The Anglican Ordinariate will happen; and it will be a blessing for the English Church

The Right Revd Geoffrey Rowell, the third Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe (Steve Parsons/PA Wire)

This is probably as good a time as any to assess progress towards the setting up, under the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, of an Anglican ordinariate here in England. Things seem to be moving faster elsewhere in the English-speaking world: The American Branch of the Traditional Anglican Communion has already formally requested the setting up of an ordinariate in the US: this will now proceed. But the TAC is already independent of Canterbury: they have already made the psychological break. Anglican Catholics within the Anglican Communion are still agonising. It seems sometimes, to those on the outside, that they have been agonising forever. Why don’t they just get on with it?

Well, it’s simple for us who are safe on the rock of Peter. I became a Catholic in 1991 (before women’s ordination; I used to joke that I came early to avoid the rush). Looking back, I often wonder what took me so long: like nearly every other ex-Anglican Roman Catholic I know, I have never once regretted “crossing the Tiber”.

But until  the moment when the break is made, things can seem a lot less clear. Those Anglicans deeply disturbed by the imminence of “women bishops” are divided between those who have already decided what to do and those who just don’t know. For a start, the Synod’s own decision, though inevitable, isn’t yet final. As the 15 bishops of “Forward in Faith”, the Anglo-Catholic dissident movement, put it in a letter to affiliated parishes: “Whatever happens in the Synod, there are some Anglo Catholics, including in our own number, who are already looking at, indeed are resolved to join the Ordinariate as the place where they can find a home … in communion with the Holy Father…. Yet others will make their individual submission and find their future as Roman Catholics.” And undoubtedly, yet others (including some bishops, like the Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell, who is something called, believe it or not, “Bishop of Europe”) will stay where they are, some until they see what happens, others for the duration.

I suspect that the ordinariate will begin on a fairly small scale, while those in charge feel their way. There will be one or two parishes in every large centre of population to begin with. After a time, the new jurisdiction will grow. Parishes will become more numerous and also larger as more and more Anglicans join them and as local Roman Catholics, dissatisfied with the way their own liturgy is conducted, start attending on Sunday (this, I predict, will have a salutory effect on many existing Catholic Parishes).  And as has already happened where Anglican Rite Parishes  (mostly in the US) have been set up, they will become gateways back into the Church for lapsed Catholics. They will not be divisive, as some fear; on the contrary, they will be a great blessing for the English Church. But don’t hold your breath: this is all going to take time.