Daily Telegraph religion journalist Damien Thompson is sometimes a bit gossipy for my liking, but in this article he does an inside analysis on some of the other major things happening in and behind this week’s stunning announcement of Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans.
For ten years I was an Anglican priest, and for ten years I was a Catholic layman in England. I worked for the St Barnabas Society–a charity that quietly assists convert clergy as they convert to the Catholic Church. At the same time I was on a long road to ordination myself. I therefore got to meet and discuss issues with the major players, and I can confirm virtually everything Damien asserts about the background politics in the case.
Although the Archbishop of Canterbury is dismayed that the Personal Ordinariate project was popped on him as a surprise move at a ‘very late stage’ it can’t have come as much of a surprise. This thing has been cooking for years. We can trace the development of it back to the early 90′s when the Church of England was debating the ordination of women. When the CofE General Synod voted to ordain women in 1992 high level Anglicans were already in discussions with Rome. The retired Bishop of London–Graham Leonard was not only in talks with Cardinal Basil Hume, but also with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the CDF. I believe Ratzinger was sympathetic to the Anglo Catholics even then, and I know that a personal friendship developed between Cardinal Ratzinger and (now) Mgr. Leonard.
At the same time the Catholic convert journalist William Oddie wrote a book called The Roman Option in which he argued for an Anglo Catholic ‘church’ in communion with Rome which looks very like what we now have as the Personal Ordinariate. Oddie also criticized the Catholic bishops in England for inhibiting such an option because it was ‘unworkable’ and ‘damaging to ecumenical relations with the Anglicans’. Oddie was subsequently marginalized and treated as a pariah by the English Catholic establishment.
What has happened in the intervening seventeen years? First of all the Anglican Church has continued its slide into secular relativism. I can remember discussing women’s ordination with my Parochial Church Council (local parish governing body) in 1990. I said, “Mark my words. You are debating women’s ordination now. In ten years’ time you will be debating homosexual marriage.” They were angry and incredulous. As the Anglican Church was dominated by the feminist/homosexualist lobby the ‘historic Christians’ (my term for those who hold to the historic faith once delivered to the saints) became more and more marginalized. Increasingly they saw their true home to be either Rome (for the Anglo Catholics) or sectarianism (for the Anglo Evangelicals)
In the meantime Joseph Ratzinger ascends the throne of Peter. Realizing that it was the professional ecumenists along with the liberal Catholic bishops in England who stood in the way, he shifts the process to the CDF and away from Walter Kasper’s ecumenical dicastery. He waits for the retirement of the good, but ineffectual Cormac Murphy O’Connor–who was for many years a leading light in the establishment ARCIC (Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission) talks and, one of the old style ecumenists. With Levada–his appointment at the CDF and Nichols in Westminster the time was right to move. While Nichols was originally a protege of Cardinal Hume and an inside member of what Damien Thompson calls the ‘Magic Circle’ of liberal English bishops, Nichols (who cynics say knows how to trim his sail according to the wind) seems to have become more conservative–supporting new ecclesial movements in his time at Birmingham and ordaining (among others) the married former Anglican priest and theologian John Saward.
There are several other things that remain mysterious about the timing of the move. First of all it is strange that an Apostolic Constitution should be announced at such short notice, and without the thing being ready for publication. We can only guess that the move was made when it was because Walter Kasper was out of town and it saved face for everyone. Why was the Archbishop of Canterbury not consulted? Why was it surprise move for the Anglicans too? Well, why bother to consult when you already know the answer? Pope Benedict has been working with these people for decades. He knew they would only stall, ask for ‘further clarification’, dig in their heels and throw up endless obstacles. The Pope understands that there has been enough talk, enough diplomacy, enough listening and dialogue, and sometimes you have to act.
Benedict will be seen as a kind of Ronald Reagan of the Vatican. When Reagan got to the White House he discovered that the established way of dealing with the Soviets was detente, talk, talk, talk and more talk. He decided that victory was in his grasp and proposed a firm confrontation. “Mr Gorbachev, pull down that wall!” His professional statesmen and diplomats were shocked at his ‘foolishness.’ But it worked. Communism was already fragile all it needed was a puff of air to knock it down completely.
Pope Benedict’s move this week will have similar impact in the world of Christian dialogue. With Personal Ordinariates not only have the professional ecumenists been shown the way forward, but the duplicitous liberal Catholic bishops who would have stalled, moved it into ‘discussion groups’ and presented ‘further obstacles’ have also been very effectively gone around. No longer will a gifted, willing and able convert priest have to wait years to be ordained and in the meantime be pushed from pillar to post by Catholic bishops who are driven by a liberal agenda that is actually illiberal.
Finally, the English and Americans should stop being so parochial and offended. Pope Benedict did not make this move to offend the Church of England or to poach people from the Episcopal Church. He was responding to pleas from people who have already left or are planning to leave the Anglican Church. Furthermore, he is aware of the tremendous growth of both the Catholic and Anglican Churches in the developing world. I believe he has his eye on the faithful Catholics and Anglicans in Africa and Asia, and that he hopes this move will enable them to join together in a young, new and energetic alliance for the twenty first century.