Msgr. Nazir-Ali: The Ordinariate Was Benedict XVI’s Path to Unity for Anglicans
The well-known former Anglican who was recently received into the Catholic Church through the ordinariate, Msgr. Michael Nazir-Ali reflects on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
One of the late Pope Benedict XVI’s most notable achievements was to create a personal ordinariate for Anglicans whereby members of the Anglican Communion could enter the Catholic Church while retaining their heritage and liturgy.
Benedict established the new structure through his 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus so that “corporate reunion” was made possible for former Anglicans while preserving elements of a “distinctive Anglican patrimony.”
A well-known former Anglican who was recently received into the Catholic Church through the ordinariate was Msgr. Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican bishop of Rochester. He was received into the Church in September 2021 and ordained a priest for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the ordinariate’s branch in England, a month later. He was elevated to monsignor in 2022.
In this interview with the Register, Msgr. Nazir-Ali, 72, describes what the ordinariate means to him personally and for other Anglicans, discusses Benedict XVI’s approach to ecumenism in general, and reflects both on Benedict’s character and his historic state visit to Britain in 2010.
The Pakistani-born priest of dual British-Pakistan nationality served as the 106th bishop of Rochester from 1994 to 2009 and was once considered a potential future archbishop of Canterbury. He had already served as the Anglican bishop of Raiwind in Pakistan and is currently the director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue.
How significant was the creation of the ordinariate for you personally, and your reception into the Catholic Church, and for other Anglicans?
The ordinariate is very significant for me and for others because, whilst we see the inadequacies and errors of the Anglican Communion, we also see a rich heritage in liturgy, biblical study, theological method, ways of approaching moral issues, hymnody, etc. Such “authentic patrimony” should not be lost in reunion (Pope Paul VI).
How needed was the ordinariate, in your view? How much were Anglicans looking for a pathway into the Church and this structure provided it for them?
The ordinariate is a partial fulfilment of the “united but not absorbed” proposal of the Malines Conversations of the early 20th century and, of course, the work of ARCIC, of which I was a member for many years. Pope Emeritus Benedict would have, I am sure, wanted the ordinariate to develop according to the logic of its own genius in the full unity and diversity of the Catholic Church: Eastern and Western.
To what extent do you believe that his efforts in this regard showed Benedict’s recognition of true ecumenism — that it is an “ecumenism of return” to the Catholic Church?
Pope Benedict’s ecumenism was firmly based on the teaching of Vatican II in both Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio and in the vision set forth in St. John Paul’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint. These recognize the impetus towards Catholic unity that there is in the separated churches and in the Catholic Church itself as it seeks to remove unnecessary obstacles in the path to full communion.
What are your own general opinions of Benedict XVI as pope and as a cardinal, bishop and priest? How do you think history will remember him?
Pope Benedict is a luminous writer of Gospel truth, whether in theological essays or in more popular works such as Paul of Tarsus or Journey Towards Easter. He has understood the European situation very well, and that is why he is an effective apologist to the European mind and heart.
What impact did his state visit to the U.K. have in 2010?
His visit to the U.K. was a great success. His devotion spoke to many not in the Catholic Church. His address to parliamentarians was very well received as a contribution to the legitimate relation of religion to the public square. The small but vocal number of critics were silenced by his graciousness.