The ordinariate in England needs to be able to look after itself financially because it is the beginning of a “big story.”
According to Msgr. Keith Newton, the head of the world’s first Anglican ordinariate, Our Lady of Walsingham, there also “may be real possibilities” for using churches in which the former Anglicans once worshipped.
The monsignor was speaking at the launch of a charity aimed at financially assisting the new group. The Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has been formed by a group of lay Catholics with the aim of assisting those who have left the Church of England to become priests in the ordinariate. Among its honorary vice presidents are the Duke of Norfolk, Edward Fitzalan-Howard — whose ancestor, St. Philip Howard, was martyred under Elizabeth I — and two Benedictine abbots.
Explaining the need for such a group, Msgr. Newton said that his job is “to look after the spiritual and material needs of the clergy, not only now, but in terms of sickness and retirement. This is quite a heavy responsibility. We now have in the ordinariate 59 priests, two transitional deacons and one permanent deacon. That’s quite a large number of clergy, and they need some support.”
He said that not all of them need assistance, but 31 do require help. Out of that number, 12 are married with dependent children, nine are married and 10 are celibate.
Msgr. Newton stressed how helpful the bishops of England and Wales had been, but said, “We’ve obviously got to look towards the future to make the ordinariate financially stable, to make sure that we can look after ourselves, for that is what is required of us in the long term, not only making sure stipends are adequate but finding housing for the clergy. We can’t always be relying on the diocese in which our clergy live.”
Msgr. Newton explained that any money that was donated would be used “mainly for the support of the clergy; for the formation of the clergy; for the maintenance and maybe even the purchase of buildings; and also for the administration costs that we hope will be as small as possible. We hope that all Catholics will respond to this, whether they have been Catholics since birth or whether they are Catholics who have come via the Church of England or other denominations.”
Beginning of a Big Story
His views were echoed by Msgr. John Broadhurst, the former Anglican bishop of Fulham who was ordained with Msgr. Newton, who said they weren’t “just talking about these 30-odd clergy who need paying; there is actually a second lot in the wings. This is not the end of the story, but the beginning of a big story. If we don’t get it right this time ’round, we will actually be stilting what I believe is God’s will. We’ve got to find the money to guarantee those who are standing there saying ‘What’s next?’ If we haven’t got the income, there is no future.”
Father Paul Birch, a 36-year-old priest of the ordinariate, who is married with four young children, explained that he had been a vicar when the apostolic constitution announcing plans for the ordinariate was issued in 2009.
“We knew as a family that we had to take it seriously and explore it,” he said. “This we did; we thought and prayed about it long and hard, obviously thinking about the practicalities, like the financial side of things, the potential loss of Church of England stipend, pension and vicarage, plus the upheaval of moving. But we knew that, despite the uncertainties, it was something we had to do. As a family, we were received into the Church as members of the ordinariate on Holy Thursday.”
“The Archdiocese of Birmingham has very generously provided us with a house, but, of course, the financial security of the ordinariate is an unknown,” he said. “I’m just thankful we’ve done this as a family, because I think without the support of my wife and children those burdens and uncertainties would be so much greater. But it’s something we’ve done joyfully: We knew it was something we had to do, and we’re just taking things one day at a time. Over the last six months, we’ve learnt that God will provide, and it’s been a good exercise in learning to trust.”
Msgr. Newton said that those priests who had joined the ordinariate would receive state pensions they had accrued while working for the Church of England, but some way had to be found to provide for them in the future, particularly if they should die leaving a dependent family.
Feeling of Bitterness
When asked about the possibility of using Anglican churches in which the congregations once worshipped, Msgr. Newton commented that dealings with the Church of England were “not helpful.”
He continued, “In the future, when that feeling of bitterness has settled down, there may be real possibilities of using those churches. Certainly, the archbishop of Canterbury says that’s quite possible in the future, but we’ll have to wait for that.”
The monsignor also spoke of the need for the ordinariate to have a central church in London, to give it a distinctive identity. Nevertheless, he stressed, “It’s not my most pressing problem at the moment. … It is urgent, and it would be good if we had places for the groups to worship which are actually theirs, where they could develop the liturgy in the way that they want. We had hoped that we might be able to use some former Anglican buildings, but that’s not been possible, so we’ve needed the hospitality of local Catholic parishes. It’s not easy, but we have to be grateful for what we have received.”
Msgr. Broadhurst concurred, saying: “Our concern is that the ordinariate has to have a presence, and it is rather hard to have that if you’re effectively camping in the local Catholic parish.”
James Kelly, Ph.D., is a columnist for The Universe — the biggest-selling Catholic weekly in Britain and Ireland — and a researcher at the University of London.