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Former Anglican bishop turned Catholic priest is star of anti-apartheid musical

By on Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fr Mercer, centre, with Mgr Keith Newton, left, and Bishop Alan Hopes (Photo: Personal Ordinariate)

Fr Mercer, centre, with Mgr Keith Newton, left, and Bishop Alan Hopes (Photo: Personal Ordinariate)

A former Anglican bishop ordained a Catholic priest is one of the stars of an anti-apartheid musical in South Africa, it emerged today.

Fr Robert Mercer, 77, was deported from South Africa in 1970 for his stand against apartheid, along with several other Anglican priests.

He and other members of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection defied segregation laws by running a multi-racial parish.

They were, says Fr Mercer, “deemed to be a corrupting influence on students” at Stellenbosch University, where they worked as chaplains. One of the Anglican priests was jailed.

Their stand has been dramatised in a multi-media pop musical called Brothers, which ran for five nights at Stellenbosch University, the country’s top Africaans university.

The musical was performed in September 2010 in a mix of Africaans and English and was directed by playwright Peter Krummeck.

Fr Mercer, who grew up in Zimbabwe, went on to become Bishop of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, in the Anglican Province of Central Africa, in the midst of a civil war.

He was bishop for 11 years before leaving the Anglican Communion to join the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, part of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Communion. He served as metropolitan bishop from 1988 to 2005, when he retired to England.

Fr Mercer became a Catholic in January and was ordained a priest for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on Monday.

He said today that Pope Benedict XVI’s offer of an ordinariate to Anglicans in 2009 was “an answer to our prayers, to our dreams”.

He said he had been longing for Christian unity since the early 1980s, when Pope John Paul II and Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, issued a joint declaration thanking God for “the progress that has been made in the work of reconciliation”.

He and his clergy in Zimbabwe began working through ARCIC documents and even met Vatican officials in Rome.

In 1985 Fr Mercer met Cardinal Johannes Willebrands and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to talk about the prospect of Anglicans reconciling with Rome.

Fr Mercer said that Cardinal Ratzinger was “the humblest, gentlest, most sympathetic person I think I’ve ever met”.
He said: “I could never understand, therefore, all the talk of ‘the Rottweiler’ and ‘Panzer cardinal’… I came away thinking if ever I had done wrong and wanted to tell someone about it, it would be him I’d want to tell.”

Fr Mercer said: “I couldn’t see then why Anglicans couldn’t be in communion [with Rome].”

Three years later he joined the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), an umbrella group of breakaway Anglicans, serving as a bishop in Canada.

There, he said, parishes had to start “from scratch”, meeting in homes and trying to build or buy churches. “I was so impressed by the commitment of the lay people,” Fr Mercer said. “It was a great pleasure and privilege to be with them.”

In 2007 Fr Mercer was one of about 30 leaders of the TAC who signed a letter to Rome asking to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.

He and the others signed the letter and a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the altar during a service in Portsmouth, England.

Weeks ago, however, a majority of the TAC’s bishops announced that they would not be joining a personal ordinariate and would be staying “fully Anglican”.

Fr Mercer said more than half a dozen TAC bishops in Canada, the US, Australia and even Japan were still “in the pipeline” to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church, along with many priests and parishes.

He said that, while in a sense the Pope’s offer of an ordinariate in Anglicanorum coetibus was “wonderful and sudden and too good to be true”, it was also the “fulfilment of 400 years of prayer and aspiration and hope and idealism”. “One day,” he said, “I hope the Anglican Communion will be reconciled with the Bishop of Rome.”

  • Fr Gerard

    A wonderful and brave man indeed. I am not sure if something has been lost in reporting, but a lot more than half a dozen TAC priests and bishops are “in the pipeline” – I think you mean half a dozen TAC bishops and a lot of priests. In Canada alone, 2 bishops and 25 priests and deacons are hoping to be received, there are 3 bishops in the USA and a lot of priests (figures hard to confirm), 1 bishop in Japan, 2 in Australia and a number of priests and deacons and the TAC Diocese of Torres Straits is hoping to join through the Ordinariate system.
    As for a ‘majority of the TAC’s bishops’ rejecting the Personal Ordinariate, that was a majority achieved by excluding bishops who they didn’t agree with, removing from them ‘voice and vote’. Reminds me of my days in the Labour Party in the early ’80s when meetings were called and then it was “discovered that they were quorate” so branches were taken over. If you think I am joking, my quote is directly from the lips of Bishop Marsh of the US branch of the TAC when reporting back to his Diocese on the meeting of the Bishops who rejected the Ordinariate offer.

  • Parasum

    “Fr Mercer said: “I couldn’t see then why Anglicans couldn’t be in communion [with Rome].””

