Saturday, 2 October 2010

SSWSH & the Ordinariates: shall we stay or shall we go?

I don't think anyone should be surprised at the situation in which we now find ourselves. Historically, Anglicans have an honourable habit of staying put, saying their prayers and hoping things will get better. How else do we explain the phenomenon of the 'church papists' in the sixteenth century, or, indeed, the continuing existence of a Catholic Movement at all despite the defections and surrenders of our ecclesiastical history? Depending on your perspective, 'the Vicar of Bray' is either an unscrupulous office-holder or a stubborn man of principle who refuses to be driven out.

As  many people are predicting, I think the Ordinariate will begin in a - relatively - small way. Yet the issue of the size of the new structures is unimportant compared to the fact that they will actually exist, and with enough faith, hope and charity on the part of their leaders and their members will not only survive but grow.
Because I think those who want to stay have even now seriously underestimated the crisis which faces them and overestimated the generosity of their opponents and the willingness of the Establishment to go out on a limb for them. That was apparent at the last meeting of General Synod in England and even more apparent in Wales where some still hold out vain hopes of being, in time, thrown a crumb from the episcopal table.  So if the new Society model gets off the ground - with or without establishment co-operation - it will still have to cope with a Communion which sits increasingly lightly to apostolic tradition, the authority of Scripture and credal orthodoxy and, crucially, with an increasingly ugly mood on the part of those whose agenda has carried the day and who simply will not countenance the long-term survival of any group which threatens or challenges in any way their theological hegemony within the Anglican provinces in these islands. It may give a brief breathing space before the waters close over the heads of the orthodox once and for all, but is it able to offer more than that...?

"Well, if it sees me to retirement....." is a sentiment I seem to hear all the time, but the Church is more than a means of employment for the clergy, more than a matter of trying to struggle through until the day we can claim our pension, although my heart goes out to those who feel they have no choice but  to take that course.
But what of those we prepare for confirmation, those to whom we teach the faith week by week, day by day? What of our children or grandchildren? What of those who come to us asking to test vocations to the Sacred Ministry? Can we solemnly assure them that the Catholic faith we teach, in what will soon be direct and clear opposition to the official position of our own Church, has a future within it?

These are questions we all have to answer in our own way, but as someone who has spent an entire ministry fighting and hoping that the tide will turn, I don't hold out a great deal of hope of that possibility. It grows more remote and, in practice, impossible as soon as women bishops become a reality rather than a synodical aspiration - as they already are in many other parts of the Anglican Communion.

And the Ordinariates, this prophetic ecumenical gesture on the part of the Successors of Peter, they will still be there waiting with open arms for those who will inevitably - sooner or later - be driven out of an ecclesial body which no longer has room for them, having finally opted for 'liberal' clarity over the inclusive complexities of its past history.


  1. Father, your summary is totally correct; there is no future for Catholics in a Church which denies sacramental security to its members. the new Society may, I stress may, be helpful in the very short term but it has no future - the establishment will see to that.

  2. I think when the history of this sad, sad affair comes to be written it will be very obvious that a hallmark of trad Anglicanism is overestimating the generosity of one's opponents. I didn't see it myself back in '92 when I joined the Continuum but I've seen it markedly these past three years or so.


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