a community that maintains the familiar Anglican patrimony of worship, spirituality, scholarship and pastoral care,” he said.
He said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had already approved programmes to prepare laity and clergy wanting to join the Ordinariate. “Here the key resource is the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” he said.
The bishop added: “I believe the model will be set by what proceeds in the United Kingdom in terms of a clear timeline built around the two stages.”
It is understood that clergy will be ordained early in 2011 and that an ordinary, the head of the Ordinariate, is likely to be appointed by the middle of the year.
An announcement from the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is also expected after the bishops’ November plenary meeting in two weeks’ time.
Three Anglo-Catholic bishops – Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, Keith Newton of Richborough, and John Broadhurst of Fulham – are likely to be re-ordained as Catholic priests. Bishop Broadhurst was the first senior Anglo-Catholic to announce he would resign to join the Ordinariate when it is established next year. He has informed the Bishop of London of his intentions.
Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus in November last year in response to requests from about 30 Anglican bishops around the world. It offers a new canonical structure called a Personal Ordinariate that is similar to military dioceses and allows groups of Anglicans to enter into communion with Rome while keeping some Anglican traditions, including married priests.