Invincible ignorance on the Anglican Ordinariate

Invincible ignorance on the Anglican Ordinariate March 22, 2013

In this age of citizen journalism, blogger news, free content and PR driven stories there still remains a place for professional religion writers — reporters who know the topic they are covering and understand the rules of the journalistic craft.

This story from the Huffington Post highlights the journalistic shortcomings of the new media. Entitled: “Catholic Church, Facing U.S. Priest Shortage, Now Using Anglican Converts To Serve Parishes” begins with a false assumption that distorts the story, while missing the real news taking place.

The article begins:

Facing a priest shortage, the Catholic Church in the United States has started turning to former Anglican leaders to fill empty parishes.

The number of Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. has dropped by about 20,000 since 1975, while the number of Catholics has increased by 17 million, CBS reports.

The shortage was stretching thin the abilities of Catholic priests, and the Catholic Church was “supersizing” as it tried to accommodate more Catholics at a dwindling number of parishes, according to a 2011 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project.

Allowing converted Anglican priests to join the church was seen as a way to solve this shortage problem.

If the first and fourth sentences of this story are true, this is a major scoop for the Huffington Post as the assertion the Anglican Ordinariate is a scheme to replenish the ranks of the clergy has been hotly denied by the Vatican. The reasons given by Pope Benedict for creating the Ordinariate, to create a home for former Anglicans within the Roman Catholic Church while preserving liturgical patrimony, have never included clergy recruitment. If this were the true reason, it would paint Pope Benedict as being disingenuous — what the British press would call being “not entirely straightforward”—e.g., a flaming liar.

And the evidence of this presented by the Huffington Post— the killer quote that blows this tory wide open — there is none.  The Huffington Post makes an assumption and treats it as fact. The remainder of the article collects an assortment of quotes and statements from other newspapers but offers nothing else.

Coincidentally, the Ordinariate has been in the news following comments published in the church press and the Telegraph reporting that Pope Francis is not a friend of the Ordinariate. In the Church of England Newspaper and on Anglican Ink I reported the Anglican Bishop of Argentina, Gregory Venables said 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.”

The report from Bishop Venables sparked some controversy in the British press and speculation Francis might adopt a different tone than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. A spokesman for the English Ordinariate denied any change was in the offing telling the Telegraph the comments were Bishop Venables’ not the pope’s. Whether it meant to or not the Huffington Post story paints Pope Benedict as an opportunist and a bit of a fraud. The years of dialogue and the theological work that led to the reunion of some Anglicans with the Catholic Church is reduced to a form of clergy sheep-stealing. The article does not get religion and, to be blunt, doesn’t even seem to want to try to understand religion.

The bottom line is that this is a cut-and-paste job topped off with an unsubstantiated assertion (that happens to be untrue). And if you are going to do a cut and paste job at least try to be up to speed on the story. It may well be a consequence of the 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus is that former Anglican clergy re-ordained as Catholic clergy may help alleviate the shortage of priests in the US and UK — but a consequence is not a cause.

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15 responses to “Invincible ignorance on the Anglican Ordinariate”

  1. The article is a very unsurprising, confused explanation of the current situation between Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church. The article improperly blends 2 separate issues without adequately explaining either. Anglican priests, even married ones, who convert to Catholicism have for some time been able to be ordained as Catholic priests on a case-by-case basis under the “pastoral provision.” One good example of this pastoral provision is Father Dwight Longenecker, a participant on Patheos. Anyone can look up the pastoral provision on the internet with minimal investigation. The Anglican Ordinariate is a totally different creature. With Pope Emeritus B16 approval for the plan, entire US Anglican churches now can be admitted into union with the Roman Catholic Church in the Anglican Ordinariate in the US, with fidelity to Catholic teaching and the Pope. This also allows the “Anglican” church to become “Catholic” while keeping many of its traditional liturgical practices. This is not related to the pastoral provision mentioned earlier. This information is also widely available on the internet. Any intelligent journalist with an inquiring mind could have presented much more information, with greater understanding, than this very inadequate and inaccurate piece. Neither the pastoral provision or the Anglican Ordinariate provide real relief for the Catholic priest shortage.

    • Thank you Deacon Tom. As a returning Catholic, 2 years now, I was thrilled to hear of the inclusion of the Anglican priests and saw this only as a step toward unity, which I pray for often. I never thought to leap to the conclusion that the church was engaging in patchwork to make up for any shortage of clergy. Another thing I pray for daily…vocations.

