Ronald Crane shares some notes on the meeting organized by the Federation of Catholic Priests in Holy Cross Hall – on the very day General Synod was disgracing itself in York – with the Rt Revd Malcolm McMahon oP, Bishop of Nottingham, to consider the prospects for the Ordinariate

About sixty Anglican priests met on this hot Saturday afternoon to hear Bishop McMahon address the subject of the Ordinariate. It was an interesting place for us to meet, for the Hall we were in was one of the first places built for Catholic worship following the Elizabethan persecution.

The Bishop began by saying that he could not tell us when the Ordinariate would begin, nor how it would do so. The last meeting of the Bishop’s Conference for England and Wales had agreed proposals and these have been presented to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) where they will be considered along with those from other countries where there are groups of Anglicans considering the move; that is to say, Australia and the USA.

Gift of unity

He told us that the Apostolic Constitution was an exchange of gifts between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. Since Vatican II the Catholic Church had extended a special welcome to the Archbishop of Canterbury on a number of occasions, for example at the opening of the Holy Year door, when the Pope was with him and the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was a powerful gesture.

The introduction to Anglicanorum Coetibus sets out its legal basis: (i) The Catholic Church is a unity in diversity, a sign and instrument of the unity of God and his people. Thus division wounds and causes a scandal. John 17. (ii) Ecclesial Communities are established by the Holy Spirit. The Unity of the Church is both invisible and visible, but Communion among the baptized must be visible and include all sacraments instituted by Christ.

Thus although we are all united in our baptism, that unity is imperfect. (iii) The One Church subsists in the Catholic Church, although there are elements of sanctification in other Ecclesial Communities. Therefore those Anglicans, prompted by the Holy Spirit, who have asked for unity with the Catholic Church, have been heard by the Holy Father and he has responded. He could do no other. So Anglican Catholics have indicated in a particular way the movement of the Holy Spirit and moved toward the visible and invisible bond of unity.

The CDF is charged with setting up the Ordinariate. It is a term with which we are not familiar. It is has similarities with that set up for the military, but there are differences too. The idea is to welcome groups of Anglicans: not a special Church, like a Ritual Church as in the east; and not a Personal Prelature, such as is the case with Opus Dei where the bishop is only in charge of the priests and not the laity.

In the Ordinariate, under the jurisdiction of the Ordinary, will be priests, laity, religious institutes, associations of the laity and the faithful. It will be like a diocese, but without a specific territory, although it will have a close association with the local diocese.

Responding to need

The Ordinariate is responding to two needs: (i) The need to maintain spiritual, liturgical and pastoral patrimony of the Anglicans in the Catholic Church; the name of George Herbert comes to mind. (ii) The need fully to integrate the Ordinariate into the life of the Catholic Church.

Here we have a profound idea. These two are mutual, coming from the Anglican Communion and bringing with them traditions that will be fullyintegrated into the Latin Church and enrich it. The Anglican tradition will be enriched by being in full Catholic Unity with the Latin Church. This goes way beyond the 1980 document that saw Anglicans being in local Catholic dioceses.

Priests will be ascribed to the Ordinariate and incardinated there. The laity will be fully part of the Ordinariate and their names inscribed in a suitable register. There is already something similar here in the Polish Mission and it thrives.

To summarize. The Anglican tradition is safeguarded and will be a reality within the Latin Rite. The Ordinary of the Ordinariate will determine who is selected for Seminary and Ordination; he will accept Religious Institutes and may initiate new ones. The synodical tradition in Anglicanism is preserved in as much as three names need to be submitted to Rome for the appointment of the Ordinary and each Ordinariate will have a Council of Priests of at least six members; thus the Anglican character of the Ordinariate is safeguarded and nourished.

The Ordinariate will be integrated into the life of the Catholic Church, because the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be its statement of faith. Each Ordinariate will be established in a particular country. The Ordinary will be a member of the local Episcopal Conference, although married bishops are out. Priests of the Ordinariate are obliged to foster good relations with the priests of the local diocese and are eligible for election to the local Diocesan Council of Priests.

Some answers

When the English and Welsh bishops met the Holy Father, he encouraged them to give a warm welcome to groups of Anglicans coming to explore this. Finally, back to the beginning: this is all centred on the life of the Holy Spirit; the preparation has certainly been guided by the Holy Spirit, and we pray that the Holy Spirit will so guide its application.

Following his talk, Bishop McMahon kindly agreed to answer some questions. During these questions he explained that the Ordinariate was different to the Anglican Rite in the USA because there it only covered a particular diocese. He felt that there was no reason for Catholic congregations to be worried about people going to the nearby Ordinariate Church, although marriages and baptisms would need to be entered in the correct book. The important thing to remember was that the Ordinariate and its members would be in full communion with the Catholic Church; indeed they will be Catholics.

In answer to a question from Bishop Lindsay Urwin, Bishop McMahon agreed that priestly formation and evangelism were important elements. He said he was waiting for a response from Rome about formation of priests. However, he felt that pastors and the pastured should be kept together as far as possible and that would include senior lay people such as Readers.

There was quite a discussion about money, during which the Bishop emphasized that the Catholic Church in England did not have any! Buildings would be found for groups to worship, he felt sure, but finance would be a matter for the Ordinariate itself. In some places it may be possible to provide housing for clergy, in others not. He agreed that Ordinariate clergy would be allowed to pursue suitable secular employment; but warned (to general laughter) that a nightclub bouncer was unlikely to be approved as suitable employment!

Welcome assured

Bishop McMahon stressed again and again that the existing Catholic clergy and laity would welcome these groups of Anglicans very warmly. ‘They will open their doors to you,’ he said.

A reporter from The Tablet asked about people in civil partnerships being allowed to join the Ordinariate. The Bishop said that each applicant for the priesthood would be examined and discerned as now, but the guiding principle would be the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every member of the Ordinariate would need to subscribe to this.

The reporter asked whether the Bishop thought the decision of the General Synod of the CofE on women bishops would affect numbers joining the Ordinariate; but before the Bishop had chance to answer there were cries of ‘No!’ from every part of the hall.

There was some discussion about the position of divorced persons in the Ordinariate. The Bishop replied that irregular marriages would have to go to the Tribunal, but that there was some but without dispute about whether people could join erritory who were not permitted to receive Holy Communion. It was, he said, a case for the canon lawyers.

Work of the Spirit

Asked if one had to repudiate any sacrament received prior to joining the Ordinariate, and if it was true that if one received in faith it was a means of grace, he replied that it was. He would never want to restrict the Holy Spirit, he said. The Bishop of Ebbsfleet said, ‘For clergy and laity, I would say that you cannot contain or limit the power of God. No one is ever asked to deny, let alone required to deny what has gone before.’ Bishop McMahon replied, ‘Something is going on, but we don’t know what!’

There was some discussion between the Bishop of Nottingham and the Bishop of Richborough about whether married men could be ordained in the Ordinariate once it had got going. In the end they agreed that this could happen only if each case were submitted to Rome on a case-by-case basis.

The meeting came to a close with fulsome thanks for Bishop McMahon by the Revd Stephen Bould, Chairman of FCP. There was warm and prolonged applause before everyone moved to the garden for some refreshment. ND