Friday, 22 October 2010

Do SSWSH and the Ordinariates need one another?

Despite the rhetoric being bandied about  in this rather unreal period before the Ordinariates are set up, and as the situation in the Church of England itself becomes ever more confused, when persuasion and recruitment are never far from the top of the agenda and everyone is concerned to justify their own personal reactions to the Anglo-Catholic endgame, could it be that SSWSH and the Ordinariates, far from being warring rivals for the remnant of those in the tradition of the Oxford Movement, may turn out to be complementary and even part of the same journey of faith?
Much of course will depend upon the attitude of SSWSH's episcopal leadership. Will they attempt to rubbish or even downplay the structures which will be set up as a result of  Anglicanorum Coetibus, or will they (as I hope) keep their powder dry and their options open? They must have been given food for thought by the recently restated opinion of the Archbishop of Canterbury (see a previous post), presumably speaking as the leading spokesman of the Anglican Communion as a whole, that women's ordination is a 'second order' issue. From the  addresses and interviews he has given in recent months, the worrying truth seems to be that even Dr Williams himself has no visceral  understanding (sympathy is another matter, no one questions that) of those for whom the whole concept of "second order" issues makes very little sense, particularly when applied to matters which have a bearing on the nature of communion and the validity of sacraments.  Purely on an empirical level if women's ordination really is a second order issue for the Anglican establishment (although their attempts to relegate it to the status of 'adiaphora' have run into an ecumenical brick wall) why then has it become such a test of loyalty and even qualification for office in our church? Given that, the question needs to be asked how much real generosity could ever have been expected and how much leeway will the Society of Saint Wilfred and Saint Hilda be given now by the C of E establishment, when the very premise for the Society's existence is so profoundly misunderstood even by those of our opponents we thought did, to an extent, understand us? Because without that leeway, the SSWSH bishops will have to resort to illegality and defiance (how much appetite there will be at this late stage for that is anyone's guess - not much is mine) and ultimately will be forced out of the Church of England altogether.
Again, Reform and the Catholic Group should be extremely wary of placing too much confidence in knife edged votes in General Synod. As in England in 1991, we experienced the same degree of over-confidence in Wales in 1996, and the most surprising people either changed their minds, abstained or absented themselves for all kinds of reasons, genuine, confused  or self-serving.
On the other hand, SSWSH could very well, if it is regarded by its leaders and members as a kind of half-way house for those who realise they will in time have to leave the familiar shores of the C of E to swim either the Tiber or the Bosphorus, help to keep alive precisely those liturgical, theological  and pastoral traditions which the Ordinariates hope to repatriate within the Catholic Church, and which are rapidly being ditched by the western Anglican mainstream.
For the Ordinariates themselves, hoping to grow steadily, the presence of a well-disposed anglo-catholicism, even on a C of E life support system, could in all kinds of ways be more advantageous than one which has been suddenly put to death. Even if I am being consciously over-optimistic and resolutely non-confrontational in saying all this, such an situation can only have the shelf-life only of one generation of clergy. Votes in synods will see to that, given that Anglicanism has now been revealed in the words of one blog as "a fallible denomination whose essentials are up for votes." Some might think that in itself is reason enough for considering leaving.
Surely the task in which we all believe is the defence and the setting free of the Catholic tradition within Anglicanism, the attempt if not to save Anglicanism from itself (it's now too late for that) then at least the setting up of an authentic, orthodox and evangelistically effective alternative to the present doctrinal and ethical chaos. (Many would wish to add that in order to achieve this, union with the Successor of Peter is essential, not optional) So, then, we should be singlemindedly serious in pursuing that strategy and not allow ourselves to be distracted and divided from one another by the short term political tactics necessary for even temporary survival in the quasi-parliamentary governing structures of contemporary Anglicanism. Whichever side of the Tiber we find ourselves in a year or so, we will still have more in common than that which separates us, the battles are essentially the same, and our divisions more about time scale than anything more theologically substantial.

As for the prospect of a joint C of E / CBEW Committee in order to better facilitate the setting up of the Ordinariates, the critics are right. It's an excellent idea if it could be concerned with the transfer of property and resources, and with resolving any disputes arising from that. Failing that, some offers of "help," however well-intentioned, are best declined.
Some animals lose their essential nature if they are domesticated.

1 comment:

  1. Father,
    I enjoyed this balanced assessment [cf.William Oddie in the Catholic Herald today -

    I hope you will be posting your article on The Anglo-Catholic

    John U.K.


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