    ## Because there are slight doctrinal difficulties, maybe ? Maybe he should re-(?)read the Anglican polemics against Catholicism by Jewel, Laud, Gibson, Bishop Newton, Wilberforce, Newman, & a few hundred others. Either the Mass is a “dangerous delusion and a blasphemous deceit” (as per the Articles) and a “stinking and infected sepulchre” (Bishop Hooper, later one of the Marian martyrs), or it is not – the CC say it is not. And no power in heaven or earth or under the earth can make Hooper’s estimate of it, which is typical of one side of Anglicanism, agree with the Council of Trent’s estimate of it, which is much closer to that of Bishop Forbes of Brechin. Forbes & Hooper both count as Anglicans/ Episcopalians – but as the Rome-rejecting part of Anglicanism is as characteristic of it as the Romeward part, there is no way that the CC can agree with the C of E.

    What ecumenists never bother to mention – God forbid anything so trivial as the truth should get in the way of their nonsense ! -  is that although some Anglicans do indeed accept the ARCIC Agreed Statements (as they are deceptively called), a great many do not. But it would spoil the fiction if these people, who are misrepresenting their faith, or lying about it, or are ignorant of it, mentioned such inconvenient facts. ARCIC documents are worthless, because they portray a religion that is neither Anglican, nor Catholic, but a bastard mixture of the two: Canglicanism, or Angolicanism. Honest &  principled hatred of Catholicism is much better than the friendly untruthfulness of the ecumaniacs.

  • Parasum

    How is receiving a few Anglicans into the CC either “wonderful and sudden and too good to be true” or “the “fulfilment of 400 years of prayer and aspiration and hope and idealism”.” ? Talk about being pathetically easily satisfied :(

    There was no such absurd exaggeration in the past, when it was quite usual for there to be far more conversions. Especially as thousands leave the CC in the other direction – but Rome ignores that; not very honest.

  • Deacon Chris

     By Fr Gerard’s own figures, 9 TAC bishops are preparing to enter the various Ordinariates. The former Secretary of the TAC College of Bishops claimed that the membership of that body exceeded 30. That means at least 21 are NOT entering – when I went to school that was what we were taught equalled a majority. One more “mathematical” clarification – people such as Fr Gerard continue to talk about THE Ordinariate as tho’ only one existed or that each is a part of a whole. This is clearly not the case – each national or regional Ordinariate is a totally separate body, with its own Papally appointed head and relationship with the local Roman Episcopal Conference. Finally, from the plain reading of both Anglicanorum Coetibus and the Norms, it is simply not possible for the Church of the Torres Straits to enter any Ordinariate – entry to the Ordinariate is only open to individuals who may then be allowed to apply for membership. For myself and many others our disappointment with and opposition to CA is not based on any anti-Romanism but on the fact that it did not allow CORPORATE union, with the status of a sui iuris Church. But my most heart felt prayer is that we be able to discuss these matters as BROTHERS rather than enemies or antogonists.

  • http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/ The Catholic Herald

    Thanks a lot for pointing that out. The article has now been corrected.

  • Fr Gerard

    Hello Deacon Chris,
     
    I feel you may have misread what I wrote, I wasn’t saying Torres Straits would join as a diocese but “through the Ordinariate system”. Also, I haven’t ever considered the Ordinariate as a single entity, but certainly as a particular jurisdiction through which people can be received.
    As for the mathematics, the truth is that nobody is clear about them – I don’t recall claiming that a majority of the TAC College of Bishops were joining through the Ordinariate system nor a majority of the clergy or lay-people. I simply tried to come up with a more exact approximation.
    Deacon Chris, your argument isn’t with me or anything I have written and the only perhaps difficult remark I made was a quote from Bishop Marsh on ‘finding themselves to be quorate’.
    As it happens, I believe that at least 12 TAC bishops are hoping to join the RC Church as part of the Ordinariates either presently created or in the process of creation.Whatever happens, I pray for the faithful unity of the Church however the Lord wills it to come about.
    I am sorry people are unhappy and wish only the best for them at this most holy time.

  • Continental observer

    Do you really think that “the Anglican polemics against Catholicism by Jewel, Laud, Gibson, Bishop Newton, Wilberforce, Newman, & a few hundred others” were not,in fact, primarily “polemics” and not deep theological-doctrinal analysis, in conforminity with the “faith of the ancient fathers” that we shared/should share? 

  • Fr Michael Anthony

    Bishop Mercer is indeed a good man and a faithful priest.Wherever he will serve as a priest, he will be a faithful and devoted pator.I had the extraordinary privilege of being ordained Deacon at his hands and I have the highest regard and respect for him.It is sad for me to read that the TAC, which initially gave many Anglicans much hope  for some meaningful form of reconcilliation with our Roman catholic brethren, is now going to remain “totally Anglican” and thus precipitating further division within Anglicanism as a whole.(As if there isn’t enough to show that “Anglicans” are ‘a house divided’ already!)
    My own spiritual journey has taken me to another part of God’s vineyard, but the one thing that Father Mercer instilled in me was to be faithful to Our Blessed Lord wherever we are and wherever we may find ourselves.That is indeed how God uses us to make His Church grow.So I along with many others who know Fr Robert wish him every blessing in his new ministry!