Saturday, January 15, 2011

So. Now the Ordinariate is Real.

As you came from the holy land
Of Walsingham,
Met you not with my true love
By the way as you came?

We thought of this old song today, when we came upon a statement from the Holy See's Press Office, announcing the establishment of the first ex-Anglicans club. It "will be known as the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and will be placed under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman." And it even has members!

The press release helpfully reminds us:
For doctrinal reasons the Church does not, in any circumstances, allow the ordination of married men as Bishops.
Well, no surprise there. But it goes on:

However, the Apostolic Constitution does provide, under certain conditions, for the ordination as Catholic priests of former Anglican married clergy. Today at Westminster Cathedral in London, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, ordained to the Catholic priesthood three former Anglican Bishops: Reverend Andrew Burnham, Reverend Keith Newton, and Reverend John Broadhurst.

Also today Pope Benedict XVI has nominated Reverend Keith Newton as the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Together with Reverend Burnham and Reverend Broadhurst, Reverend Newton will oversee the catechetical preparation of the first groups of Anglicans in England and Wales who will be received into the Catholic Church together with their pastors at Easter, and to accompany the clergy preparing for ordination to the Catholic priesthood around Pentecost.

Actually, no surprise anywhere. They said they were going to do it, and they did. Nor will we be surprised when a few dozen -- or even a few hundred -- disgruntled CofE priests join up. They've been talking about it long enough, haven't they? The release includes a de rigeur insistence that the ordinariate is entirely consistent with ecumenical dialogue, which is true only if you accept the premise that ... well, it's true. No credibility there, but no surprise, either.

Here are the things that we wonder about, though:
  • The numbers. A few dozen priests, or a few hundred? And a few thousand of the faithful, or many more? We have no way to estimate.
  • The communities. Will we see whole parishes switching en bloc, or just a slow papalist dribble weakening already-challenged parishes?
  • The property. If there are whole communities leaving, will they try to keep their buildings? And will they get away with it? While we rejoice that interchurch relations have, since the 17th century, moved well beyond guns, we expect that lawyers and money may still be involved. We certainly hope so.
What we wonder about most, though, is whether they will be happy -- meaning by "they" both the clergy and the laypeople as individuals, and also the new community they form. Surely, at first, they will be giddy with excitement. There is nothing like separation with a purpose to create group adhesion, or so the sociologists of religion keep saying. But will it last? Will it last long as the pioneering excitement fades? Will it last long as the laity and, especially, the clergy begin to understand that "regular" Roman Catholics -- meaning those who were never Anglican at all -- have a hard time accepting them, or even taking them quite seriously? Will it last into the next generation, of (as we gather) celibate "Anglican" priests?

Maybe not. Here, by the way, is another section of that old and cynical song:

Know that Love is a careless child,
And forgets promise past;
He is blind, he is deaf when he list,
And in faith never fast.

His desire is a dureless content,
And a trustless joy:
He is won with a world of despair,
And is lost with a toy.

It could go that way, as the dew fades from the morning rose.

Or maybe it won't. In a few days, as we celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we will worship at the Greek Catholic cathedral here in town. They are have been united with Rome since 1700, when an Orthodox metropolitan led his troops over the Ponte Vecchio, metaphorically speaking. They are greatly outnumbered by the Orthodox, as well as by the Latin Catholics, but they are also widely respected. Their laypeople and especially their leaders suffered terribly under Communism, but that didn't stop them from being who they are and doing what they do. Maybe the ordinariate(s) will have a similar experience, ideally with much less suffering.

We can't know, but we are curious.

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