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William Oddie FAITH Magazine March – April 2012

A Theory Concerning the Ordinariate

What is happening, exactly, in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, now celebrating its first anniversary? Is it fulfilling the potential many of us had hoped to see realised? Well, the first thing to say is that it's too early to tell. Apart from the Ordinary and two other former Anglican bishops, who were ordained shortly after the new jurisdiction was officially set up, the first ordinations of priests took place last Eastertide, and the first batches of laity were received at Pentecost. So, it's early days. But there's no doubt that there are certain things needed if Anglicanorum coetibus is to take concrete form here: one of them is that the existing hierarchy should in the early stages help and cooperate with it, while at the same time rigorously respecting andfostering the new jurisdiction's absolute independence. The question now is whether this - or the reverse -is actually what they are doing.

I had always assumed that the Ordinariate would begin in a small way, consolidate over a year or so, and then find itself growing naturally as Catholic-minded Anglicans perceived it to be a real alternative to an Anglicanism increasingly under liberal protestant domination. But that consolidation needs to happen first: and there are already accusations (which I very much hope are untrue) that the English hierarchy - having gone through the motions of welcoming this courageous new enterprise with open arms - are as much set on undermining it as certain members of the Anglican hierarchy, notably Richard Chartres, Bishop of London.

I have to admit that I was myself already beginning to smell a rat when I fully registered the suspicions of some other observers. I am a simple soul, I tend to look on the bright side and try to avoid paranoia where I can. I repeat: I hope I am wrong; but I am, all the same, beginning to wonder if the warm support with which even quite unexpected people in our hierarchy (like Bishop Hollis) greeted the establishment of the Ordinariate this time round (you will remember the hostility with which they squashed a similar but less radical basic idea in the Nineties) was really as wholehearted as it seemed at the time: or were they simply saying what they knew the Pope wanted them to say, but without any real belief in the idea itself? Or with the intention, this time, of allowing the wholething to get under way and then squashing it?

Let me direct your attention to a couple of websites, which seen together provide food for thought. The first is the website [] of the new US Ordinariate, the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, a name which splendidly makes very clear a basic characteristic of most Anglican converts these days: their loyalty to the Magisterium (undoubtedly one reason for the firm opposition of most of our hierarchy to the idea ofan independent Anglican Catholic jurisdiction 20 years ago). The newly announced US Ordinary (who has been a friend of mine for 30 years; I first knew him in Oxford when he was doing his DPhil) is Fr Jeffrey Steenson, a distinguished Patristics scholar and the former Anglican bishop of the Rio Grande. From his website, I perceive that he is getting very full support from the American hierarchy in more than just fine words: he already, for instance, has a "principal Church", in other words, a sort of cathedral, which was immediately designated as such on the erection of the US Ordinariate, by the Cardinal Archbishop of Houston, Texas, where he will be based.
The second website is the Ordinariate Portal, which supports our own English Ordinariate, that of Our Lady of Walsingham. In October, this reproduced without comment the following extract [] from an article which appeared on Damian Thompson's feisty Telegraph website:

"I was disappointed to miss Cardinal Levada's visit to London for a fundraising event for the Ordinariate sponsored by The Catholic Herald .... It would have been good to hear the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith remind us that the Ordinariate is the Pope's own project and an 'important new structure for the Church'.

"But, talking of important structures, could I just ask: where is the London church that will serve as the Ordinariate's headquarters? The question was already a pressing one when I raised it back in January. The failure to address the matter is so morale-sapping that I really can't blame those Anglicans who are hesitating to take the plunge. This isn't the fault of the Ordinary or Cardinal Levada; as usual, the blame lies with the slow-acting Bishops of the Benzodiazepine Rite based in Eccleston Square. If they don't find a church soon, there won't be a second wave of Ordinariate converts. And you have to ask: do they really want one?"

It's a very good question, which I am now in my slow-moving way beginning to ask myself. Damian Thompson, you will see, was asking it back in January 2011. He repeated the question yet again last month: this time, the Ordinariate Portal reproduced his article in full, under the headline "Damian Thompson: The English bishops are trying to smother the Ordinariate. How long will Rome tolerate this situation?” It's a headline which doesn't surprise one much when one reads it on Mr Thompson's blog; it's his style, and he has been from the beginning the principal scourge of the English hierarchy in general and, in recent times, of Archbishop Nichols in particular. But it's one thing to see a headline like that in The Telegraph: entirely another to see it in the OrdinariatePortal (though this website is not, I am told, actually an organ of the Ordinariate or the Ordinary himself).

