Anglican bishops operating as Catholic priests? What next, cats and dogs living together?


Benedict XVI with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey

Any headline involving the words “Oxford professor” (turns out it’s a church history professor, too!) and “hissy fit” has me intrigued, to say the least. Add the fact that I had no idea what an “Ordinariate” is, and I jumped right on this article from the London Telegraph’s blogsite. But first, to understand that oddball (to me) term, I had to read another article, about Church of England bishops jumping ship to become Roman Catholic:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to announce this week that two Church of England bishops are becoming Roman Catholics. It will be a historic moment – but it’s fair to say that, given the choice, Dr Rowan Williams would prefer not to be involved in making this piece of history.

In the past, a few bishops have converted to Rome as private individuals and everyone has politely looked the other way. They have swum the Tiber solo, as it were. This time the Anglican prelates are stepping on to a ferry sent for them by the Pope himself. The Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough, and the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, will be the first passengers. Two other bishops, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham, and the Rt Rev Edwin Barnes, retired Bishop of Richborough, are expected to follow shortly. Moreover, Benedict XVI has made it clear that there will be space on the new vessel for any number of Anglicans who want to convert together – and, crucially, stay together once they have arrived.

Bishops Newton and Burnham are leaving to join the English Ordinariate, a new structure, similar to a diocese, created for former Anglo-Catholics. Separate Ordinariates are being formed by the Vatican for traditionalists in Scotland, America, Australia and other English-speaking countries.

Here’s a supporting definition of “ordinariate,” direct from that Font of All Knowledge, Wikipedia:

A personal ordinariate is an intended canonical structure within the Catholic Church enabling former Anglicans to maintain some degree of corporate identity and autonomy with regard to the bishops of the geographical dioceses of the Catholic Church and to preserve elements of their distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony. Its precise nature is described in the apostolic constitutionAnglicanorum Coetibus of 4 November 2009[1] and in the complementary norms of the same date.[2]

The new structure is intended to integrate these groups into the life of the Catholic Church in such a way as “to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared”.[3]

Now back to the Oxford (church history) professor throwing the hissy fit (how a British journalist manages to add to his arsenal that colorful phrase from the argot of the American South, I don’t know):

From behind the Times paywall, the muffled sound of a High Table explosion. Quick, someone send for help! Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford, has suffered a devastating failure of scholarly objectivity. His face is getting redder and redder as he struggles to come to terms with… eeeek! … the Ordinariate!

Now you might say I’m a fine one to talk about objectivity. But, then again, I don’t hold a chair in church history at Oxford. Prof MacCulloch, author of the definitive biography of Thomas Cranmer and a bestselling history of Christianity, is known to identify more closely with 16th-century Protestants than with the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church. That’s fair enough: the judgments in his books are elegant and nuanced. Not so his axe-grinding oped for the Times.

MacCulloch tells us that the concept of “flying bishops” is “absurd”. I agree – but he then pours scorn on those flying bishops who are resigning precisely because they have lost faith in the concept and now recognise that they do belong in the Roman Catholic Church.

The professor accuses Anglican “papalist Catholics” of spending 150 years performing “intellectual gymnastics about what the Church of England actually is”. Again, he has a point: but, in fact, the entire Anglo-Catholic movement performs these gymnastics and continues to do so. When I interviewed MacCulloch last year he told me that he attended an Anglo-Catholic church in Oxford. This parish is not in the “Anglo-Papalist” tradition, but it does use Roman rituals and celebrate the sacraments in a manner that would have been regarded as abhorrent popery by everyone in the established Church until the mid 19th century. Its Catholic claims are the product of intellectual contortions just as strange as those of Forward in Faith.

When MacCulloch describes the Ordinariate, his bias verges on misrepresentation. Its members, he claims, “can still be Anglicans in some mysterious sense, with their own formerly Anglican bishops”. But Rome has made it clear that the Ordinariate will not remain Anglicans in any sense, mysterious or otherwise: they will be ex-Anglicans, just as in previous centuries Orthodox congregations that joined Byzantine-rite Catholic Churches (the so-called Uniates, though they dislike that label) were ex-Orthodox. Also, there is very little chance that the former Anglican bishops will become Catholic bishops: most of them are married, which rules out episcopal ordination.

You can finish the article here.

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5 responses to “Anglican bishops operating as Catholic priests? What next, cats and dogs living together?

  1. Pingback: Anglicans Jumping Ship « The Revealer

  2. Thanks so much. Yes, crazy-busy and well! A

  3. This was helpful, and great to see that an Anglican in England still thinks the Reformation matters(-ed). What’s your take on Carl Trueman’s generalization (and likely hyperbole) that evangelicals need to have good reasons not to be Roman Catholic — http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2010/11/protestant-amnesia.php ?

  4. Hi Chris. Can I repost this at The Revealer? I hope you’re well and good. Ann

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