This time, former C of E traditionalists must be allowed to stay together, says Damian Thompson
6 m ost of all we ask for ways that allow us to bring our folk with us." Well, you can't•put it plainer than that. The Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet and one of the Church of England's three "flying bishops", wants to lead his people to Rome. And this time round Rome seems ready to provide the "ways" that will allow the exodus to consist of more than simply a mass of individual conversions.
On Monday night the General Synod of the Church of England, meeting in York. voted to consecrate women bishops without offering objectors anything more than a flimsy code of practice. "Make no mistake," wrote George Pitcher in the Daily Telegraph. "the Anglo-Catholics were done over." But with love, mind you: as Pitcher nicely put it, the Synod is like a mafia movie "where the luckless are stabbed in the back while they're being hugged".
Bishop Burnham whom I remember from my religious correspondent days as one of the nicest and wisest AngloCatholics saw this coming. So did the Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough,Canterbtny's other Provincial Episcopal Visitor (as flying bishops are officially known). That is why they travelled to Rome to talk to Cardinal William Levada, the Pope's successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Walter Kasper. the Vatican's head of ecumenism.
The situation is confusing. because there have been two meetings between Anglican bishops and the Vatican: one involving the flying bishops, and a more mysterious one attended by Anglican diocesan bishops, not necessarily with a view to converting, but with the aim of sorting out the almighty mess in Catholic-Anglican relations.
The really good news, from the Catholic point of view, is that Rome and the two flying bishops seem to have agreed on the bare outline of a deal between Romewardbound Anglicans and the Vatican.
If it seems presumptuous for Anglicans to ask for a deal, remember this: in the mid1990s. after the Church of England ordained women priests, many AngloCatholics drew back from union with the Holy See because the Bishops of England and Wales were so unwelcoming. and because they were so depressed by the low standard of liturgy in our parishes.
The situation now is very different. Pope Benedict XVI is an old friend of conservative Anglo-Catholics in England and America; he shares their dismay at the shoddy state of the liturgy in many churches, and he is seeking to renovate the vernacular Mass by exposing Catholics to the treasures of pre-1970 Latin worship. All this would have been inconceivable in 1994, as would a Ratzinger papacy. and old-fashioned "Sandalista" liberals are still hoping to wake up from their bad dream. The cheering from the Anglo-Catholic sidelines at these developments has been hearty and loud much louder, I'm sorry to say, than that from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. Yet it is now looking less likely, thank God, that our diocesan bishops will dig in their heels and refuse to allow special measures for former Anglicans. Roma locuta en', I suspect quietly and diplomatically, but decisively. (One thing I do know, though it is a different issue, is that Ecclesia Dei has instructed the English and Welsh hierarchy to implement the Motu Proprio.) So what might an agreement between Rome and former Anglo-Catholics look like? Here are some informed guesses: 1. Rome will set up an "apostolic administrationunder a Catholic bishop to offer pastoral care to former Anglican priests and their parishioners. 2. The ex-Anglicans will form an umbrella organisation called something like the Fellowship of St Gregory the Great. The Fellowship, under the guidance of their new Catholic bishop, will consist of former Anglican priests who have been ordained into the Catholic priesthood. Their parishes. though open to anyone, will consist largely of ex-Anglicans.
3. Some Fellowship parishes will occupy their former church buildings, though this will require an unprecedented degree of cooperation with the Church of England.
4. Former Anglican communities may if they wish be allowed to use parts of the Book of Comnion Prayer adapted for Catholic use, as in a few American parishes. In practice, there will be little demand for this concession, I suspect.
5. Former Anglican priests will undergo an accelerated programme of study allowing them to be swiftly ordained. (Conditional ordination is unlikely to be on offer.) Marriage will be no bar to ordination, but no actively gay priest will be knowingly ordained, and this will be strictly enforced.
6. However there will be no question of married lay former Anglicans becoming priests, since this would effectively abolish the rule of celibacy in the Western Church.
7. There will therefore be no Uniate Anglican-Rite Church; there is not enough demand for it, and it raises too many questions about celibacy and jurisdiction.
8. That said, there could well be a future for the Fellowship of St Gregory once its original supply of ex-Anglicans has died out. The treasures our new brethren will bring with thema poetic and contemplative spirituality, glorious prayers, fine music will permanently enrich the Catholic Church in England; they belong to us all.
As I say, these are just informed guesses. I have only one plea to the Vatican and the Catholic bishops: Please, get it right this time.