All the same the question does arise: do the leaders of the Ordinariate actually themselves suspect that the English bishops are trying to smother it? For it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if they were: it's what they did 20 years ago after all, and they haven't changed that much; many of the same bishops, indeed, are still there. Does the leopard change its spots? Last time, they killed the idea of people crossing the Tiber in parish groups, but put in place fast-track provisions for the recycling of Anglican clergy. They got quite a lot of high-quality priests that way without having to bother with their laity; this mitigated the effects of the shortage of indigenous vocations no end. Are they up to the same tricks again? This time, just let the whole thing fall flat, then absorbthe Ordinariate clergy into the local diocese, and their laity into the local parishes?

Let me make it clear: I have deliberately not asked, even off the record, any of the Ordinariate monsignori if they agree with what I might call the "Thompson scenario". I say this in order to protect them from the accusation that I am myself knowingly reflecting their views. But if this analysis is correct, if the bishops do have some such strategy, and if the Ordinariate's leaders do think so, then it really is time for Rome to intervene. I hope that Archbishop Mennini is keeping a close eye on all this, and that he is still Rome's man and hasn't, like so many of his predecessors, gone native, seduced by the "creamy English charm" (Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead) of whoever is the current incumbent of Archbishop's House, Westminster. Damian Thompson claims that "theVatican is well aware that the English bishops are trying to smother this initiative". If so, as he comments, "much depends on the Pope's state of health.... The enemies of the Ordinariate are counting on this pontificate coming to an end before the structures of the English Ordinariate are set in stone." Well, I suspect (certainly, I pray) that the Pope has plenty of life left in him yet: it isn't time for him to go, he has too many things to do. And this increasingly looks like one of them.

This is not the first time I have voiced these anxieties. The last time I did so, I attracted the following online comment. I have reason to suppose (I say no more), that the following anonymous writer has good sources:

"The Ordinariate haven't got a clue with whom they're dealing - their representatives sat round a table in the Vatican at secret meetings with His Grace Archbishop Nichols - drafting provisions and formulating an Ordinariate and expecting that His Holiness's requests on their behalf would be fulfilled.

"All the time not having a clue that they were being whispered against, campaigned against by both Catholics & Anglicans who made it palpably clear that this initiative was detrimental to the 'dialogue towards unity' and temporarily compromised their positions as oecumenical ambassadors - that this was a counter-productive 'wacked-out' scheme by an ailing Pope who merely needed to be placated until he died - hence delaying tactics, obfuscations, procedurality, red tape and making everything as difficult and administratively untenable as possible; with patronising sympathy and hand-wringing at their lot while sneering, dismissing and chuckling to themselves that the whole thing will eventually come to naught...that the administration will crumble via crises and power politics andpersonality clashes and outright frustration at the situation...and ultimately the Ordinariate will be re-integrated into the Conference system and those not happy about it will crawl back to their friends in the C of E.

"They are at present being treated with the utmost contempt - despite the soft words from our hierarchy which ring hollow when there's no physical manifestation of any support.

"A pitiable quarter of a million? How Conference can look in the mirror that it donated to the Ordinariate the annual wages of a handful of quangocrats is beyond me."

This certainly looks like a convincing answer to Damian Thompson's question: "where is the London church that will serve as the Ordinariate's headquarters?” The answer would be that it is in the imagination and the aspirations of the Ordinary and his entourage: but that it has no existence in reality and never will without the firm intervention of the Pope. The following is the answer that +Vincent gave at a press conference, to a question about the provision of an Ordinariate "cathedral": "I think that is something probably beyond their resources at the present time, and I don't think the Ordinariate would thank us, actually, to simply give it responsibility for a church that it would have to then maintain and upkeep." The fact is, however, that those who have crossed the Tiber to theOrdinariate do regard a main church as a priority. As for the costs of maintenance, Archbishop Nichols could easily help with that problem for a year or two out of petty cash: it would make up just a little for the extreme meanness of the financial help given by the mainstream English Church thus far.

I have a suspicion that there is a hidden ecumenical agenda here, to keep the Ordinariate homeless. At the same time as Bishop Chartres was making it plain that he would sooner demolish an unused Anglican building than allow an Ordinariate parish to use it, Archbishop Vincent was saying that the natural place for Ordinariate Catholics to worship would be their local Catholic parish church. Well, it would certainly be the best place if you just want to absorb them within the local parish, while hijacking their clergy - at first to "help out", and then, who knows? -rather than give them the independent ecclesial existence envisaged in Anglicanorum coetibus.

So, I really do hope that Archbishop Mennini is keeping his eye on this one. For, if he isn't, and if Rome simply assumes that Archbishop Nichols is doing everything that is necessary for the Pope's vision to be realised, I fear that the whole enterprise may run into the sands. Everything depends on its maintaining its momentum. But it cannot do that entirely alone. This time next year, we will know where, if anywhere, it is going.

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