An influx of Anglo-Catholics will add to the divisions of the Church

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Now that it’s all systems go for women bishops in the Church of England there is once again excited talk of Anglicans coming over to Rome in their thousands, and bringing with them their own liturgical patrimony, their own bells and smells, and, in the case of married clergymen, their own wives, children and au pairs. We may be about to witness the first fruits of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus.

God bless our Pope and all that, but not everyone is rejoicing. Some of us have always had a problem with Anglo-Catholicism. Leo XIII declared that Anglican orders were “absolutely null and utterly void”, but Anglo-Catholics somehow manage to believe that they are part of a Church that has disowned them, and which, in spite of their birettas and maniples, regards them as Protestants.

Anglo-Catholics, in other words, seem to have no difficulty in believing impossible things, and some may be able to manage as many as six before breakfast. To add to their problems, and ours, the Church now faces the possibility of “single-issue” converts coming over en masse. With Rome, however, it is all or nothing. You can’t, for example, believe that the Church of England was part of the Catholic Church until it decided to ordain women and create women bishops. A Catholic must believe that, in spite of its many virtues, the Anglican Church was always defective.

Bottom line: any Anglican who accepts the claims of Rome and has come to believe that the Church of England is and always has been Protestant should seek instruction immediately and forget about waiting for his pals to join him, and any Anglican who clings on to the belief that he was in the right place until women started getting out of hand should stay where he is, and try to influence Anglicanism from the inside. That, in the end, is what a lot of Anglo-Catholics will do.

Many will Pope, however, and when they arrive on this side of the Tiber they will, of course, be welcomed, but especially by mainstream traditionalists, who tend to be rather keen on Anglicanorum coetibus. Why? Well, they like the idea of the Pope having his tanks on Rowan Williams’s lawn, but my impression is that some of them hope that the Ordinariates will provide them with tasteful liturgy in a tasteful setting. What this suggests is that the influx of disgruntled Anglicans will add to the divisions within the Church.

Last autumn I was having dinner in Cambridge with a don and a very engaging Franciscan priest, when the subject of Anglicanorum coetibus came up. The don asked whether, if the Anglicans were to form their own Ordinariates, we could fulfil our Sunday obligation by going to a nice Anglican “uniate” church and listening to good music and praying in matchless liturgical English.

“Yes,” said the priest.

“And they could come to our churches, too?” asked the don.

“Yes,” said the priest. “But they won’t.”

Do we have another sect in the making?