Some senior Anglicans wish they could strangle the ordinariate at birth

Fr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic bishops' conference, says that the ordinariate will need a 'principal church' where the ordinary is based (Photo: Mazur/

The ordinariate is proceeding at a deliberate pace which shows more and more that this is no distant pipe dream, but a present reality. It will have endless problems, of course. One of them is buildings. The first priority is to find what is being called a “principal church” which will serve a similar function to a diocesan cathedral. According to Fr Marcus Stock: “They will need a place to meet, to have meetings and gather as a group. Not a cathedral as such, but a principal church, it’s called in the constitution, where the members of the ordinariate can gather for the celebration of liturgies and where the ordinary will be based.” This will have accommodation for the ordinary and, presumably, office space for his, well, Curia, I suppose you could call it, why not?
Another immediate problem will be faced by the parishes or parish groups which will lose the right to continue using their Church buildings. Last November I quoted William Fittall, the secretary general of the General Synod of the Church of England, who said it would be “entirely possible” for them to be allowed to share their former churches with Anglicans who remain in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury also indicated, in an interview he gave in Rome, that he thought this would be possible. I commented that I thought it highly likely, given how successful the experiment of the two parishes where this had happened in the early 90s (notably at St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road) had been. “The fact is,” I pointed out,  “that maintaining its historic buildings is one of the Church of England’s biggest problems. Nothing is more logical than that the members of congregations who (in the Telegraph’s elegant usage) “defect” should share the building they are used to with those who elect to stay in the C of E, and should continue to contribute to its upkeep.”

Logical, yes: but I had failed to appreciate the viperous loathing for the ordinariate of some senior Anglican clerics, who have now made it plain that so far as they are concerned, they will do everything they can to strangle the venture at birth. Take the case of St Barnabas, Tunbridge Wells, in the Anglican Diocese of Rochester. This was a parish of around 75. This is quite healthy by Anglican standards – they have many more churches to fill, and they tend to be smaller than ours. Three quarters of the congregation voted to join the ordinariate: the voting was 54 for and 18 against. So the building, unless shared by those leaving, would have to maintained by only 18 people – not a practical possibility. Despite this, the Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Venerable Clive Mansell, has ruled out a shared church agreement, to the fury of the leader of the Romeward group, Fr Ed Tomlinson, who understandably thinks that “the whole thing stinks to high heaven”, since “a solution based on unity exists, but those with authority seem more intent on division”. So, inevitably, it has to be faced, the building is doomed: there just aren’t enough people to keep it up. In the end, it will be torn down or turned into a Carpet Warehouse.
Particularly illogical (and I would say hypocritical) has been the most senior active opponent of the ordinariate, the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, who said unambiguously that he had “noted the Archbishop of Westminster’s comment that his preference is for the simplest solutions. The simplest solutions are for those who come into Catholic communion to use Catholic churches. I am also mindful that the late Cardinal Hume, whom I greatly revered, brought to an end the experiment of church-sharing after the Synod’s decision of 1992 because, far from being conducive to warmer ecumenical relations, it tended to produce more rancour”.

The fact is, that the only “rancour” that was caused by church sharing was when the successful experiment was closed down: it had in fact worked particularly well, notably in St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road (in the Diocese of London), where relations between the two congregations, between those who became Catholic and those who remained in the Church of England (and between their clergy), remained warm throughout: you may read a detailed account of this in my book The Roman Option (1997).

The reason Cardinal Hume closed the experiment down was that he had lost his nerve over the “Roman Option”, and the successful continuing existence of ex-Anglican Catholic parishes was a standing reproach to him – evidence that what we now have, thanks to Pope Benedict, could easily have been in place 15 years ago with a little more courage and statesmanship from him.
The fact is that the ordinariate, though it has good will from some Anglicans who can see the benefit to themselves of shared church agreements, has deadly enemies who would rather cut off their noses to spite their faces than do anything that might help the ordinariate. They would love to destroy it at the outset. But they cannot do that. This is an idea whose time has come. Those who join the ordinariate know that life isn’t going to be easy. But they are determined; they are also buoyed up by the exhilaration of this great adventure and by the prayers of many, including the Holy Father himself. These are stirring times: and nothing that Bishop Chartres and his ilk can do will achieve anything but demonstrate their own pettiness and spite.