  2. Also, this story misunderstands (let us be charitable) the structure of the Personal Ordinariates. It’s not the case that the Reverend Smith leaves The Episcopal Church or the Church of England (depending on where located), joins the Ordinariate, seeks ordination as a Roman Catholic priest and then the bishop of the particular Roman Catholic diocese gloms onto the new Father Smith and has him saying Mass and serving in a particular parish:

    “Is the ordinariate the same as a diocese?
    An ordinariate and a diocese are very similar. Both are led by an Ordinary; in the case of this ordinariate, he may be a bishop or priest.
    However, a diocese is “territorial”: its members live in a specific geographical area. An ordinariate is “personal”: its members may live anywhere the ordinariate is authorized to function. They belong to the ordinariate because of a shared attribute; in this case, because they are former members of Episcopal or Anglican churches who now are Catholic, but wish to retain elements of their Anglican heritage.

    Can lifelong Catholics join the ordinariate?
    The ordinariate was formed in response to repeated and persistent inquiries from Anglican groups who were seeking to become Catholic. The ordinariate provides a way for these groups to enter in “corporate reunion”; that is, as a group and not simply as individuals. This will allow them to retain their Anglican liturgical heritage and traditions while being fully Catholic.
    While lifelong Catholics are welcome to attend Masses in an ordinariate parish, they would be members of a regular diocese.”

    So the members of the Ordinariate will be under the jurisdiction of Fr. Jeffrey Steenson (in the U.S. and Canada) , Msgr. Keith Newton (England and Wales) or Fr. Harry Entwistle (Australia) and if a local bishop wants to ‘borrow’ a priest, it would have to be agreed with them in the first place.

    • It’s Msgr. Steenson, not Father Steenson. I occasionally attend Mass at his home parish and I am somewhat familiar with the Ordinariate. These newly ordained priests are extremely busy in their own parishes. In fact, it’s the other way around from what HuffPo and CBS represent. There is a diocesan priest who has to fill in for the rector and say Mass sometimes (in the Anglican use form, of course).

  3. Wouldn’t the priests be filling pulpits?

    The story of Fr. John Cornelius in the Diocese of Buffalo may have contributed to the confusion here. The bishop was happy to welcome the former Episcopal priest with his small flock and to have him available to assist at nearby parishes.

    FR. Cornelius was the subject of a January post by geoconger. A Patheos search utility would have made it easier for me to find it again.

  4. “The ordinariate provides a way for these groups to enter in “corporate reunion””

    As opposed to “The Order of Corporate Reunion”, which went about secretly “validating” the orders of scrupulous Anglo-Catholics following Apostolicae Curae, and is underground if it sitll exists.

  5. HUffington is fishwrap. Expecting accuracy on this topic or any other from them? The original “pastoral provision” Anglican convert clergy who were first invited in 1980 simply scared the Catholics to DEATH. I knew one of the originals. When he retired after some years in Oklahoma as a married Cathoic priest he lived in Washinton State. He volunteered to help at a parish in Olympia, WA with 6000 parishoners and *one* priest, and was turned down. Even forbidden to serve in any capacity, nothing, nowherein the Seattle archdiocese. This a man approved by the Pope (they were more or less reviewed one by one then, by the very top) , a celebrant in St Peter’s in Rome. He eventually became Eastern Rite Catholic a they were not terrified of him being married. The new wave of married Anglicans, however small, seems to be better received.

  6. And, of course, the story–rooted in the claim that the Catholic Church needs more priests to do the ministerial and sacramental work of parishes–completely ignores the fast increasing number of married permanent deacons who are ordained and can do 80% of what a priest can do. In fact one priest researcher gave a speech at a vocation conference a while back claiming that, because of the rapidly expanding number of deacons working in parishes, there is no clergy shortage to do the parish work that needs to be done.

  7. Well here [] is a ”Buffalo News” article on Cornelius, but I have to say they got the whole matter wrong. The 2012 provisions are not what allow a married pirest. They totally miss the liturgical issue as well. The 2012 provisions do allow Cornelius to do the liturgy in a way more similar to what he did as an Anglican than would otherwise be the case.

  8. What’s the invincible ignorance by the HuffPo? Are you referring to the logical fallacy? I don’t think this fallacy applies to what the HuffPo is doing. There logic is valid albeit not true.

  9. As usual, the press will not let historical context get in the way of a good headline, nor Catholic bashing for that matter. In fact ongoing discussions with disaffected Anglican clergy and Rome go back prior to Vatican II. The foundational discussions about what became known as Anglican Use and thus the ordination of converted Anglican priests as Catholic priests were routed in requests from Anglican clergy themselves, and took place well before any percieved gap between Catholics and the number of priests to serve them. This could have been determined with a 45 minute google search, but of course if you have an angle and an axe to grind, who needs facts? Such is what passes for “Journalism” today- used to be referred to as “yellow journalism”, now dereguere.