Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I would not have joined the Ordinariate

Several times I have been asked why I have not blogged about the Ordinariate, this special arrangement Pope Benedict has made for anglicans now wishing to join the Catholic Church. As a former anglican who was received into the Catholic Church in 1994 and ordained a priest in 97, surely I have something to say about it?

Well, yes. And perhaps too much.

There has been some comment - especially in the more conservative catholic blogs - that the Bishops of England and Wales are less than enthusiastic about the ordinariate. I can't comment on that, though I am pretty sure that those like me who became catholics in the 1990s look upon it with mixed feelings. It is also the case that many ordinary Catholics - those who inform themselves and follow Church news - are also somewhat puzzled. I am also told that many anglicans, especially their bishops, are furious about the whole thing.

Now this, admittedly, is anecdotal, though I challenge anyone to produce solid evidence that the contrary is the case.

So - just in case you don't know what the ordinariate is, and haven't already given up on this post, let me explain.

The Ordinariate is a special, indeed unique arrangement set up by Pope Benedict in the Catholic Church to accommodate groups of Anglicans (Church of England and linked churches around the world) who wish to become part of the Catholic Church, but keep something of their common life. It is not a separate 'church' within the Catholic Church (like the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) but more - in organisational terms, at least - like the Bishopric to the Forces, which crosses Diocesan boundaries but which operates alongside the other bishops. The arrangement raises so many issues, but I want to focus on just two.

Firstly, the Ordinariate is a kind of 'fast track' for anglicans wishing to come into the Catholic Church. Bishops who became Catholics at the end of 2010 have already been ordained priest, and we are told that groups of priests and people will be received together into the Church at Easter, just a few weeks after leaving the Church of England, rather than after a year or longer. The former anglican bishops (a photograph from their ordination to the priesthood is above - more are here) have already been given some of the trappings of episcopacy and will retain a leadership role of the group. Not a few raised eyebrows on the Catholic side over this - though not unsurprisingly much delight amongst those making the journey.

Secondly, the Ordinariate has a common identity which preserves some aspects of the Anglican Patrimony which will be maintained in the Catholic Church. The idea here is that while members of the Ordinariate will have fully embraced the teaching of the Catholic Church, there will be some cultural elements, particularly in the Liturgy, the Church's worship, which they will be able to retain, and be encouraged to allow to flourish.

Now there are some interesting aspects to this whole process without a doubt. The 'fast track' itself raises issues about selection and training of clergy, and also concerning the reception of lay people into the Church.

However, my discomfort really focusses upon the whole idea of the Anglican Patrimony which is supposed to be preserved and fostered by the Ordinariate. I readily acknowledge, that many aspects of the scheme would have been very attractive to me, and others like me, in 1992 when our journey into the Church began. I left full time ministry and had to retrain to find paid employment. I did, and don't regret it at all, but at the time what is on offer now would have been much more attractive.

I feel that those of us who entered the Church in the 90s brought much of our education, experience and outlook, and our approach to pastoral ministry into the Catholic Church. But I am really intrigued to know what exactly is intended by the idea of the Anglican patrimony.

There are indeed great cultural and pastoral riches within Anglicanism. In worship there are the literary and musical riches of the Book of Common Prayer, the Kings James Bible, Anglican Chant, Hymnody, Cathedral Choirs, Evensong. There is also a strong pastoral sense, in England at least, that the Church ministers to the whole nation, and that every citizen is anglican by default and that the parish ministers to the whole community, not just parish 'members'. This is evidenced particularly in anglican schools and other institutions which are seen as part of the church's mission to every member of society. The trouble is that anglo-catholicism mostly rejects the cultural and liturgical aspects and cannot deliver the pastoral ones. Anglo-Catholic worship (in England at least), while more consistently elaborate than Roman Catholic forms, and sometimes ostentatiously self-conscious, nevertheless almost always uses Roman Catholic service books. There might soon emerge an awkward situation when Rome will impose one liturgy for the ordinariate, which, respecting the much larger ordinariates in America and Australia, will be based on the thee-thou language of the Book of Common Prayer, thereby requiring English Anglo-Catholics to embrace something they had previously rejected as 'uncatholic'.

