(The Pope’s Offer to Anglican Clergy and Laity)
When the Ordination of women to the Sacred Priesthood became a reality in 1993 many Anglican Priests and Laity were unable to accept this new innovation. They argued that there was no warranty in Scripture for this, that for 2,000 years it had not been considered possible and that General Synod had no right, on it’s own, to change the Ministry without agreement with the other churches claiming Catholic orders (The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church both said that the ordination of women was not possible and that those so ordained would not be priests in the Apostolic tradition). Some left to go to Rome or to the Orthodox Church or to one of the continuing churches
The Act of Synod which allowed parishes to decide not to allow a women to celebrate Holy Communion or to be appointed as the Vicar or Rector (Resolutions A & B) also allowed parishes to opt to have the Episcopal care of the “flying” bishops like the Bishop of Richborough (Bishop Keith). (Resolution C) This enabled many priests and laity to remain members of the Church of England who would, otherwise, opted to leave for Rome etc.
Now General Synod is about to decide that women can become bishops which I have to admit is the logical step if they can be priests. Regrettably, it is Synod’s intention to make no provision for those of us who are unable to accept that women can be bishops and the Act of Synod will, by default, be rescinded.
Around the world especially in the USA and Australia and to a lesser extend in the UK there have been what is known as Continuing Anglican Churches. One of the largest of these, the Traditional Anglican Communion, petitioned the Pope, some while ago, to make provision for Anglicans who wished to become Roman Catholics, to do so together as a group. Also close contact has been maintained by some of our Bishops as well, who have held talks with various Roman Catholic Departments at the Vatican with a view to finding a method by which groups of clergy and laity could become Roman Catholics together.
However it came as a complete surprise when, in the Autumn of last year, it was announced from the Vatican that the Pope was making it possible for Anglicans to become part of what would be known as The Ordinariate. Ordinariates would be established in the UK as well as in other parts of the world. An Ordinariate is similar to what we know as a Diocese. Anglicans will be able to take with them what is called their “patrimony” which is what makes Anglicans distinct. They could use either Anglican or Roman services and the Book of Common Prayer (slightly adapted) The Bishops of the Ordinariates cannot be married so Anglicans who are single would be appointed as Bishops. However those Bishops who are married will be able to be appointed as “the Ordinary”, the person who will be in charge of what is really a distinct Diocese. They will continue to dress like Bishops if they so wish but will not be able to ordain or undertake other Episcopal functions. Clergy would have some training before being re-ordained as Roman Catholic priests.
The full details of this innovation have not been worked out yet but the RC’s have appointed some of their Bishops in the UK to look at the details and, of course, various representations are being made by Anglicans and as soon details become known decisions will be able to be made so that together, priests and people, who wish will be able to join.
I must point out that this initiative on the part of the Pope represents a most generous offer- a father welcoming home his separated children - and is not, as some have said in the press, a drive to recruit more members. It has been pointed out that the Ordinariate can be small or large without any problem. Those priests who look to the Bishop of Richborough recently had a meeting with him when this was discussed and he was able to give us a briefing on the progress so far.
Whatever General Synod finally decide in July there is no doubt in my mind that no provision will be made for Catholic Anglicans which will, in conscience, be acceptable to most of us. Whether or not we take up the Pope’s offer will depend on the details we are still awaiting. In the meanwhile we should keep the Holy Father, the Bishops - Roman and Anglican, in our prayers as they make decisions which could see a reconciliation between Anglican Catholics and the Roman Catholic Church, something many of us have prayed for over many years.