Ivan Aquilina addresses his parish on the options which lie before us

As I see it there are at the moment three options in front of each one of us. The first is the generous offer by the Holy Father, the one we have heard about already, the Ordinariate.

The second option that is in front of us comes as an offer from some Anglican bishops. This is called the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda. The word society is very important here. As you know Anglo Catholics have asked the Church to be given what they need to flourish and exist with dignity: a structural solution: a diocese, the famous third province.

General Synod was very clear that no diocese was going to be granted. For me that spelled the end of our corporate existence in the CofE. The Catholic Group in Synod, a group of good people who presented good arguments but lost the votes, came up with the society model.

Society Model

Society seemed a milder name for diocese. You would have a society with bishops and priests and people. When an Anglo-Catholic parish becomes vacant, a priest from this society, probably ordained by a bishop of this society, would be appointed. Forward in Faith could be a model of this. Now here there are a million clarifications to be made.

Will bishops of this society be allowed to ordain priests and deacons? Who will consecrate them as bishops? Who are they in communion with? If the Act of Synod was only respected for sixteen years when it was promised for good (even by parliament), how long will this society be given regard by the CofE?

The idea of society was rejected repeatedly by the various groups established by the powers to be to look into the matter. Someone counted seven occasions in the last few years where all Anglo Catholic proposals were rejected. The last such group chaired by our Archdeacon Clive Mansell was called the Revision Committee. All the Catholic representations were turned down one after another. This revision committee is the one that came up with the draft legislation which makes no provision for Anglo Catholics. It says in 2 (1) that every bishop needs to make arrangements by way of delegation for a male member of the House of Bishops to look after parishes that request such arrangements.


Firstly, any male bishop is appointed by delegation of the bishop of the diocese who could be male or female. This male bishop has to be in communion with women bishops and as you know women cannot be bishops: that is why we are here. This would be a compromised male bishop.

Secondly, this is highly misogynistic. We are not against women bishops because they are women; we are against women bishops and priests as they cannot be either bishops or priests as Scripture and the practice of the Universal Church clearly and undoubtedly shows.

As I hope you can see there is no provision as long as you are not happy to be called a misogynist, and I am sure that none of us at St John’s is. The Church of England has stopped listening to us and does not want to offer what we need to exist and flourish with dignity, but is throwing straw at us as it sees us drowning – just to prolong the agony.

Revival after rejection

The Society of St Hilda and St Wilfred is reviving this concept of society which was already rejected.

Who knows it might be accepted now for the time being just to show some care, to give some sense of temporary security, but it may not. When women are ordained bishops, and they will, what will this society do? Will it break the law and ordain its own bishops and priests, will it cause more splits and divisions just like what happened to Anglicans in North America? Is that the vision of this society or is it just to keep together with some notion of dignity those who cannot or are not willing to join the Catholic Ordinariate?

Some promoters of this society are echoing what Canon Simon Killwick said that the whole legislation of women as bishops can be lost at the last minute at General Synod by one or two votes in the House of Laity. Listen to this: one or two votes. Can you imagine the bitterness that this will cause and the backlash that it will create?

What we know about this society is its name and not much more. People are being asked to sign up for it even though we do not know much about it, could it be the new Forward in Faith? Could it deliver what the Catholic Group in Synod never managed to do? I doubt it but it may be the only vehicle for High Church Protestants in the CofE. If you Google the name of this Society you will find ways of how to join it.

As this Society comes together it is good to remember that the CofE has already formed a group to work on a code of practice for us – yes you remember we have been saying for years a code of practice will not do not now or ever.

That is what the Cof E is offering and has brought a group of people together to do this – and you know there is only ONE “Catholic” member on it, Martin Warner the Bishop of Whitby, only one out of 8, even if he really wants to make a difference, what chance does he have?

The other option, the third in front of us, is I think one much better than the Society. This is the option that respects the Church of England that we love, that nourished us and gave us the spirituality we have. That Church of England, hijacked by those who do not love her as we do, has made irreversible decisions. There might be no shame in putting aside your beliefs about women in the episcopate, gay marriages and the like and accept the Church of England as it has become.

A more excellent way

I think I am saying that if the Ordinariate is not for you it might be time to stop living in a fantasyland of mental reservations and hide behind any societies or the like and accept the Church of England as it is becoming. We need to face the issues and not dodge them as happened in 1992/4. By avoiding facing the issue, we have created the angst and problems we are in today. Let us not prolong this misery.

Those of us with a Catholic understanding of the Church based on the principles that founded this parish in 1858 will find in the Catholic Ordinariate the natural way forward, the crowning of all their aspirations and prayers for the Unity of the Church. Our own Bishop has chosen this way.

Those of us who are more of a protestant nature and disposition need with joy and integrity to uphold and celebrate these principles and live them fully in this new Church of England without any pretending.

As Advent approaches, God is giving us a good time in which to prayerfully reflect on our future and see where we are called to be.

A parting of friends

Four hundred years ago or so people were also facedwiththe choicebetween Catholicism and Protestantism. They made a dog’s breakfast out of it and reddened the surface of this noble country with blood of innocent people who could not compromise with their conscience.

Today for those of us in parishes like this we are faced with another situation: different on the outside but fundamentally the same at its heart: of choosing between Catholicism and Protestantism. This time let us get it right. Let us do it with respect and love and integrity. There is going to be a parting of friends; let it truly be a parting of friends that cherish, support and hold each other in prayer and love. ND