Considering my own experience over almost two decades, I am convinced that what happened to me and others was much better than what the ordinariate might provide. When I took my break from active ministry, I did not fall into some kind of limbo, but was immersed into a Catholic parish and joined in its life. I read at mass, became a minister of communion and helped with the Youth Club and Children's Liturgy. I became very aware of the Irish heritage of much of the Catholic Church in England. I became familiar with prayers and acts of devotion which had not been common amongst even the most extreme Anglo-Catholics. I became immersed in a catholic life which was not self-conscious or strident, but natural and living. I became part of a community which laid great store by particular moral values and precepts which were either ignored by anglicans or set aside with ease. I became familiar with some of the traditional Latin prayers and songs which Catholics still know and sing. And - always having loved Walsingham - I came to realise that that wonderful place is just an outpost of a much bigger world. I went to Lourdes and experienced the internationality of the Church of which I was now a member.

My worry - and I hope to be proved wrong - is that the existence of the Ordinariate will make it more difficult for these new catholics to inculturate themselves into the Church. They will be bringing with them few cultural or liturgical riches, but they may carry with them, by the very nature of the Ordinariate, the defensive and introspective approach to their spiritual life which enabled them to survive during their anglican days, and a suspicion of Roman Catholicism which presumably prevented them from taking this step earlier. While I do not anticipate any antipathy towards Ordinariate priests or groups, it may prove difficult for other catholics to understand them or warm to them and in the worst cases they could find themselves isolated from the rest of the Church.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against the Ordinariate. I don't oppose it and wouldn't consider campaigning against it. In other parts of the world, where these small and geographically isolated anglo-catholic communities have existed I can see its logic.

But here? Well, for those who feel they are jumping into the unknown it may well provide great comfort to do so holding someone else's hand - but once on the other side, there are very many more hands to embrace.


St Wilfrid's, Coalville said...

Thank you for this, Peter. What you say reinforces my thankfulness that I am part of a geographical diocese. However, I am delighted that the Pope has made this incredibly generous provision for those who need to make their journey into the full communion of the Church by a different route from the one we took in the nineties. The dizzying speed of the receptions ordinations reminds me that the ordained ministry in the Church is not a reward for the individual but for the building up of the Church. These men need to be ordained so soon for the sake of those to whom they will be ministering. I am looking forward to attending the ordination of a former Archdeacon from my last Anglican Diocese on Friday this week.
I remember telling a Jesuit that I was going to leave my C of E ministry and ask to be received into the Catholic Church. He starting talking about all the difficulties I might face - I still had school-aged children then. Then he stopped and said: 'Sorry. The first thing to say is "Welcome."'
I am so thankful to be a Catholic. I simply hope these good people who are making this journey by what may seem a strange route feel welcomed, and know all the blessings I have known these last fifteen or so years. Welcome!

David Lindsay said...

Thank you so much, Father.

AndrewWS said...

(Posted also on David Lindsay's admirable blog)

Father, while I am sure all your readers will rejoice that you found becoming a Catholic such a happy experience, you must surely be aware that such is not the case for all (most?) ex-Anglicans. I have no concrete evidence that I could post here, but it is a matter of common knowledge that there have been many who have had a distinctly frosty reception from both the clergy and the laity; people who have been told "we're going to ordain women anyway, so why are you bothering?"; people with theology degrees and years of devout living who have been forced into RCIA as if they were newly-converted Hottentots; people whose apostolic zeal has been eroded by the experience of being the only convert in a parish characterised by apathy and functioning only as an ethnic social club. It is not for me to speculate whether this was in the Holy Father's mind; I simply rejoice that he did what he did and that the Ordinariate (which I shall be joining) is coming into being.

