The Daily Telegraph reports here what has been known in Anglo Catholic circles for some time, that all the ‘flying bishops’ of the Anglican Church are to fly across the Tiber very soon and establish the Anglican Ordinariate in England. Damian Thompson (who is probably one of the world’s greatest journalists) has their full statement here, and Christian Campbell at The Anglo Catholic blog has more, including the statements of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Forward in Faith UK.
The flying bishops were a concession to traditionalists when the Church of England decided to ordain women as priests. They were called ‘flying bishops’ because they did not have a geographical diocese, but ministered to far flung parishes which were given an option to have ‘alternative episcopal oversight’–which means they declined to receive the ministry of their diocesan bishop in favor of the traditionalist flying bishop. This peculiar understanding of unity under one’s bishop was always a living contradiction. The sort of thing Anglicans pride themselves on, and explain with terms like ‘dual integrity.’ “We have maintained unity because both sides of the argument have recognized that their is a dual integrity.” Duel integrity more like…
Never mind. The comedy has ended. Last summer’s General Synod meeting in which the Archibishops’ compromise measure was defeated has drawn the curtain on the pantomime, and the uneasy attempt at co-existence which has existed for fifteen years in the Church of England is now over. The measure for women bishops which went through last summer does not permit the provision of flying bishops to continue. The five traditionalist bishops now leaving the Church of England were pretty much made redundant anyway.
What will the result be within the Church of England? I expect the majority reaction will be that of the parish priest in the neighboring parish to my own when my departure was announced. “The sooner people like you leave the Church of England the better” was his blunt appraisal. Mainstream people and clergy who have got used to the ministry of women priests and who never understood what all the fuss was to start with, will say, “It’s about time. Those traditionalists have caused nothing but trouble for the last fifteen years. They should have gone long ago.”
There will be some wringing of hands and furrowed brows among those who like to think themselves nicer than all that, but the underlying emotion will be the same, “Phew! Well that’s all over then, and won’t it be a bit more peaceful once they’re gone?” The few Anglo Catholics who remain in the Church of England will rally to the Bishop of Chichester and his chums in their new Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda. There they will continue to practice a smells and bells Anglicanism–which is a very pretty form of Christianity–and quietly drop their resistance to women priests and bishops, for the name of their society was deliberately chosen–in seeing how St Wilfrid and St Hilda worked together they will work together with women priests.
What about the Catholics in England? There will be a whole range of reactions to the new influx of traditionalist Anglicans. First of all, it should be understood that the majority of English Catholic bishops will not be pleased by the Anglican Ordinariate one little bit. They are part of what Damian Thompson calls ‘the magic circle’. Men without great gifts, they have all been to seminary together in the 70s and are pretty much gung ho about ‘women’s ministry’ themselves. Keen on folk masses, polyester day-glo vestments, ‘empowering the laity’ (while they oversee a mushrooming diocesan bureaucracy) ‘parish sisters’ and closing churches, they see themselves as realistic, modern and ‘with it’. They have enough problems with their own traditionalists without a new batch from the Church of England. If anyone thinks that the English Catholic bishops are chortling in triumph over the ordinariate they should think again.
Likewise, an awful lot of the Catholic faithful will wonder what on earth this little rump of Anglicans are all about. “Why don’t they just become ordinary Catholics like everybody else?” will be the most common response.
Finally, we should remember what the Anglican Ordinariate is about. It is not a clever ploy by Rome to steal sheep from the Anglican flock. It is not a smart move to boost the number of Catholic clergy because of our clergy crisis. It is not a smack in the face to the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Queen. It is none of the above. As Rome has said from the start, it is simply a response to the long standing and persistent pleas of a group of Christians to find a way to be in union with the Bishop of Rome while retaining their distinctive customs and culture.
The Catholic Church could well do without the headache of such a novel and troublesome group–as the Anglican Ordinariate will undoubtedly be. The Vatican has enough to worry about without creating this new structure for a relatively small number of people. It would have been much easier to say to all the Anglicans pleading for a structure like the Ordinariate–”Just join your local RCIA”. However, the Holy Father takes his role as chief shepherd seriously. He’s going to a lot of trouble to reconcile these separated brethren.
I, for one, am amazed at the good will and the amount of time and trouble which the Vatican has invested and the risks it has taken. I don’t wish to join the ordinariate, but I wish it well, and I hope when it is established a seed is planted which will one day bear much fruit.