They were received into full communion not at the Easter Vigil, as normally happens when people become Catholic, but in low-key ceremonies during Holy Week. The first 1,000-odd members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham — 950 laypeople and 64 clergy in 27 groups across the United Kingdom — are former Anglicans who have responded to Pope Benedict XVI’s historic creation of a means by which former Anglicans can be received as groups, together with their clergy, while retaining their distinctive traditions.
Although described in media reports as “disaffected Anglicans” who are jumping ship in exasperation at divisions within the Church of England over homosexuality and women’s ordination, the members of the ordinariate see themselves very differently — as pioneers of Christian unity.
Mark Crane, 23, was one of 16 received April 20 at the Catholic university chaplaincy in central London. When the pope issued the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus in November 2009, “I remember sitting and reading it and thinking: This is it. I can no longer stay in the Church of England and call myself Catholic if the pope is now offering what we’ve always been praying for.”
Crane, who once considered training as an Anglican priest, had always prayed for Anglican-Catholic corporate unity. But after the vote of the Church of England Synod in 2008 to proceed with the ordination of women as bishops, he realized that “there was going to be no further place for people of my persuasion in the Church of England.” But he held back. “I felt very strongly that we should do it as a group. It’s fine for you to do it as an individual, but what does it say about what we all did before?” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “For me it was about that corporate vision, because I think we have been living an authentically Christian life up till now.”
“Disaffected Anglicans” implies they are angrily rejecting Anglican positions on homosexuality or female ordination. But those are the presenting issues that have brought home the impossibility of the whole Anglican Communion ever being reconciled to Rome. “It’s about the fact that we have always wanted unity with the Catholic Church, we want to put behind us all this bickering and do what our Lord asked us to do, which is to go and make disciples of all nations.”
Diana Murphew, a Londoner originally from Australia, had for some years realized that “the anchor had gone” from the Church of England. She was considering being received into the Catholic Church when the ordinariate was announced, but was skeptical about how long it would take. Then came Pope Benedict’s visit last September.
“The papal visit was incredibly key,” she said. “To me, he embodied Christianity in this country. I felt I belong here. I’m going home.”
Shortly after the pope’s departure, the timetable for the ordinariate was announced and she joined the central London group for three months of weekly study, tutored by a Anglican clergyman who will be ordained as a Catholic priest in June, and the Catholic chaplain, Father Peter Wilson, who received the group on April 20.
Afterward, she told OSV: “The last few months I feel as if I’ve been sitting at an airport with endless pieces of luggage that I honestly don’t want to take with me, but the flight’s not being called. Suddenly, I feel today as if the flight’s been called, and now I’m here. It feels fantastic.”
But the whole point of the ordinariate, Father Wilson — himself a former Anglican — told them in his homily, is that the Church recognized that this is not a “rejection, an abjuration,” for as Catholic Anglicans “you have already been incorporated. This is a step deeper into the fullness of the Body of Christ.”
Another former Anglican at the altar April 20, Father Mark Woodruff, describes the ordinariate as the fulfilment of the ambition of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. What derailed that ambition was the Church of England’s unilateral decisions, fruit of the democratic decision-making processes which, in the absence of a magisterium, the Church has used to contain divergent theologies. But the ordinariate is also a rejection of a particular version of what that unity should look like. As Pope Benedict said at Westminster Abbey during his visit, the goal is “visible, organic unity,” an authentic communion united by apostolic faith, rather than a “reconciled diversity” that can settle only for a loose amalgamation. The ordinariate, said Father Woodruff, “is genuinely a reconciliation of an ecclesial community.”
It also recognizes what is not always obvious to Catholics — that “If we are the universal Church, why do we limit ourselves to being one manifestation of it? If we are universal, then it’s no skin off our noses to create an additional space or to give space so that other kinds of Christians can be the Christians they are within our fellowship. Are we saying that when, say, the Methodists are united with us and we with them in the great Church of the future, they all have to belong to a Roman Catholic diocese?”
Canon law, he points out, has an endless flexibility to accommodate all kinds of different forms of belonging: religious orders, ecclesial movements, personal prelatures such as Opus Dei. “Our distinctiveness is a richness which God has given us; we don’t need schism for it to be there.”
The ordinariate in this way offers a glimpse of what the unity of Christians will in the future look like — an opportunity for a “mutual exchange of gifts” by expanding the boundaries of the universal Church. Although not a “ritual Church” like that of Eastern-rite Catholics, before the end of the year Rome is expected to approve its distinctive liturgies and prayers drawn from the Book of Common Prayer. The ordinariate will look and feel different — not least because two-thirds of former Anglican clergy being ordained within it at Pentecost are married. (But this remains a dispensation reserved to converted married clergy; in the future, Catholics seeking ordination will need to be celibate). Although most ordinariate groups will use Catholic churches, they will have their own Mass, and belong to a nonterroritorial entity — a personal ordinariate — rather than a diocese. Its ordinary, Msgr. Keith Newton, a former Anglican bishop, will need the approval of his pastoral council for key decisions. His successor will be appointed by Rome from a list of three names proposed by that council, which is made up of priests, religious and laity.
The ordinariate is being closely watched abroad; plans to create ordinariates in the United States, Canada and Australia are already far advanced. In the United Kingdom, said Crane, “a lot of people are watching, almost with bated breath, to see what happens and how it works out.” He is confident that in a year’s time the group will have doubled.
“My hope is that there would be a solid, committed group — and we’d start bringing other people with us,” said Murphew. She is conducting a “talent audit” of the group in preparation to serve the community once their priest is ordained and they are allocated a church. The ordinariate is not a tribal refuge, but a means of reaching out — a distinctive ecclesiola (“little church”) within the universal Church.
“Once we’re in a place,” she said. “we can start doing mission.”
Austen Ivereigh writes from England.
CORRECTION: The online version of this story was corrected 5/11/11 to make clear that the ordinary — Msgr. Keith Newton — is not a bishop and that his successor will be appointed by the pope, not directly by the ordinariate's Governing Council.