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Former Anglican Priests: What About the Families? (6467)

With many married clergymen coming into the Church, logistical problems arise.

08/19/2011 Comments (14)
Courtesy of the Hellyer family

PRIEST AND FAMILY. Father Ian Hellyer with his wife, Margaret, and growing family, prior to his ordination.

– Courtesy of the Hellyer family

When Father Ian Hellyer, a Catholic priest in England, figures his personal budget, he faces concerns that are unusual for a Catholic priest: He must consider the needs of his wife, Margaret, and their nine children.

A former Anglican clergyman, Father Hellyer was ordained in June into a Church that by and large has not had to provide for men with families. He is a priest of the personal ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a newly erected diocese for former Anglicans. It was created under the provisions of Pope Benedict XVI’s Anglicanorum Coetibus, which made it possible for former Anglicans to come into the Catholic Church in groups.

A similar ordinariate is expected to be up and running soon in the United States, perhaps by the end of the year.

Some men who seek ordination as Catholic priests are coming from affluent parishes.

“Episcopal clergy are expected to be paid at a professional level,” said Father Ernie Davis, a former Episcopal priest and father of three.

Father Davis cautioned: “If you’re looking at the bottom line when you make this decision [about whether to seek ordination as a Catholic priest], then this isn’t the place for you.”

Episcopal clergymen in the United States often get in touch with Father Christopher Phillips, another former Anglican priest who is pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement, an Anglican-use parish in San Antonio, Texas, to inquire about becoming Catholic priests.

“I put a fatherly arm around them and say, ‘Don’t think you are going to be able to live like you have been living,’” Father Phillips said. Like Father Davis, Father Phillips came into the Church under Pope John Paul II’s 1980 pastoral provision, a precursor to Anglicanorum Coetibus.

Clergy from the “continuing Church” movement — breakaway Episcopal churches, which tend to be less lavishly endowed — may face less financial shock, Father Phillips said, because “they are more used to putting cardboard in their shoes.”

“When I finally discerned that God was calling me to full communion with the successor of St. Peter,” said Father Hellyer, “we had no idea of what our future income might be or where it would come from.


‘The Lord Will Provide’

“We knew we could survive on our savings for a while if we cut out luxuries and non-essentials,” Father Hellyer said of the transitional period before he was ordained a Catholic priest. “Then, too, the Catholic members of our extended family rallied around, deciding they had to support us in our step of faith. Also, lots of different people sent us gifts, which we never expected.

“We also had the assurance of the words that the Holy Father had said to Msgr. Keith Newton [ordinary of Our Lady of Walsingham]. Father Keith asked the Holy Father how he was to make provision for the priests and their dependents. The Holy Father replied, ‘The Lord will provide.’ So it was an act of faith to believe that, if we were doing God’s will, he would provide for us.”

Fortunately, it was a sentiment shared by Father Hellyer’s wife.

“My wife, Margaret, has been a tower of strength,” he said. “Over and over she has said resolutely that if this is God’s will, he will provide. Even the monsignors of the ordinariate have been amazed by her strength, not least because of the size of our family.”

When Father Jonathan Redvers Harris, a Church of England canon lawyer and father of five, who was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in June, decided he was called to the Catholic priesthood, his family had to make a significant sacrifice: their house. Father Redvers Harris lived in what is known in the Church of England as a “parson’s freehold,” a vicarage to which the vicar holds title as long as he serves as a priest in good standing. “It is a very strong form of security,” he admitted. 

The family now lives in a rented house, paid for by the local diocese, which Father Redvers Harris said has been “very generous.” The Redvers Harris family now pays utilities and the council tax (more than $3,500 a year), expenses previously picked up by the Church of England. Also lost was an insurance policy worth nearly $100,000 to his wife, Wendy, in the event of her husband’s death.

Still, Father Redvers Harris said that his monthly clergy allowance, when supplemented with additional priestly work, “probably is not so very different from my C of E stipend.” 

“Our two school-age children won’t have noticed much difference to our lifestyle, which is neither impoverished nor lavish,” he said. “We shan’t be having a family holiday this year, but we live on the Isle of Wight, which is a beautiful place. There have been many signs of God’s goodness and provision, I have to say.”


‘Privilege of Being a Priest’

Our Lady of Walsingham eventually will pay clergy allowances based on the families’ needs, even taking into consideration the wives’ ability to earn. The information to formulate a pay scale is being collected now. “We’re doing a bit like the early Christians,” said Father Redvers Harris, adding, “I do hope the chap with nine children will receive more than I do.”

A new charity, Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham — led by such luminaries as the Duke of Norfolk, head of one of England’s oldest Catholic families; the journalist Charles Moore; Lord Nicholas Windsor, a Catholic convert and member of the royal family; an assortment of Benedictine monks and others — has been established to help the ordinariate financially.

The St. Barnabas Society, which helps clergy from other faiths make the transition to the Catholic Church, and the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, formed as an Anglo-Catholic group, have also contributed financially. 

It should be noted that Anglicanorum Coetibus recognizes that some formerly Anglican priests will need to take secular jobs. 

Since the personal ordinariate has yet to be established in the U.S., it is more difficult to predict its financial aspects. But a number of priests who already have come into the Church under Pope John Paul II’s pastoral provision may show the way.

Father Eric Bergman of the St. Thomas More Society in Scranton, Pa., brought a number of parishioners with him into the Catholic Church, and they have tithed to support the Bergman family.  He and his wife, Kristina, have six children. The priest also contributes earnings from his speaking engagements to the church.

A mailing list of sympathetic donors also helps the St. Thomas More Society. Father Bergman said people want to contribute because “we are a missionary endeavor, and we are always making converts.” He says his salary may be less, but not that much, than his salary in the Episcopal Church.  (His group sends its contribution to the local diocese, which in turn sends him his salary — something that could change when the ordinariate is established.)

When Father Phillips of Our Lady of the Atonement first came into the Catholic Church, a group of former Episcopalians asked him to come to Texas and help them build a church. They cobbled together a salary of $1,000 a month. The result of their efforts was Our Lady of the Atonement, 700 families strong and boasting a parish school with more than 500 students.

“I realized that the children were my responsibility, and so I looked around for extra work as a priest — and there was loads of it,” Father Phillips said. “It also didn’t cost anything to live in my rectory. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese, and my wife, JoAnn, got cramps from cutting out coupons. It wasn’t difficult, and the return is fabulous — the privilege of being a Catholic priest.”

Now the Archdiocese of San Antonio pays him the same stipend as any other priest — reportedly under $1,300 a month.

Father Redvers Harris in England agreed: “Life may be a bit more insecure. But, surely, you would agree that it is a good thing to be traveling light in this life, if we want to shape our lives around the life of Christ.”

Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.

 

Filed under anglicanorum coetibus, anglicans, married priests, our lady of walsingham, pope benedict xvi