Those of us who are entering the Church by this route are by no means all habitual users of the modern Roman rite; there are many among us who have steered well clear of Forward in Faith because they reject its imitation. We have many ex-Anglican supporters within the Church who are rooting for us and will support us; we are confident that we will play our part in bringing back the lapsed and re-energising the indifferent. The Ordinariate is going to be a renewal movement of committed, dedicated, disciplined converted believers. The Holy Father knows what he is doing. Trust him. All manner of things shall be well.

    Peter Weatherby said...

Dear Andrew, Thank you for adding your comment.I think your apprehension actually reflects much of the same feelings many of us had nearly 20 years ago as we prepared to "cross the Tiber". We feared a Catholic Church in England that was ethnic and alien, 'the Italian mission' we sometimes called it. I remember one (anglican) priest friend of mine saying that he had no intention of going to share a house with "Fr O'Bubblegum". [Now, I am pp of a a parish where 26 languages are spoken!] It is a big step, for all kinds of reasons - practical, familial and financial - and anything that can ease the transistion is very welcome. The clergy who became Catholics in the early 90s were fortunate not only to receive a warm welcome from the Catholic Church, but also a very generous farewell from the Church of England: It seems that there is no happy parting of the ways like there was when I became a Catholic.
All those who become Catholics through the medium of the Ordinariate will be very welcome, and in some ways their path will be harder.
But please take note of my main point, which I think your comment makes stronger, not weaker. Admittedly, we both speak from anecdotal evidence, though I can reassure you that in my 17 years as a Catholic I have never encountered the kinds of situations you describe nor even spoken to anyone who has. It is a scenario which - this side of the fence - is far from being 'well known' but which is actually unheard of.
Don't get me wrong - it hasn't always been easy. For a short time my family (7 of us) were literally without anywhere to live, and for a fortnight we lived and slept in one room of any empty vicarage. I had to train as a teacher then get a job doing something I did not really want to do (though it had many good moments and was a very positive time for me, in restrospect). We trained for 3 years for the priesthood not knowing till the last minute whether we would be accepted for ordination. Even after ordination I was told that I would never be able to serve as a parish priest, though that situation happily changed.
There was no penury - but there was anxiety. But we laid ourselves before the Church in order to serve her, with aspirations and hopes yes, but without demands. Admittedly some dioceses were more welcoming than others, some more generous than others, but there were very few former priests of the Church of England who were not able to be ordained in the Catholic Church.
My anxiety - which other messages confirm is shared by those of my generataion - is that the very valuable process of integration, assimilation, reception, acceptance, inculturation ... whatever you want to call it ... so valuable for us, might not take place for you, and the Ordinariate may find it difficult to integrate with the rest of the Church with all its diversity and variety, and all its riches.
The Catholic Church is a wonderful institution, and I really hope you get to be fully part of it - not only sacramentally, but practically too.

Mary's Monmouthshire Moments said...

Father, delightful post. However I do feel on this occasion, with the support of Pope Benedict and something particularly close to his heart, there will be a warm welcome and some crossing over here and there attending each others Masses and also coming together for certain devotions and festivities. What God has set in motion here is His Will, surely and cannot fail. They are in a corner and have been given an escape from the Church which has excluded them, and ,in charity, all must work hard to give them a warm welcome as you said. There will be sadness and initial problems and pain for them, but Christ will lead us all and we must go where he leads.
What Anglicans have always done well, is local feasts and festivals, old traditions etc and we can be connected back to an Englishness of the church, almost completely stamped out before.
I think God bless them for their courage and steadfastness. They deserve a fine welcome and Reward.Things evolve slowly but the decision of the Holy father has fast tracked everything for them so they don't just go into the wilderness when women bishops are ordained. Our Church is not a democracy. It is a Kingdom, with a King -Christ and we must do whatever he tells us and his yoke is heavy and his burden light.