Page 8, 30th April 2010

30th April 2010
Page 8
Page 8, 30th April 2010 — Will the Thames flow into the Tiber?

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Locations: London, Rome, Canterbury


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Will the Thames flow into the Tiber?

Peter Mullen examines how Anglo-Catholics are responding to Pope Benedict’s astonishing offer of a Personal Ordinariate Pope Benedict begins his Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus with a quite astonishing statement. He notes that for some time: “The Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately.” This is particularly heart-warming for those of us who have always regarded ourselves as catholic Anglicans, for it immediately breaks down all our old suspicions about the Catholic Church’s attitude towards us – an attitude derived from Apostolicae Curae, that terse and dismissive old Apostolic Constitution of 1896 in which Anglican Orders were declared “absolutely null and utterly void”. The Pope’s affectionate disclosure that he sees the Holy Spirit working in the lives of such separated brethren is a great encouragement to us. We are not such a gang of apostates and reprobates after all!

But if that introduction is disarming, what follows is a most wonderful tenderness: “The Apostolic See could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realisation.” This openhearted fraternal declaration, this urgent desire for reconciliation, which is emotional as well as intellectual, moved this particular Anglican almost to tears. The Pope builds on this foundation the vision of a truly Universal Church and, in beautiful, tender phrases, he explains that it is our duty to strive to achieve this philippic society because, in a sense, it exists already: “Many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church. Since these are gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.” These magnificent words remind me of Coleridge’s demand that we “become what we are”.

After the broad sweep, it is necessary to be precise about the details. What exactly is to be the legal personality of the Ordinariates which the Pope proposes? The Constitution is clear: “Each Ordinariate is juridically comparable to a diocese.” And the rule book, so to speak, for the Ordinariates is, “...the Catechism of the Catholic Church”.

The next part of Anglicanorum Coetibus is especially delightful for traditional members of the Church of England: “The Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition.” My word, the Holy Father seems to be saying that he approves our use of The Book of Common Prayer – an approval only grudgingly extended to Anglican traditionalists by our own obsessively modernising hierarchy.

Each Ordinariate will be, “entrusted to an Ordinary appointed by the Roman Pontiff”. And the authenticity of each Ordinariate is guaranteed and its power (potestas) – its ontological coherence (both dunamis and energeia) – “to be exercised jointly with that of the local Catholic diocesan bishop”. In other words, the separated brethren are truly to be accepted back into the fold of the Catholic Church and not into some sort of private annex, where special arrangements apply. This definition and safeguard of unity is emphasised in the stipulation that, “priests incardinated into an Ordinariate, who constitute the presbyterate of the Ordinariate, are to cultivate bonds of unity with the presbyterate of the Catholic diocese in which they exercise their ministry”.

There is to be no question of Anglican Ordinariates assuming UDI or operating their own version of ecclesiastical Apartheid. But there will be discretion applied locally as “the Ordinary, according to the norm of law, after having heard the opinion of the diocesan bishop of the place, may erect, with the consent of the Holy See, personal parishes for the faithful who belong to the Ordinariate”.

What will be the official status of those of us in Anglican orders? “Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests or bishops and who fulfil the requisites established by canon law, and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments, may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.” And what of those Anglican priests who are married? Celibacy in the priesthood will remain the general rule but, “the Ordinary may petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from canon law, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis”. It is not appropriate for an Anglican to comment on rumours circulating about how Anglicanorum Coetibus has been greeted by Catholics – some suggesting there is resentment in the face of what might look like the extraordinary accommodation it offers to married Anglican priests. But how is the Pope’s offer being received among Anglicans?

There was some “No popery!” – a small but vehement antagonism to the Pope’s gesture by those who heard in it echoes of the “papal aggression” of 1850, those Apostolic letter Universalis Ecclesiae by which Pius IX re-established the Roman hierarchy in England. But this reaction was not widespread. More telling was the acerbic, even acidic, and entirely predictable attitude of the so called “liberals” in the modernising oligarchy which governs the Church of England among the bishops and the Synod. These regarded the Pope’s offer as an offence against their progressive ecclesiology and morality which favours the ordination of women and broader toleration of homosexuality. For these progressive ecclesiarchs and bureaucrats, anything which appears to impede the Church of England from becoming tomorrow what the Episcopal Church of the United States is today must be heartily resisted.

Among most Anglo-Catholics there was palpable relief and joy – almost – unconfined. Increasingly, this group of traditionalists has seen itself as marginalised and effectively un-churched by the progressive establishment. For these people the question is of where to look for authority in church structures of theology, morality and liturgy which have become so diverse and attenuated as to take the concept of diversity way past the stall labelled pick ‘n’ mix.

There is a lot more water to flow under the Thames as well as the Tiber and, before there is any wholesale acceptance of the new Ordinariates, there is bound to be much horse-trading concerning parish property, endowments and the pay and pensions of the clergy.

For my own part, as a dyedin-the-wool Anglican priest celebrating his 40th anniversary this year, and whose heroes of the faith are such as George Herbert, Samuel Johnson, Coleridge and T S Eliot, I expressed from the pulpit how moved and impressed I was by the Holy Father’s affectionate generosity. But I ended that sermon by quoting the Anglican poet C H Sisson: “What then is the position of the theological rump in our now lay, secularised clerisy? There are three possibilities. They can stay and fight their corner, struggling for an intelligibility which might come again, and will come, if it is the truth they are concerned with. They can sit on pillars in some recess of the national structure, waiting for better times. Or they can let their taste for having an ecclesiastical club carry them into one or other of those international gangs of opinion – that which has its headquarters in Rome or that which has a shadowy international meeting-place in Canterbury.

“In any case it will be a political choice that is being made. For my part, I shall prefer those who stay and fight their corner, content to be merely the Church in a place.” The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is the Rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in the City of London. For further information, visit

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