Pope Francis has waved a welcome to Anglicans who are still shivering on the banks of the Tiber .
They don’t even have to swim the Tiber anymore. They can walk across the bridge called “Ordinariate”
In the wake of the Church of England’s decision to ordain women bishops the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham is hosting an open day.
Pope Francis has written especially to welcome all who wish to come home to Rome. The nuncio to Great Britain wrote to the Ordinary Keith Newton saying,
At the request of the Secretariat of State, I have been asked to inform you that the Holy Father Francis, on learning of the national day of exploration entitled “Called to be One”, organised by the various Groups of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and due to take place on Saturday 6 September 2014, wishes to convey his good wishes and prayers for a successful and inspiring event. The Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing upon all those persons who are participating in this significant event and working in any way for the promotion and presentation of the Catholic Faith and the Gospel in Great Britain”.
He added his own encouragement and Cardinal Nichols of Westminster joined in:
the Ordinariate both enriches the Catholic Church with Catholic aspects of the beautiful heritage and culture of Anglican patrimony and advances the cause of unity which must be the ultimate aim of all ecumenical activity… I wish you every success with this initiative. I hope it will attract many interested enquirers”.
I know from my own conversations with clergy in the Church of England that there is great anger in Anglican circles about the Ordinariate. It is spoken of very disparagingly and Pope Benedict is reviled for getting it going. Along with this unhappiness was the rumor that Pope Francis did not like the ordinariate and thought it unnecessary. This is based on the reports from a personal conversation of Anglican bishop of Argentina Greg Venables. In 2013 Venables hailed the election of Archbishop Bergoglio and said, “He [Cardinal Bergoglio] called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the Church needs us as Anglicans.”
This comment may be true and it would harmonize with other typically “spirit of Vatican II” statements that Pope Francis has said in private conversations. In Argentina, where Anglicans are few and far between he’s right. An Ordinariate is not necessary. However, now that he is Pope it is good to see Francis continuing the work of Benedict XVI and encouraging the Ordinariate. The fact that he opened up the ordinariate for more explicit evangelization activity indicates that Francis fully understands the great potential the Ordinariate has of helping many separate brethren from the Protestant tradition into full communion with the Holy See.
His explicit encouragement and that of his nuncio and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster should help to correct those Anglicans who think Francis disapproves of the Ordinariate and wants to ban it. It also wrong foots all those who think Pope Francis doesn’t care about Protestants converting. As he learns more about the Church of England I suspect Pope Francis will soon come to realize how important it is not only to engage in friendly ecumenical discussions, but to also have an easy and possible means for separated brethren to come into full communion.