BY MURRA WH E
IN THE MOST significant ordination service since the current wave of Anglican clergy converts began, ten men will become Catholic deacons at Westminster Cathedral next month.
The ten former Anglican clergymen, none of whom are married, will be ordained to the diaconate during a service on 18 July. Cardinal Basil Hume will himself conduct the ordinations for the men, who later this year are set to become the first active convert priests in London in the wake of the Church of England decision to allow women priests.
The service marks the largest single group ordination of former Anglican clergy who have become Catholics and sees the first younger convert clergy take their first step towards eventually becoming parish priests.
Until now, the Cardinal's Westminster diocese, which has received the greatest number of applications from former Anglicans, has only ordained four retired priests.
Mgr Thomas Egan, Vicar General to the Westminster Diocese, said there was "nothing unusual" in having ten men ordained to the diaconate at the same time. "It would be very difficult to arrange ten separate services," he said.
Church of England author ities are unlikely to see such a service as a showpiece, said Mgr Egan, stressing that the diocese has kept Anglican leaders constantly updated with current ordination plans.
Crucially, the group includes a number of former vicars considered to be among the most highly respected of the Anglican diocese of London's strong Anglo-Catholic wing. Indeed, the group, aged between 30 and 55, includes one former vicar who insiders in the Church of England had tipped to be a future Anglican bishop, 51-year-old Rev Alan Hopes.
Rev Hopes, who has been working as a pastoral assistant at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington, since December 1994, was formerly Vicar at St Paul's, Tottenham and a Prebendary or Minor Canon of St Paul's Cathedral. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1968.
He told the Catholic Herald that his decision to become a Catholic was "not an easy one. It has been hard to change at such a late stage in my ministry." He had felt a crisis over the Church of England General Synod's authority to make fundamental doctrinal decisions.
"I had prayed over the past 30 years for unity. In the 1980s I felt optimistic, but since then, I'm afraid, the Church of England began to plough its own liberal furrow," he said.
Since he became a Catholic, Rev Hopes said he has found great continuity with worship and preaching, but has warmed to larger congregations and the community life of priests. "I have also been impressed that lay people do play a very real part in the parish," he said.
Mgr Egan, closely involved with the reception process, said that the ten men have undergone an intensive period of study, reflection and assessment over the past few years.They should eventually become assistant parish priests, depending on final assessment, he said.
Several hundred former Anglican clergy are expected to become Catholic priests in the next few years. Following the Vatican go ahead after Easter for married convert clergy to be ordained, the first working clergy with families are expected to become priests towards the end of the year.
Most notable among convert clergy until now have been three retired Anglican Bishops, including the former Bishop of London, Graham Leonard.
Two weeks ago, Richard Run, former bishop of Leicester, and Conrad Meyers, former bishop of Dorchester, were ordained as Catholic priests by Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth.