BY MARK GREAVES
BISHOP Thomas McMahon of Brentwood is putting on hold plans to cut the number of Masses in his diocese because of an influx of Anglican priests entering the ordinariate.
The bishop said he expected around seven Anglican clergy and up to 300 parishioners to join the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in his diocese.
He told BBC Radio Essex that out of all the Catholic dioceses Brentwood would have the largest number of parishes entering the ordinariate – three in Essex and three in east London.
Bishop McMahon said: “Rationalisation of Masses for a number of parishes has been put on hold for the time being, as we wait to see what effect the priests coming into the ordinariate will have in the diocese in the months to come.” Former Anglican vicars and laity are to be received into the Catholic Church in Holy Week.
Those who wish to be ordained as priests will spend time at Allen Hall in Chelsea, west London, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and be ordained first as deacons in May, and then as priests of the ordinariate at Pentecost, on Sunday, June 12.
Other dioceses that are likely to experience a similar influx are Portsmouth and Southwark, which are both expecting at least three ordinariate groups.
At the moment there is only one confirmed ordinariate group in the north of England, where parish closures and mergers of Catholic parishes are at their most drastic.
The group is in Manchester, in the Diocese of Salford.
Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth said in a letter to Catholics in his diocese that ordinariate members “deserve to be welcomed and made to feel at one with us all”.
The bishop, whose parents were both converts from Anglicanism, said: “There are legitimate questions as to how it will work out, but the sincerity and desire for full communion with the Church of the Anglican clergy and those who wish to come with them in this journey of faith is certainly beyond doubt.
“The ordinariate represents new ground for us all but our new-found brothers and sisters deserve to be welcomed and made to feel at one with us all. They feel that they are truly ‘coming home’.” In the diocesan magazine The People, writer Colin Parkes said the future ordinariate priests he had spoken to were “all prepared to fill in for our own priests when they are on holiday, and hope that our priests will be able to do the same for them”.
He said: “By the summer, the ordinariate groups could have their own Mass times in our churches. And, if they are using our buildings, they make it clear they would help with things like church cleaning and flower arranging.” Mr Parkes said that priests would be likely to help out in parishes even though, as members of the ordinariate, they would be independent from the diocese.
Fr Keith Newton, head of the personal ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, said last month that priests of the ordinariate may also be looking for part-time work, “particularly chaplaincies in schools, or hospitals, or prisons – something that is linked to the priestly life”.
The bishops’ conference has given £250,000 to help fund the ordinariate but Fr Newton said he hoped money would come from other sources.
The Catholic League, an ecumenical group set up in 1913, has raised several thousand pounds in just two weeks, with donations coming from all over the world, including Australia, Belgium and France. Further donations can be made at Thecatholicleague.blogspot.com.
Meanwhile, the Times reported this week that Anglican priests who resign to join the ordinariate could face church trials for disobedience.
Legal advisers have said that clergy should “relinquish” their Holy Orders under the 1870 Clerical Disabilities Act to prevent such problems.
A spokeswoman for the Church of England said that, if they did not, “in theory this would mean that they could find themselves subject to the disciplinary processes of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church”.
But she added: “In practice it is difficult to envisage a situation where this could arise.
“And even if it did, it is very unlikely that the relevant Church of England bishop would take any action” – as any disciplining of the priest would be a matter for the Catholic Church.