A new sort of ecumenism

John Hunwicke responds to a rejection of the Ordinariate in last month’s issue with reasons why our Anglican Catholic ethos should be made a part of the life of the wider Church

If the Ordinariate solution takes off – and I pray that it will – one of my greatest hopes is that it will provide a real bridge between the friends who have gone, and the friends who stay, in such a way that they will still be friends. And not just friends who occasionally have a pint together, but friends who are engaged in the same mutual enterprise.

I would, perhaps daringly, certainly crudely, characterize that endeavour as making our Anglican Catholic ethos and gifts central to the life of the Roman Catholic Church at the same time as we struggle to make the message of organic unity, which is at the heart of the Petrine Ministry of the See of Rome, comprehensible within the Church of England.

‘Post-Ordinariate’, I would hope that we would see, not less of each other, but more; and that we would interact at a more profound, perhaps more honest, level. Above all, I pray that we may avoid the temptations to recrimination and mutual abuse. And that is a temptation, because, for those who go and those who stay, decisions, perhaps costly ones, will have been made on the grounds of deeply held principles. In such circumstances, it can be easy to feel impatient with those who do not see matters with the same clarity as oneself.

A surprising attitude

I must confess that I was saddened by an article in last month’s New Directions by Fr Jonathan Beswick. I was surprised, firstly, by his attitude, so contrary to the spirit of ARCIC, towards the Roman Catholic Church, ‘a body that has placed so many stumbling blocks before her faithful... a destructive and terrible arrogance’. The tone of this reminds me – I am old enough to have such memories – of the pamphlet wars of the Fifties; of booklets such as Kenneth Ross’s Infallible Fallacies.

Have we really not come beyond that? And, at a time when the forces of infidelity regard Rome as their main target in their relentless war against the remnants of Christendom, can it really be a Christian priority to join in that onslaught? 

But I was even more depressed to find Fr Jonathan attacking his fellow Anglican Catholics as ‘ecclesial Quislings within the Church of England’. Does he really see Rome as an Evil Enemy like Hitler’s Third Reich? Does he really regard those who favour the Ordinariate scheme
as traitors like Vidkund Quisling, hanged by the Norwegians after the War for Treason?
I devoutly hope that – on both sides – the temptation to vicious and hurtful rhetoric can be replaced by a desire to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches in the very unusual situation that faces us.

Potential breaches

Like Fr Jonathan, I have found the Church of England the particular space in the Catholic Church that has been home for me. My time in her ministry has been nearly three times as long as his, and the breaches, in terms of friendships and even family relationships, which could be involved in a realignment are in my case obviously potentially much deeper than they would be in his. So why should I – any more than Fr Jonathan – give a moment’s thought to seeking pastures new?

The fact is that resistance to the ordination of women has brought together people with very different motives. Extreme examples: there are the misogynists. I would not wish to be associated with that tendenz. Then there are the Real Evangelicals who resist it because of a particular interpretation of biblical teaching about Headship. I don’t, myself, share that body of dogma.

Different approaches

But even among the ‘Catholics’ there are quite different approaches to the question of ordaining women. There are those who opposed it, perhaps vigorously, but, after 1992, felt that ‘this is what the Church of England has decided; I still think it was wrong to do so because such a decision should have been made with an ecumenical consensus; but I do accept that women can be priests and so I will now go along with it’.

I have a great respect for such people. At least, I do in the great majority of cases; like many of us, I do fall victim to the temptation of the sin of judgementalism when there seems to be a rather brief gap between a man changing his mind, and the arrival in the post of a pointy hat. But we must not tar all those who change their ‘integrity’ with same brush.

If a person feels that there is such a givenness in his being an Anglican that he finds it impossible to contemplate leaving the Church of England, then I can understand such a one being convinced that, however muddled the CofE may be, it’s his muddle; that, whatever contortions he has to perform, this is where his destiny lies.

Where I do have a problem is in understanding why such a person resists accepting that the ordination of women is what God as a matter of fact is doing in the Church to which he is committed. How can it be rational to be so committed to the CofE that it is inconceivable to leave it; and, at the same time, to deny the validity of the ministry of such a large and growing percentage of the clergy within it?

If the CofE is good enough to merit unconditional allegiance, why isn’t it good enough to be trusted with the decision that women can validly be ordained priests ... and should be?

The last straw

I have to admit that, for me, there is a conditional element, and always has been, in my Anglicanism. Regarding the Church of England not as ‘The Church’ but as two provinces of the Western Church, I have always accepted that those two provinces, especially when making decisions outside the fellowship and consensus of the rest of that Church – not to mention other bodies further East – can err; can err seriously; can err to the extent that adherence to that error might be apostasy.

My problem is that, not too far in the future, there will be a majority of clergy in the CofE who (in the judgement I have conscientiously evolved over the last twenty years of ‘Reception’) will not in fact be priests, and whose liturgical celebrations will not be the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And for this old camel’s back, that is simply the last straw.

Remember the Porvoo Agreement? Lutheran ministers not ordained in the Apostolic Succession were declared to be priests. ‘But Norway is a long way away’. The Anglican Methodist Covenant is rather closer to home! Unlike the earlier Anglican Methodist proposals, for which, as a young priest, I voted, this Covenant is not concerned to create a situation in which Anglicans would be enabled to discern Methodist ministers as Catholic priests, but to convince Methodists that Anglican priests are no more than Methodist ministers! A‘ priest in the Church of England is a person called and ordained to the same ministry of word and sacrament as is exercised by ministers in Methodism’, it reassuringly informs us.

‘The Church of England is able to recognise another church as a part of the one Church of Christ ... and to acknowledge that in it ...baptism and the Eucharist are duly administered...as a question distinct from the question of whether that church has a ministry within the historic episcopate’. This ecclesiology was preceded by ecumenical accords (Meissen, Fetter Lane, Reuilly) which had done deals with various Protestant bodies on the Continent, accepting their ministries.

Priesthood

I was brought up to believe that priests of the Church of England were not Protestant ministers but ‘priests in the Church of God’, sharing the same priesthood, rooted in that of Christ, which is exercised by priests of the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine and Oriental Churches (although of course I knew that those bodies disagreed).

I have often been haunted by some stern words of Dom Gregory Dix about schemes for Anglican/Protestant unity: ‘As regards the question of Orders, what these proposals amount to is an official Anglican admission that Pope Leo XIII was right after all in his fundamental contention in Apostolicae curae.

In spite of face-saving phrases about ‘the Apostolic Ministry’ and the future confining of the act of ordaining to men styled ‘Bishops’, we should be committed to a formal declaration that by ‘Bishops, Priests, and Deacons’, could be meant only the new sixteenth century concept of the ministry disguised under the old titles, and that anyone who chose to take it as meaning that would be fully justified in doing so. And whether we like it or not, that would be to justify Leo XIII in the teeth of all our own past history’.

I share with Fr Jonathan a sense of sadness that Rome and the East do not accept him and me as Catholic priests, and I have lived with this sadness for a lot longer than he has. But now – by declaring her own orders to be equivalent to those of non-episcopal Protestant bodies, and by admitting women to her orders, contrary to the consensus of East and West – the Church of England herself has in fact declared that he and I are not Catholic priests. As Dix put it, the Church of England has made an ‘official admission that Leo XIII was right after all’.
It is in this context that I would not refuse what Fr Aidan Nichols has called the quiet rectification of my orders. 


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