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The Ordinariate: A Reponse

5 May 2011

Acting upon a request in the comment section from the previous post, here is a brief commentary on and response to the blog post on the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham by Austen Ivereigh.

Ivereigh’s subtitle, “a glimpse into the future of Christian unity,” sums up the point where I think he and I diverge on the question. I do not think that the Personal Ordinariates represent the future of Christian unity. As much as many will try to avoid this point the Ordinariates create a schism within another church. This is not an instance of two churches once separated joined together once more but of discontented members of one church leaving it and setting up a small parallel community within another (I don’t think that the relative sizes of the churches in question are relevant). And this parallel church is itself a new impediment to further Christian unity. Much as the Eastern Catholic Churches are a sticking point to Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, the question of what will be done about the Anglican Ordinariates when, not if, the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion are again united will be a sore one for all involved. Not least to the Christians of the Ordinariates themselves, about whom it has wisely been said that the very reason these Personal Ordinariates were created rather than a sui iuris church is that, as was learned from the example of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church after the fall of the Soviet Union, a church cannot simply be dissolved to appease a dialogue partner. Will the Roman Catholic Church one agree simply to dissolve the Anglican Ordinariates in the interest of unity with the Anglican Communion? Or will union mean there will be two strands of Anglicanism, one sort of Roman and the other sort of English? Or, as many Anglicans now fear, will the Catholic Church simply expect union to mean that Anglicans join the Ordinariates? Such questions will plague what has been an extremely fruitful dialogue, particularly through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), for years.

The point which most struck, and frankly, bothered, me from Ivereigh’s article was the comment that “[n]ot only has the Church of England demonstrated that it has no internal mechanism for enabling that corporate [Christian] reunion, but it has also given the message firmly to Catholic Anglicans that it is no longer willing to make room for them. ” The first comment is demonstrably fallacious. Ivereigh’s point is that many of the recent developments within the Church of England, and, presumably, the larger Anglican Communion, particularly the ordination of women and the growing acceptance of homosexuality into the life of the church, have taken Anglicanism farther away from Roman Catholicism. He is quite correct. However the task of ecumenism is not to be served by being like Rome. Despite our passion for Christian unity Anglicans, just like Roman Catholics, are bound to bear witness to the gospel as we understand it and if our interpretations of that duty should differ from Rome and if acting upon those interpretations should mean becoming more theologically distant from Rome then so be it. We will still engage in dialogue with Rome with our sister church but we will abandon what we hold to be the witness of the gospel to please another church.  But this hardly means that we are unable to seek Christian unity.

To the second point I would respond that ‘making room for them’ is an entirely wrong-headed way of thinking. It is supremely unfortunate that Anglican Catholics (and, I would point out, others) within the Church of England feel unwelcome. As a High Churchman myself (of the Anglican Church of Canada) I can attest that it is not always the easiest sort of Anglican to be. And it is true that the church ought to seek to be as broad and welcoming as possible, accommodating as much diversity as possible in worship and practice but the issues in question here are not about liturgy or rosaries. The debates over which these individuals left sit at the very center of the church’s ethical and anthropological teachings: the nature of homosexuality and the place of the homosexuals in the life of the church and the role of women in the church. Churches of the Anglican Communion are choosing to affirm that women may participate equally in the leadership of the church and that homosexuality is not a sin but that members of the LGBT community are welcome within the church. Through a long process of discernment we have come to conclusions which affect the whole church, and conservative elements within the church cannot be insulated from these changes. I would imagine that as a Catholic Ivereigh could sympathise with the position in which we find ourselves: thousands of Roman Catholics unhappy with the changes of VII are only now beginning to re-enter the Catholic Communion in significant numbers. Had these conservative groups been ‘made room for’ the larger Roman Catholic Church could not have continued to move forward as it did to the benefit of all. We believe that this is just such a situation. In fact the Church of England has sought to be accommodating to those uncomfortable with the direction she has been taking: for years parishes have been allowed not to have women priests. Unfortunately it would hardly be reasonable to allow a single parish uncomfortable with the ordination of women to bar a woman from the bishopric, so the accommodation can only go so far. It is regrettable that the issues must come to loggerheads as they have but it is also unavoidable. When change is introduced it is inevitable that those who reject it will feel marginalised and ignored. However that in itself is not grounds to abandon the path of change: if the change is truly for the better one must stay true and accept the unfortunate consequences. As much space has been made as is reasonable; if that is insufficient for some and they feel that they must leave then leave they must. They will be missed.

I would not deny the dynamism nor the positive realities of this first Anglican Ordinariate: clearly for those who have joined it is a much needed and greatly appreciated ecclesial space where they feel they can be authentically themselves. I genuinely mourn that these Anglicans felt it necessary to leave the Communion, that they could not be reconciled with the direction we are trying to take and I am glad that they have found a more comfortable home. However I maintain that this has struck a blow to Anglican-Catholic ecumenism and dealt a wound that may not be healed for many years. And I hold strongly that the Personal Ordinariates do not represent a viable future for Anglican-Catholic communion but a temporary measure until a truer union of equal partners between Anglicans and Catholics is at last affected. The shape that such a union takes will not be that of small, semi-distinct personal ordinariates within the Roman Catholic Church, which would amount effectively to the Roman Catholic Church swallowing the Anglican Communion. The future communion of Canterbury and Rome remains distant and unseen, but it is a dream close to heart. In the mean I hope that the Anglicans of the Personal Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham are happy in their new home.

Notes and Bibliography

The original article: The Ordinariate: a glimpse into the future of Christian unity

The fruit of dialogue thus far: ARCIC

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