As the Church prepares to create the first Anglican ordinariate next year, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of the number of pioneering Anglicans and former Anglicans expected to take up the Pope’s offer.
The Traditional Anglican Communion, a group that broke away from the Worldwide Anglican Communion over women priests in the 1990s, disclosed that over 150 of its clerics, including 17 bishops, hope to enter ordinariates in the next year or two.
The English ordinariate will be the first to be established next year, but others around the world are expected to soon follow.
Archbishop John Hepworth, the TAC’s primate, revealed in a Nov. 30 statement to his bishops that 24 TAC priests and one bishop plan to seek ordination to the Catholic priesthood in the English ordinariate; 51 priests of his group and five bishops (three of them retired) wish to join a new ordinariate in the United States; in Central America, two Anglican bishops are asking for ordinariates; in Canada, three TAC bishops and 43 Anglican priests hope to join; and in Australia, 28 TAC priests have so far indicated their firm intention to take up the Pope’s offer.
“This is a moment to reflect on the prophetic wisdom of Pope Benedict,” he said. “It is a moment to thank him for his daring trust that Anglicans would respond. It is a time to intensify our prayers for him.”
Archbishop Hepworth went on to note that the path hasn’t always been easy, and both Anglicans and Catholics have had to learn more about each other, but he said he was now “much more at ease with the implementation process.”
From the Church of England, possibly almost a thousand lay faithful will join the first ordinariate next year, to be established in England. Bishop Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, one of five Church of England bishops who recently announced their intention to take up the Pope’s offer, said Dec. 2 that “assuming everybody sticks to what they say they’re going to do,” he expected “a couple of dozen” groups to lead the way, “each with between 30 and 40 parishioners.”
“The moment they start and are established as a congregation, certainly there will be an immense amount of missionary energy, and I don’t mean sheep stealing — I mean just energy for the Kingdom,” he said, adding that he expected more to be drawn in when they see that it’s actually going to work. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t twice the size within 12 months,” he said, but he didn’t foresee “some vast explosion.”
Bishop Burnham and his four brother bishops will enter into full communion with the Catholic Church early in January 2011. He and two others will soon afterwards be ordained to the Catholic diaconate and priesthood for service in the ordinariate.
The other two bishops, who are retired, will be ordained to the Catholic diaconate and priesthood prior to Lent. Then, also before the beginning of Lent, Anglican clergy with groups of faithful will begin preparation to join the Catholic priesthood. They are expected to be received into the Church at Easter and then ordained at Pentecost — remarkably quickly compared to former Anglican priests currently training for the Catholic priesthood in Catholic seminaries who must study for four or five years.
A good deal of joy and excitement, as well as some apprehension, has been reported among those who have decided to take the leap.
“Some have the collywobbles a bit, because they’re not sure what’s going to happen to their families, not sure where they’re going to live, what money they’re going to get, and what they’re going to actually do,” said Bishop Burnham. “That’s the same for me — but the basic mood is one of optimism and joy.”
The Vatican is taking a cautious line and taking a “wait and see” approach. The handling of finances and property has not been finalized. The Catholic Church is determined to avoid litigation, and so insists it is not expecting to acquire anything.
The Church of England is sending out mixed signals, but has indicated that it may be willing to offer ordinariates hospitality in existing churches. Bishop Burnham said property issues won’t figure highly in the short term, except for one or two “special cases.”
The Vatican is naturally aware of a new provision — called the Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda — being established in the Church of England to help keep those Anglicans opposed to women bishops within the Anglican fold, and are looking to see how that plays out.
Many Anglicans are, too. Bishop Burnham pointed out that because a final vote on women bishops won’t be made until 2012, “they’re saying it’s not over until the fat lady sings.”
Although that’s a “wonderful alibi,” he stressed that he and others are not leaving the Church of England because of women bishops. “We’re leaving because we’ve always been searching for Catholic unity, we’ve asked the Pope about it, and he’s made us an offer,” he said.
The disappearance of the Catholic wing in the Church of England would be detrimental to ecumenical dialogue, according to some in the Vatican. If that goes, ecumenists argue, then the Church of England would largely consist of a liberal, Protestant rump, and an Anglo-Catholic element actively looking for engagement with Rome would be lost, making ecumenical dialogue even harder.
But if, or until, that happens, the dialogue continues. The Vatican is to recommence the next round of Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission discussions in May, and is hoping thorny theological issues will be tackled.
But they were encouraged when the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a speech in Rome last month on the centrality of the Eucharist. Archbishop Williams said Pentecostals, evangelicals and others don’t have the Eucharist at the center of their life, and those who do should clarify why the Eucharist is important to them.
“That emphasis was very welcome indeed and helped us,” said an official, who said he and others were “amazed” at the archbishop’s words.
Perhaps a sign of hope that, despite the turmoil, the seeds of possible unity — even among the most steadfast Anglicans — are somehow still very much present.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.