Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anglican Reunion: Optimism and Sobriety

The situation in England calls for both hopeful action and prudential deliberation. Following-up on my last article, I'd like to draw your attention to this more up-to-date item written by leading English Catholic journalist Damian Thompson on what a corporate conservative Anglican reunion might look like, in terms of administration and liturgy. I would also like you to consider a more cautious view taken by Fr. Dwight Longnecker, a Catholic priest and former Anglican clergyman with a long experience of the ups and downs of Anglican-Catholic relations. There is much to be gleaned from the thoughts of both.

First, Mr. Thompson is quite optimistic, though one must bear in mind these are still educated predictions, rather than certainties:

1. Rome will set up an "apostolic administration" under a Catholic bishop to offer pastoral care to former Anglican priests and their parishioners.

2. The ex-Anglicans will form an umbrella organisation called something like the Fellowship of St. Gregory the Great. The Fellowship, under the guidance of their new Catholic bishop, will consist of former Anglican priests who have been ordained into the Catholic priesthood. Their parishes, though open to anyone, will consist largely of ex-Anglicans.

3. Some Fellowship parishes will occupy their former church buildings, though this will require an unprecedented degree of co-operation with the Church of England.

4. Former Anglican communities may - if they wish - be allowed to use parts of the Book of Common Prayer adapted for Catholic use, as in a few American parishes. In practice, there will be little demand for this concession, I suspect.

5. Former Anglican priests will undergo an accelerated programme of study allowing them to be swiftly ordained. (Conditional ordination is unlikely to be on offer.) Marriage will be no bar to ordination, but no actively gay priest will be knowingly ordained, and this will be strictly enforced.

6. However there will be no question of married lay former Anglicans becoming priests, since this would effectively abolish the rule of celibacy in the Western Church.

7. There will therefore be no Uniate Anglican-Rite Church; there is not enough demand for it, and it raises too many questions about celibacy and jurisdiction.

8. That said, there could well be a future for the Fellowship of St Gregory once its original supply of ex-Anglicans has died out. The treasures our new brethren will bring with them - a poetic and contemplative spirituality, glorious prayers, fine music - will permanently enrich the Catholic Church in England; they belong to us all.

As I say, these are just informed guesses. I have only one plea to the Vatican and the Catholic bishops:

Please, get it right this time. [Source.]
The status of this Fellowship of St. Gregory the Great is somewhat unclear to me; it appears to be a hypothetical entity in this article, while an item at Holy Smoke, Mr. Thompson's blog at, makes it sound as if it has already come into existence, at least provisionally. Perhaps those better informed than I can shed some light on this matter.

Of course, there are going to be difficulties. We mustn't be blind to them. Fr. Dwight Longnecker has written his own equally perceptive analysis of the situation, if somewhat more sobering:
1. There aren't really that many Anglo-Catholics who are ready to come over. Most of them have already become Catholics when women were first ordained. [...] One high level Anglo-Catholic source predicts that there are only 500 Anglo-Catholic priests at the very most who wish to convert.

2. The married men present further problems. The English Catholic Church is small. There are more Catholic priests, for instance, in the Diocese of Brooklyn than in the whole of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. However, there are already more married former Anglican priests in England and Wales than there are in the whole of the USA.

These married former Anglicans already occupy the precious few chaplaincy posts which have a salary that could support a married man and his family. [...]

3. The experience of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has not been unanimously positive towards former Anglican clergy. Most have fit in well and made a splendid contribution. However, many Catholic lay people are angry that married former Anglicans are allowed to be ordained, but their own popular priests cannot marry.

Furthermore, a few of the former Anglicans have made themselves a proper nuisance. They have demanded all the things they used to have as Anglicans, drained parishes and dioceses financially due to their demands and imposed an Anglican mentality on a very different Catholic culture. [...]

4. The idea of mass conversions is pleasing, and in a situation like the group of Assyrians who came in a few months ago, is possible. For Anglicans the situation is very different. We cannot assume, even in the most trad Anglo-Catholic parish that everyone in the pew is up to speed on the fullness of Catholic doctrine. Nor can we assume, for all their smells and bells, that they really understand the true reason for becoming Catholic. Each convert needs to be instructed in the faith. We can't just accept them en bloc.

5. The same applies to the clergy. We can't assume that every Anglo-Catholic priest is necessarily called to the Catholic priesthood. We can't even assume that they all have much love for the Catholic Church. [...] It is generally agreed that Cardinal Hume's 'fast track' for Anglo Catholic clergy in Westminster in the early 90s was a mistake.

6. The Church of England is not going to let go of any buildings. Remember, not all Anglo Catholics are Benedict XVI loving traditionalists. The liberal, homosexual and feminist Anglo Catholics will only be too happy to step into the breach in these churches, keep swinging the incense and protesting that they are the true Catholics. In this way a form of Anglo-Catholicism will continue to exist within Anglicanism.

7. Finally, there is the international situation. I doubt whether Rome will come up with a solution that only applies to England. Far more likely that they will come up with some advice for troubled Anglicans worldwide, and that advice is very likely to be: by all means join us. Come one by one and be reconciled at your local parish church. [Source].
I commend equally Mr. Thompson for his enthusiasm and Fr. Longnecker for his prudence. We need both voices at present to possess a truly informed decision of the complex realities of the problem. We must have hope, and extend the welcoming hand, but we must also be aware of the rocks and shoals beneath the waves.

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